Tag Archives: workshop

Box & Button (Workshop #004): Part 02

Continuing from day 1 of the Box & Button workshop, all of the participants reconvened in Art Center’s Ahmanson Auditorium to develop their team’s business. The participants entered the groups previously delegated to discuss the findings from their personal research and investigations over the past week. The groups were asked to spend the first 30 minutes discussing with their fellow partners the discoveries from their week long hiatus.

Each group was given a toolkit for developing a prototype to communicate and submit their venture for review. The toolkit consisted of a tub of clay, a business plan worksheet, and blank pieces of paper for sketches. Over the course of the next two hours, 10 businesses were developed based on the dehumanized entrepreneur’s vision (a selection of these businesses will be highlighted in separate blog posts to come). The participants consulted the facilitator for various rounds of critique and advice to ensure that the business created met the standards of the dehumanized entrepreneur’s output.

Upon receiving approval, one representative from each group approached the stage to deliver a pitch for their business, and officially submit their business plan (worksheet) and prototype (sketch or 3D mockup) for archival purposes.

In thinking about how to measure the success of these proposals, in the interest of developing the thesis work farther, I have come to the conclusion that the projects that were the most interesting were able to free themselves from any reference, and creatively find a cohesive narrative that was capable of connecting each of the dehumanized entrepreneur’s exported key terms.

Reflection / notes for improvement:

  • The setting in general needs to be considered as part of the design process for developing my thesis workshops further.
  • The prototypes, in combination with the business plans, added a lot to the project in terms of communicating these ideas. What other kinds of designed tools / artifacts can better foster these proposals?
  • For the next iteration, I would like to play up the backstory of WHY the participants are creating these businesses, making it clearer the role they are playing, as well as their own assumed weaknesses (inability, as humans, to perceive problems).
  • How can I better facilitate the elimination of reference to existing businesses? How can I better facilitate a cohesive narrative to connect the key terms to one another in innovative ways?

Box & Button (Workshop #004): Part 01

A third workshop took place in Ahmanson Auditorium at Art Center College of Design with 70 participants from a wide range of academic focuses including: Graphic Design, Entertainment Design, and Illustration. The workshop explores the end of humanly perceivable problems, a massive problem in-it-of-itself that will result in the end of entrepreneurship, a practice that defines our species. The activity is set in a time in which each participant is incapable of identifying new problems. The workshop’s center-piece is a machine (a diegetic prototype) that is designed to aid in the entrepreneurial endeavors of the small groups. This machine does not claim to be capable of foreseeing or identifying problems that are not perceivable to mankind – that would be impossible (practically speaking). Instead, the machine, and the workshop as a whole, aims to spark conversation around the theories that drive my thesis by providing un-perceivable combinations of perceivable terms that are meant to inspire the development of business.

Some of the participants. Ahmanson Auditorium, Art Center College of Design

To start things off, the audience was prompted to develop 10 groups of 5-7 team members. 1 representative from each of the 10 groups was then directed to the front of the auditorium in order to approach the machine, and activate it’s vision.

The Dehumanized Entrepreneur (prototype) about to be activated by a participant

By pressing the big green button, the participant activates the Dehumanized Entrepreneur and, in doing so, generates 5 terms (Problem, Opportunity, Scenario, Industry, Audience) pertaining to the business they are being called upon to create during the workshop. The following is a sample of some of the terms generated during this initial session (check out an online version here).

Each group of participants is then prompted to record the data provided to them from the machine, and spend a week researching each of the terms in order to come back to the final session, part 2 of the workshop, with a strong knowledge of each of these generated terms. This knowledge will be necessary for the final outcome for the workshop: the creation of a rough business plan and prototype to communicate the human’s (participants) interpretation of the machine’s exported vision.

Further Reading / Concept Background: This workshop builds upon early prototypes of an Executive Summary Generator (1,2) that I developed as well as an initial, smaller-scale, workshop held in the Art Center Graphic Design Department’s Business 101 class with Terry Stone. Special thanks to Mateo Neri for sponsoring this two-day workshop.

Art Center College of Entrepreneurship 101: Self-Promotion Tools Lecture / Workshop

For the past 4 terms, I have helped teach the Business / Entrepreneurship 101 Course for undergraduate Graphic Design Majors at Art Center with Terry Stone. Every term, I lead the workshop / lecture on Self Promotion tools and tactics, in which students get a chance to come up with a promotional plan for themselves, or their potential design studio. I have found that my process has developed as a pattern of experimentation within the Media Design Program, and dissemination outside of MDP, within the academic, social, and corporate sectors. To continue this pattern, I designed a business model generator specifically for the Entrepreneurship 101 students.

The Serendipitous Design Studio Generator works a lot like the Serendipitous Executive Summary Generator, except the businesses it generates are limited to graphic design enterprises. Each group of students generated one design firm using the system, and were prompted to design a promotional campaign for the studio to market their capabilities and niche traits. The following are a selection of generated design studios:

The generative design studios ranged from the imaginative and intangible to the viable and practical. This range fostered a diverse set of promotional tactics that the students produced during the workshop.

This method worked particularly well for the students in this situation because it removed the burden of conceptualizing a design firm that held interest amongst each of the designers in the group. This removal of personal interest actually resulted in more imaginative concepts, and less concern with practicality – a stigma that is hard to defeat in the context of a business class.


For example, to promote a design studio that specializes in way-finding systems for concerts, specifically rap shows, the students chose to use a trail of marijuana joints to guide the audience to their seats. Another group, given the task of creating a promotional campaign for a design studio that specialized in packaging for soda companies, proposed the idea of augmented bottles with user-submitted content / artwork on the drink.

