What if You Tried Risking It?

Yuna Hur  &  Elaine Cheung  - Versions of a Retail Pop-Up, Spring 2018

Yuna Hur & Elaine Cheung - Versions of a Retail Pop-Up, Spring 2018

I’m honored to host a blog by one of my amazing mentees, Yuna Hur ‘18. Last year, as a senior, it was time to push academic limits 1 last time before graduating. This is her story about why it’s so important to take risk … because you never know what can happen! Thank you, Yuna!! *


Top: Elaine Cheung, Yuna Hur, students & Critiquers for ENGN 1971

Top: Elaine Cheung, Yuna Hur, students & Critiquers for ENGN 1971

May 2019: It has already been a year since I was persuaded to take a class Deb introduced to me my second semester senior spring [2018]. The class was called Iterative Design of Retail Value Propositions and Experiences - a blend of design and engineering. I never took courses related to business nor art, as I concentrated in cognitive science and education studies. My coursework had primarily focused around the topic of how people learn, both from a cognitive - neuro & psych perspectives - as well as an applied standpoint in my classes in the education department. I was in a good spot with regards to my concentration requirements. Like many other seniors, I was looking at loads of classes across departments. I asked Deb what time and how frequently the course would meet, and she said it would be once a week. If I’m honest, that was a huge selling point - again, because it was senior spring, though there was a huge part of me that was feeling incredibly insecure and unprepared for the course... no background in any of the topics that the course described. Nonetheless, because who can turn down Deb (?!!!?!!), I signed up for the course, not knowing what to expect, who’d be in the class, and how prepared I’d be for this mysterious course.

Here are 5 (of many) takeaways from taking this class (in no particular order) which are important for life beyond college:

yuna iteration timeline DISP.png
  1. Have a plan and be flexible - I started out the course thinking in my perfectionist mindset -- craving to find and work towards THE ideal solution. In this way, I have found myself digging deeper into details that were all uncertain because there was no singular “final answer”. I experienced a shortcoming from the expense of losing sight of what I initially set to work towards. Quickly, Deb convinced my perfectionist-self to take this class pass/fail -- and NOT just because it was my senior spring. This has been one of the best decisions throughout my time at Brown because it gave me permission and room to be okay with uncertainty, be okay with taking risks, and be okay with using my imagination.

  2. Value collaboration with individuals from diverse backgrounds - In this class, students came from a variety of concentrations, ranging from International Relations, Architecture, Sociology, Applied Math, Engineering, Economics...etc. My partner studied History of Art and Architecture, and I studied Cognitive Science and Education. We each brought different skills, as she shared her keen eye to visually display her reasoning, and I shared my systematic reasoning in informing detailed decisions we made for our project.

  3. Be human-centered - When thinking of different personas for the start-up the class was based on, there was no “one-size-fits-all” mold. My partner and I worked to create very different personas by pulling from our vastly-different experiences and socializations. This process, in-it-of-itself reminded me of how meaningful the individual experiences we bring to the table are. Developing these personas and then the different variations of the start-up’s pop-up store served as a reminder to know and expand intentional awareness to context-specific situations.

  4. Seek intentional feedback - Throughout the course, each group had consistent opportunities to pitch the progress they’d made to the class. Following each group’s presentation, there was always time dedicated for individuals to share thoughts, ask questions, and for presenters to ask and respond. I appreciated these interactions because the feedback I’d receive was immediate, relevant, and specific so that I would leave class with tangible things to work on for my ideas to continue growing.

  5. Trust your inner voice - During the first weeks, there were students from so many concentrations and with such awesome experiences. I was fangirling my classmates’ eloquent and thoughtful insights in awe of feeling like they were all so much better qualified for this course than I was. Students who were studying visual arts, for instance, had created aesthetically-pleasing vision boards, while students who were architecture concentrators precisely measured out floor plans. I didn’t feel confident in my ideas because I didn’t feel like I was good enough on understanding the business or design sides which the course was centered on. But what I was realizing throughout the course was that the value I was adding was the people-centered cognitive science and education background to my work. This was a rare moment in my educational experience where I relied on my intuition to brainstorm, create, and deliver the thousands of decisions that were made throughout the process.

Kathy Spoehr, me, Yuna

Kathy Spoehr, me, Yuna

I thank and am forever grateful for Deb, Barbara, and all of my classmates who I played with, explored with, and grew with together. These five takeaways have been incredibly valuable to the work that I not only engage with today but also in my future work -- which is uncertain AND exciting!

