Event Review: Design Against Populism


I had the opportunity to attend an interesting workshop in Arlington, VA called “Design Against Populism.” Co-hosted by UXPA DC, OpenIDEO DC, and Sapient, the event aimed to understand and address the populist movement in the US and across the world. I will break down my review in different categories.

Let’s start with the…

Location: It was perfect for me as I work in Arlington. I try avoid going into DC during rush hour. For those who may have come from the district, the location was two blocks away from Courthouse metro which was convenient.

Venue: Sapient hosted the event and their offices were modern and welcoming; there was ample space for the amount of people who attended.

Food: I typically have something small to eat before events like this as you don’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well the event was catered. There was plenty of pizza, beer, and wine to go around. Great job to those who made the food arrangements.


Workshop: It was a 3 hour workshop: 1 hour for networking and 2 hours for the actual workshop itself. It gave us plenty of time to mingle with old friends, and make new ones. The workshop itself was well moderated and started off on a solid footing with a basic overview of populism and the Design Thinking approach. Sometimes the pace felt a bit rushed as we moved from one part of the process to another, but my group handled it well. I was fortunate to be part of a good group of people who I got along with; it really enhances the experience.

I wish…we have more events exactly like this at Sapient, and I’m grateful to them for hosting all of us. I wish UXPA/OpenIdeo DC can offer all participants a “certificate of completion” so we can add the experience to our LinkedIn profile and resume. I wish they turn this event into a three-part series so we can take a deeper dive with the populist wave that is gripping the world. Someone had a comment about the event title itself “Design Against Populism”; he thought “Against” was too harsh and might prevent certain type of people from attending. I didn’t think of that initially when I signed up, but it was a valid point. Maybe try this: “Design For Populism.” I’m looking to get heavily involved in these type of workshops or activities as a volunteer so if there is anything I can suggest or do, please feel free to contact me. Big thanks to Christine Rose, Erin Nicole Gordon, Lisa Goldberg, and everyone else who made this event possible.



Design Thinking 101: An Introduction

“Can you exchange one life for another? A caterpillar turns into a butterfly. If a mindless insect can do it, why couldn’t I?” – RD

We are bombarded with content in the age of information. Some great. Most bad. The key is to curate the best of what you’ve discovered and narrow down which resources work for you. After all, everybody learns differently.

When I began to research the basics about Design Thinking (DT), I sought to establish a reliable foundation on which I could build my education. I like to call this period the “surveying the landscape” phase. In this post, I’d like to share some of the key resources I discovered early on that were beneficial to my learning and some basic concepts to get you started.


Human-Centered Design: A framework born from the tech industry that was a response to machine-centric design. Think of this as the overall umbrella.

Design Thinking: A creative approach rooted in empathy that is used to solve business problems or social challenges. It puts the designer in the shoes of the end-user to understand their needs and motivations. It has five stages: Empathize. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test. By understanding and empathizing with the end-user, the designer is able to ideate, prototype and test their solution around the needs of their respective audience.

I love this definition of DT by Idea Couture (a design firm).


Service Design: A methodology which enhances the interactions between users, touchpoints, and other stakeholders in order to improve the quality of a service or product.

Design Leadership: A style of leadership that produces innovative design solutions combining business skills and creativity. It happens to be the program name for a degree at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

Essential Resources

  • Creative Confidence by David Kelley
    • This book is a fun and easy to read. And I don’t like reading! The author help start the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, commonly known as the d.school, at Stanford so students could learn more about Design Thinking, Creativity, and Innovation. He also founded IDEO: the premiere design thinking consultancy in the world.
  • Lynda: Learning Design Thinking: Lead Change in Your Organization
    • This is an excellent introductory course presented by Turi McKinley of Frog Design. Her relaxed and accessible presentation style makes the subject matter easy to understand. It’s over two hours long with a loads of content to digest, but I highly recommend it.
  • Medium Article: “Agile, Lean, Design Thinking, Continuous Delivery… which should I use?”
    • This article does a good job of explaining the pros and cons of Design Thinking relative to the other methodologies.
  • LinkedIn Article: “Human-Centered Design (HCD) vs Design Thinking vs Service Design vs UX …. What do they all mean?”
    • This article is a helpful resource to understand the HCD umbrella and where all the methodologies fall within it.
  • OpenIdeo: A global community of chapters/clubs that host events (i.e., workshops) and solve social challenges (i.e., improving clean water access to communities in [fill in the blank]. The DC chapter of OpenIdeo put together some amazing packets for the Introduction to Design Thinking and Facilitation workshops. These are my “bibles” when it comes to DT. A big thanks to Jo Golden and Emily Mann! Find out if there is a chapter near you.


The Accidental (Or Not) Design Thinker

“It’s the weirdest thing. I feel like I’ve been in a coma for about 20 years, and I’m just now waking up.”

That’s one of my favorite quotes from the movie American Beauty. Why? Well, it perfectly summarizes the way I used to feel. While I was in a “coma”, I spent a decade ideating and trying to identify a viable career path. I studied graphic design but realized the industry became overly saturated. The era of 99 dollar logos was in full swing and I didn’t know what came next for me.

I’ve always known that I was a creative individual with strong analytical capabilities. But I could never articulate what these qualities could translate into. A career services advisor in college failed to recognize these attributes and guide me in the right direction. I ended up getting my Bachelors in History because I liked the topic and enjoyed the tutelage of the professors within my program. After graduating from college, I spent a good deal of time in the professional wilderness researching different options while working in the management consulting field never quite satisfied with the methodologies that I came across. Three years ago, a monumental event shook me to my core and heightened my sense to take drastic action. I settled on a MBA in Management but knew deep down that my concentration was too broad.

About a year into my MBA program I discovered Design Thinking. I’ll admit it: The first time I heard the phrase, I chuckled. Design Thinking? Huh? What on earth was that? A classmate mentioned it to me while describing a project she was working on. The next time I encountered Design Thinking was when a friend took a picture of herself at an interesting event by Design Thinking DC (DT:DC). I was intrigued and destiny didn’t stop there. My MBA program published an article on the growing popularity of the methodology and how the school was offering a class on Design Leadership. Now my full attention was caught. After I read the article and did further research, I was sold. Period. It was that simple. Design Thinking felt very much in sync with how I would want to tackle a project or solve a business challenge. The use of empathy within the Design Thinking framework was also a huge draw. I consider myself to be a highly sensitive individual; I frequently put myself in the shoes of others. For 10 years I looked for something in sync with my personality and it was such a relief when I discovered Design Thinking. It felt as if I had found a long-lost friend. Since then I’ve become an active member of the OpenIDEO DC chapter, DT:DC, Design for America, and started attending events that increase my knowledge of the methodology and industry.

My name is A.J. I’m a Management Consulting professional and a MBA student. And I want to learn more about Design Thinking, Customer Experiences, and the industry as a whole. My aim for this blog is to share my journey and discover what makes Design Thinking so unique. Why do we need it? Do people need to be taught something so basic as empathy? Aren’t we all capable of putting ourselves in the shoes of others? Learn. Apply. Blog. That’s my motto. It may not be always in that sequence, but you get the gist. At the same time, I would like to provide constructive feedback on customer experiences that are in desperate need of attention and re-examination. I hope there is some meaningful value in my observations and look forward to your feedback.