The Merced Project

The City of Merced, known as the “Gateway to Yosemite,” is home to a population of nearly 80,000 individuals, about 30% of which are currently living below the poverty line. Homes at the median level in Merced saw a dramatic loss in value, 62%, the biggest drop anywhere in the country, according to data from Forbes. According to Zillow, by the end of 2009, house prices in Merced had returned to the levels seen over a decade earlier. This crisis has established a strong community of individuals and organizations that are actively seeking rich new ways of thinking about commerce and innovation, in order to transform the community into a rich space for survival, ingenuity, and break through.

Several organizations within Merced decided to take action on these aspirations by developing a town-hall meeting of sorts to bring leading voices from around the nation to lead the community into new modes of thinking. I was fortunate enough to have been approached to develop a workshop for the community of Merced at this gathering.

The attendees of the gathering were a richly diverse audience of about 100 individuals that collectively represented the community of Merced. From farmers to students, all cultures and professions within the community were accounted for, making it a rich space to design a workshop that was very specific to the context and histories of Merced.

In this space, I piloted a version of my Serendipitous Business Plan Generator (SBPG) that was designed specifically for this gathering. The SBPG works by juxtaposing three components: Scenario, Opportunity, and the Modify Element. In this exercise, one component from each of these three decks are drawn by the participant, often resulting in a bizarre mashup of ideas that are then played straight through the development of a business plan.

Scenario: The situation (i.e. Growth, Collapse, etc.) in which the participant is starting their business. This element is  designed to give insight into the resources they will be able to leverage for their business plan.

Opportunity: The emerging opportunity (i.e. Augmented Reality, Cyborgs, etc.) that the participant can take advantage of and consider when conceptualizing their business plan.

Modify Element: The specific space, industry, product, or service (i.e. Coffee Shop, Lamp, etc.) your business plan is in conversation with, adapting, or transforming.

While the Scenario and Opportunity decks were only slightly developed from earlier iterations, the Modify Element deck was completely re-visited to speak to this specific community. For the Modify Element deck, students from UC Merced were prompted to explore the community, and take photographs of spaces that illustrated both an essence of the community, and prominent issues at hand in the county. By getting the students (residents of Merced) involved in this preliminary aspect of the experience, the system became specifically designed for the City of Merced as a way to tease out ideas and concerns unique to this community.

These images were placed on 10 different roundtables around the community center, and participants were prompted to select their seat based on the space depicted in the photograph, assuming that the participants would select based on some kind of prior experience or emotional connection with the imagery depicted in the photo.

Shortly after, the additional two cards (opportunity and scenario) were administered to the participants along with a business plan template, and full instructions for the exercise.

In 30 minutes, the participants were prompted to develop a concept for a business that would exist in Merced that considered all three of the generated components as restrictions in the making process. In order to foster a bit of friendly competition amongst the groups, the community was informed half way through the exercise that some tables were given the same opportunities to capitalize on, thus creating direct competition between the groups in order to push the ideas beyond the top-level, initial, concepts.

After 30 minutes of rapid business generation, each group delivered a pitch to the audience as a whole, presenting the details of their business plans while their ideas were noted on a series of posters. After each presentation, the posters were pinned to the walls of the community center, and the community was asked to vote on the venture that would best benefit the community at large.

The problem with Social Innovation is that it puts the entrepreneur(s) on a pedestal. In doing so, the process of innovation becomes framed as for the community as opposed to with the community, inevitably neglecting the edges of an issue at hand, resulting in a lot of clean looking shiny things that impose a set of values and beliefs around a community’s problems. I am interested in how The Merced Project was able to leverage corporate innovation tactics within a specific community as a way to tease out information about the culture of this space of crisis. Ethnographers often work with entrepreneurs in communities to seek new markets and opportunities, but what if the end goal was not to walk away with a set of solutions to capitalize on? The Merced Project begins to explore design’s ability to shift the role of an entrepreneur away from solving problems, focusing instead on working with a community to tease out new problems specific to their interests. I am interested in how this trajectory could be pushed even further through the development of a series of design interventions inspired / informed by the results of the workshop in order to bring the ideas to the forefront of the community at large.

Special thanks to Kate Slovin for the great photography work.

Workshop for Fictional Entrepreneurs @ Occupy L.A.

Reflecting on the Occupy events across the nation, I decided to focus on the individuals of this movement as a specific audience for a workshop on Fictional Entrepreneurship. I realized the significance of the movement had some parallel aspects to my thesis work thus far – specifically “defiant devices,” a project about severe constraint as creative restriction.

“Hey. Now that’s some great art!” – LAPD

In response to the initial worksheet’s results, I re-designed the form as well as it’s language to more clearly state the purpose of the exercise: create something new by defying the provided machine’s purpose. The new workbook also included varying levels of difficulty (1,2,3,4) as well as an example. As a result, the inventions that came of the prompt were much more concise, and successfully demonstrated defiance as an alternative approach to entrepreneurship.

The most interesting response to the worksheets was developed on sheet Level 4 – this was the one machine whose function even I did not know. However, the participant, a man with a soda bottle balanced on his head, and a stuffed snake around his neck assured me he knew exactly it’s purpose. The sheet’s two sections, “draw” and “describe,” then adapted to become a space for explaining the machine itself, as opposed to the machine of the participant’s design. I found this to be an interesting exercise in understanding the stance of the participant before prompting them to “defy.”

After speaking with Ben, I realized that this result could be replicated across all participants by abstracting the machines further, through a lack of description, or the design of a flowchart – with room for subjectivity from the participant. This, as opposed to the current illustrations, would open up the illustration itself for more interpretation to perhaps get more unique inventions from the user.