*In true serendipity, Yuna’s advisor taught me one of my first Cognitive Science classes 1st semester my freshman year, Kathy Spoehr. Generations of strong, bright women!!!

Why Does a Door Need Instructions? Seriously!

Red Door Pull Sign.jpeg


If you’re willing, the next time you get to a door, stop.  What’s your initial reaction? Push it? Pull it?  Doors are one of my favorite examples of lousy design.  Shouldn’t opening a door be intuitive? We really need instructions to go through a door? Really?? 

USB Pointer.png

Our world is filled with poorly designed products we use every day without thinking twice.  We’ve come to accept that this is the way it is.  We learn how to work around the non-intuitive design and just use the easy-to-figure-out features.   Take the USB Pointer for presentations! My natural instinct is to use the up arrow, the one on top, to move the slide ahead, but no! Even though I’m pointing at the screen, I don’t use the up arrow (pointing at the screen), I use the down arrow pointing at me!

blue vespa.jpg

Some of the best designed products are simple and long-lasting – like the paper clip!  And there are products that just entice us with their elegant, beautiful and comfortable design – like the Vespa, globally recognized as an icon of design.

As you approach work this week, be it leading people, designing products, services or systems, creating marketing material, building circuit boards, writing essays in college, giving presentations, etc., take a few minutes to think who will be using, hearing, reading, sharing your “stuff” and how you can make it easy for them.  Just as I asked you to stop the next time you got to a door, stop the next time you’re ‘designing’ and think - how can you make it intuitive, easy, enjoyable and amazingly useful?

p.s. A great read on design for everyday life is The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman!

How to Create an Amazing Life by Design ~ 5 Fundamentals

From the floorboards of Jackson Pollock's studio in the Hamptons, NY. The paint spatterings can be traced to specific pieces of his art.

Two and a half years ago, I was invited to share my story, Life by Design, at Brown University's Creative Mind Lecture series.  Since then, it's taken on a life of its own with my mentees who now use it as a noun.  They've asked me to formalize it in case I get hit by a bus, so here's the start.

After several years of mentoring and advising, I've discovered 5 (at least) fundamentals to creating an amazing Life by Design (through very non-scientific methods).

1. Very little you do in life is irrevocable.

Aside from dying, very few of the choices we make in life are permanent and can't be undone, redone, mitigated or benefited from.  Even losing a limb is no longer necessarily life-altering.  Once we view life that way, opportunities are endless sources of learning and exploration.  We don't need to be afraid that if we do X today, we're stuck doing X for the rest of our life.

2. There are many paths, solutions, answers, right choices - not just 1.

Following #1 above, rarely in life is there just one way to do something - there are many ways.  Many times we feel the path a role model or someone we admire took is the only path to get to the same place. Unfortunately, our education system reinforces the one way - there is THE right answer or way not A right answer or way.  Well, guess what, rarely is that the case.  Life isn't binary.

3. Your major or job isn't destiny.

The world tells us that our college major and even our current job is destiny.  Engineers should only look for engineering jobs, not design, product management, etc.  English majors should only look for writing or PR jobs, not design, product management, etc.  Drop the "should" - it's a horrible word!  Our job or major is not our destiny.  By looking at how that major or job has taught us to think, approach problems, communicate, see connections and patterns, apply to different situations, we can use our experience in so many ways!

Kandinsky - Composition V1, 1913

4. "Man plans, G-d Laughs"

This age old yiddish proverb is so true.  A student came to me a few years ago asking for help laying out her 10yr plan. 10 years!!!! I told her to write something out, put it in a drawer and then come back and we'd discuss the next 2-3 years.  Think about life in 2-3 (maybe up to 5) year chunks - what do we want to learn, experience, explore, discover over the next 2-3 years, why, and what are the best places and ways to do that! Yup, it's that simple... but not easy.

5. Experiment -> Learn -> Apply -> Iterate

At the age 99.5, my grandmother said, "The day you stop learning is the day you die." Life, personal and professional, is a continuous experiment - we try things, we hopefully learn, we apply those learnings and experiment again - til we die.  Learn to be curious, love to learn, try stuff - often, question your assumptions, question your questions, as why, why not, what if, and one of my favorites, where is it written (e.g., is it a rule or guideline?). 

Next week? I'll share my view of Life as lego blocks! Your comments and thoughts are welcome!