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Mid-Semester Lessons from Capstone

Behold, the Capstone!

Behold, the Capstone!

It’s the end of February, and we’re about at the half-way point through the spring semester. I’ve been teaching the Senior Capstone course at DAAP. The primary purpose of Capstone is for the students to exhibit the skills they’ve acquired during the last four years at DAAP. In that way, “teacher” isn’t quite the right description for my role because the end goal isn’t to learn from me. My job is to help the students express their knowledge and to encourage them through the most extended project they’ve worked on to date. It’s a lot more like the role of a coach. 

I’m new at this, so it’s been my temptation to teach rather than to coach. I’ve been critiquing their work based on where I think it should be on a made up timeline in my mind (i.e., finished yesterday). Likewise, I find myself attaching to projects, imagining where I’d take them, and sharing feedback to that end. If I were to name the fear behind these behaviors, it would be that I’m afraid people (other professors, designers, etc.) will judge me based on student outcomes. Not cool. I’m aware.

It’s dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that they are learning in the middle of the process right now.

Equipped with that awareness, I’ve begun to loosen up. As I walked up the stairs to DAAP before class the other day, I told myself to have fun, get to know the students, and focus less on critiquing the work. They have plenty of avenues for feedback. What if my task is more to cheer them on, over all of the inevitable design blocks, through this daunting design journey? It's dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that the students are learning in the middle of the process right now. Trust and be faithful to the process and the results will work themselves out. That's a lesson I’m continually learning in my work as an adjunct professor and professional designer/business owner. It’s a lesson that I’ll need a reminded of again and again.

Speaking of process, the students are keeping an online journal of their Capstone process in a Medium publication. Please take a moment to check their work so far. If you’re feeling extra generous, make a comment or “applaud” their posts.

Click here to view the publication. 

Screens of Good

Screens of Good University of Cincinnati DAAP 2018

If you had three days to work on a project with senior design students what would you do? That was the question asked of me by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville design program. The first thing I thought of was an episode of 99 Percent Invisible where an ingenuitive Los Angeleno designed and installed a new exit sign on an LA freeway so that he and others would no longer miss their off ramp. Out of that inspiration “Signs of Good” came to life. Signs of Good was a three-day design blitz with the goal of installing temporary signage around the university to create a more pleasing campus experiences (like the freeway sign). Below is an example of one of the resulting projects. It’s a texting lane so that students wouldn’t run into each other while walking across campus.

Texting Lane at University of Tennessee.

Texting Lane at University of Tennessee.

Fast forward to 2017. I had to come up with an assignment to conclude a user-centered design course at University of Cincinnati, DAAP. This time I was an adjunct professor. Rather than design "Signs" of Good, I decided with my TAs that the students would work toward "Screens" of Good.

The assignment was introduced with a quote from an interview with Tony Fadell, the inventor of Nest, and one of the designers of the iPhone. “I wake up in cold sweats thinking, what did we bring to the world?” Fadell shares his concern over the negative consequences of new technologies like the iPhone. He points out the fact that most new technologies are designed by men in their 20s without kids. They aren’t developing products with anyone else in mind but themselves. Fadell ends the interview with a question. How do we fix the technology? And that’s the question Screens of Good asks of the students.

Executing a user-centered process, the class was tasked with generating humble solutions to the gigantic problem articulated by Fadell. The students (split up into teams) had to demonstrate skills in user research and evaluative research. In a nutshell, they had to interview and survey users, design and build a paper prototype based on that research (use of the computer was discouraged), and evaluate the prototype for feedback that would make it better. In theory, their idea and design should get better the more it was filtered through the user-centered process.

Minimal app concept with only four options.

Minimal app concept with only four options.

The results? Here are a few examples from different stages of the assignment as reported from several different teams. Each are from the fall 2018 semester. It was my second semester giving the assignment. The final deliverable was a entry highlighting their design process from start to finish. Click here to read one of the more excellent essays.

Survey results to questions related to behavioral patterns connected to phone usage

An Affinity Diagram used to form insights from the research gathered.

Anticipated user experience sequence.

Evaluative testing of a paper prototype.

Paper prototype of a scavenger hunt app for children.

Paper prototype of a scavenger hunt app for children.

.This app reminds you when you haven’t heard or reached out to a friend in awhile.

If you'd like to learn more about Screens of Good or Signs of Good, please contact me at or