Entrepreneurial Hurdles

For our penultimate class for the semester last week, we asked the students to pair off and perform root cause analysis on a failure they experienced this semester. They summarized the conversations they had with the rest of the class, and these were the themes that emerged:

1. Perfectionism - This is the most predictable problem for a group of design students to have, and it was a stumbling block for almost everyone around the room. The students struggled with the tension between the desire to control every detail and the messy reality of product releases, the gap between an idealized product vision and one that could be executed. Those working on things that were lifelong passions found it difficult to create a scoped down or crude prototype of something that could be important to their career, and others just wanted too much data before making a decision. The best way to manage these fears turned out to simply be deadlines, internally and externally enforced (and practice). One of the biggest parts of the class is just kicking projects out the door whether they’re ready or not, and learning how to build and iterate in public.

2. You’re Not Your Project - There’s some major overlap here with the first problem. Our students grappled with emotional obstacles like impostor syndrome, fear of public derision, facing criticism from strangers, and generally untangling their identities from their projects. 

3. Thinking Out Loud - Learning how to work (and stumble, and fail) in public is extraordinarily difficult. Some students found it very hard to express their half-formed ideas, or converse rather than broadcast to their target audiences. Others failed to reach out to people early on and entered a vicious cycle of not getting feedback. They also learned that getting attention online for your projects or writing required much more than simply putting out good content.

4. Prioritization - If perfectionism was the biggest mental block, this was the biggest logistical one. The very short timeline of the class forced students to do some very aggressive scoping, which is particularly tough in the presence of ambition and curiosity. Students not only had to prioritize within the class’ many demands, but also on a wider scale—with the rest of their schoolwork, and lives in general. As first-time entrepreneurs, some students struggled with threading and figuring out dependency chains as well.

5. Real-Life Research - Soliciting and processing feedback from research proved much harder in reality than in concept. Many students regretted not doing more initial research, or not incorporating research into their design processes more closely. Others had to learn the balance between trusting one’s own intuition, understanding the perspectives of strangers, and the hard truth that it’s impossible to please everyone.

Other less common (but equally interesting!) challenges included:

  • Learning how to collaborate
  • Learning how to make decisions by yourself
  • Understanding what you wanted to get out of the class at the start
  • Money changing the tone/implementation of an idea
  • The class’s own reputation as “the class where you make money” shaping ideas coming in (this is an interesting one for us to fix!)

None of these challenges are surprising to veteran project do-ers, but they really are best learned by living (and fighting and giving up and reiterating) through the process. It’s rare to have an opportunity to stumble across so many hurdles in so short a period of time—we hope it’ll be a memorable and valuable experience for many years to come!


She continued to talk about opinions on designing special offering. Rather than making something general, “you have to make something significant that you can keep talking about”, she saids, “it’s not necessarily for sell, you can do art, just like some of these shoes (showing me her conceptual 3d printed shoes collection), they are just concept design, no one can wear it, but people keep sharing it. Once you got their attention, they want to see what else do you have”. She recommended I can have a strong piece of work and take good photos for documentation and sharing. “Once you have a strong product, the social media can come later.” Actually this is a very good insight for me because I also realized recently the importance to have a product focus on a innovative strong concept, it not only speak for itself with full intention but also help spreading the words out later. 

Validation of a Form: Rexipes Usability Testing


All of my users got through the experience without problem, and submitted both surprising content, as well as expected content. Some people submitted quickly, within a few minutes, and some took a few days. Full disclosure, 6 of the 8 submissions I got this weekend were paid $5 through Task Rabbit, while the other 2 were completely unsolicited. Nobody had negative feedback, for the process, but most were being paid.  My next goals for validation are to persuade more people who have no prior knowledge of the site to submit by posting on the Nonsense list-serve (more on this later), on Skint, which lists free and cheap experiences in NYC, and on Craiglist under free. 

Read More


For the last few years to me, Experience Journal has been :

- A habit for being mindful about environment to train my senses to become a better designer,
- A tool to capturing precious moments & feelings,
- A fun activity to doodle,
- and it helped me to realize my dream through Kickstarter.

Through the campaign, I learned that the Experience Journal will be used in so many creative ways:

- A group of little young elementary students will be using it for their writing class,
- A very sweet Venezuelan gentleman is preparing a surprise gift for his girlfriend, who is passionate about architectural sketching
- A mother and daughter from Australia will be sharing this journal.
- and it’s going to be shared as Christmas presents for lovely big family.

I would love to find out your ways of using the Experience Journal so please share your stories and feedback with me later. I can’t wait to hear about them and feature you in my future updates.



We talked online a few times before, but because the distance we didn’t get a chance to meet face to face. I’m always curious the project she is working on. Last week she came to test her project at New York Hall of Science, so I caught this chance and set an appointment.

We had a very pleasant conversation, since we both have the experience studied and worked in Beijing, it is easy to find some connection at the beginning. I was very excited to learn from her how a game developed, from the concept, prototyping, developing and repeated the test in the end. Except the game itself, they also need to create and record the background music and make the website for promotion. A whole project can take as long as a whole semester to finish as a group. While there is no doubt that practice in the real world is the best way to learn. Her project will officially open for users to play at July in New York. I’m looking forward to trying it out at that time.



One of the more difficult parts of this process has been fulfilling and preparing all of the orders. We wanted to create a unique experience, from the viewing of the poster, to the purchasing all the way to receiving the poster in the mail. As part of this experience we put a lot of…

The Woes of Production


The thinking is that if I can get a decent volume of orders, I can save money by having a bulk shipment sent to me, which I will then ship out to customers. Currently, as an order is placed, I email a request to my production guy, he builds it, ships it to me, and then I ship it to the customer. It’s a terrible waste of time and resources, but it’s my only option. The production side of this project wants to keep his responsibilities solely on production, which I can understand. So having him mail the Unconnect directly to customers isn’t an option, especially since he will increase his cost for doing so, and it’s cost that I’m trying to lower.

The one thing I never considered are these secondary costs outside of the scope of production. I just focussed on making the product, and shipping it to customers. With the current costs of shipping the Unconnect two times, I can make two products. Moving forward in this manner just doesn’t make any sense.

A difficult, but important lesson for every designer—your product isn’t just a pretty image file in a Keynote slide, it’s a production process and distribution method and all of its branding and marketing materials.



We reached our goal in a week and are now approaching 200%! And there is no doubt that we could have reached this point without the promotion that we have received from various blogs and sites. 

After a phone interview with me and Sam, Yahoo Tech News featured us as editor’s pick on the front page of their site.

(Source: designingandinteracting)


Sam and I drove to Vermont last Friday to visit the factory for the standing desk production. I happy to say the prototype looks great! It was a short trip but great. We stayed at Sam’s parents place which is a beautiful house in the mountain with amazing view.

(This is the production company for our product)

Shan is the person who is ruining out production, he is a very professional person to talk to when it comes to production or prototyping. 

 The models look great and fits together perfectly. 

Sam and Mikey visited a potential manufacturer for Upstanding Desk in Vermont. Amazing to see this project go from a slide in a Keynote presentation to wildly successful Kickstarter project and finally actual production.



Grad school is hard.  There’s always another final project around the corner, another public presentation to give, or another blog I have to write up.  There’s never really any rest for the mind and body when you’re in grad school and as a result, I am always nervous, scared, hungry, tired or grumpy.

But you know what’s harder?  Being the friend, boyfriend or family member, who has to sit there patiently with open and non-judgmental ears, as I’m spilling my guts to them.  They really are the most loving and forbearing group of people that I have and I owe it to them for all the successes and failures I’ve gotten through as a designer and student.

Michie writes about the people in her life who have helped her through 8 months of grad school. It’s always nice to be able to take a step back and remember your support system.