How might we communicate the importance of recycling and composting in a culturally-relevant way?

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  • Client

    Seattle Public Utilities

  • Project Goals

    • Identify key motivators and barriers to recycling, composting and food waste behaviors in the Chinese-speaking community in Seattle.

    • Determine design opportunities for in-language communication materials.

  • Approach

    • Intercepts: Meeting people where they are, our team tabled and conducted surveys at local Asian grocery stores and community centers. When designing the survey, we kept in mind variables that might influence behaviors, such as years of residency in the city, age, household size, and housing type (single family home or multifamily unit). We surveyed over 60 Chinese-speaking people and selected eight survey participants for in-depth interviews based on their existing behaviors.

    • In-home interviews: Visiting people in their home, we observed how people set up their solid waste disposal systems first-hand, how they recycle and compost, and how food is prepared, consumed and disposed of. We also asked interviewees to review existing communication materials and provide feedback.

  • Key findings

    • The target audience had a better understanding of and behavior toward recycling compared to composting.

    • New immigrants tend to not recycle or recycle incorrectly compared to immigrants who’ve lived in Seattle for years. The team suggested creating materials in simplified-Chinese, which is the preferred language of the majority of the new Chinese immigrants in Seattle.

    • Recycling was perceived as more environmentally friendly than composting.

    • The value of compost was not understood and has not been communicated to people who

      just moved to the U.S.

    • For many people, staying healthy and slim was more important than saving food and

      money. (And people viewed these two things as being at odds with one another.)

    • People wanted materials in their preferred language and clear images with culturally relevant items.

  • Design

    Based on the findings, the team designed four materials to communicate with and educate community members about recycling, composting and food waste prevention.

    • Solid waste disposal guide

      • Combine composting, recycling, and garbage together on a flyer and highlight items that are most confusing to people.

    • Food storage guide

      • Share tips on how to properly store produce, cooked food and takeout leftovers.

    • Composting tips

      • Include tips for setting up the compost system at home and reducing smells.

    • Meal planner/shopping list

      • Combine a meal planner with a shopping list that people can use to plan

        a healthy meal and buy ingredients they need accordingly.

      • Brand the material as a tool for a healthy lifestyle.


How might we create GOTV communication materials that are relevant to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?

  • Challenge

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. While the AAPI community is growing at a rapid rate, the community is under-engaged in our democracy. In 2014, 50% of eligible AAPI voters were not registered to vote. Out of the 50% of eligible and registered AAPI voters, only 50% voted in 2014, leaving 90,000 AAPIs who had the opportunity to vote but did not. 

  • Task

In order to promote voting, the Asian Counseling and Referral Service's civic engagement team is tasked with creating communication materials for the 2016 general election.

  • Strategies

Based on a 2015 post-election survey and my community outreach observation, I developed the following three strategies for the design.

  1. Be culturally-competent - highlighting community and family values, and showing familiar faces; using different languages (English, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean)
  2. Focus on newspapers - reading newspapers is a very common way for AAPIs to get information
  3. Think of the whole visual experience - using the white space to make my design pop out on a cramped ad page!
Printed Chinese ad

Printed Chinese ad


Public markets provide affordable food access, economic strength, public safety, and community cohesion. 

Hollins market is a public market located in Southwest Baltimore. It was established in 1836, is the oldest remaining market building in the city. Once, the market and the surrounding blocks hosted more than 300 stalls. Now, it is home for 11 vendors.

  • Problem: Hollins market is not thriving. Disconnection and mis-communication between market management, merchants and customers.
  • Research and analysis: case study, ethnographic research, interview, survey, five whys chart, personas.
  • Key observation and Insight: To capture what I’ve learned from the research and sum up the analysis, I synthesized insights into three themes: miscommunication, differing expectations, and lack of interaction.
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How might we incentivize Southwest Baltimore residents to patronize Hollins market?

People from inside and outside the market care about similar issues such as safety and commercial development and yet there is no platform to aggregate people’s energy.

  • Intervention: 

  1. Community design workshop

With help from Southwest Partnership, I facilitated a participatory community workshop with 23 participants from six different neighborhoods. There were three sessions. First, I brought people to Hollins market in hopes of creating a more personal shopping experience. Each person was assigned a positive attribute such as love, tradition or family and were then encouraged to purchase something that represented that attribute. In the second session, we listed out community assets and brainstormed on how to improve the market. Then, in the third session, we shared our findings with the market manager and the merchant association president.


 2. Prototype: Pop-up Hollins Market Event

Through the workshop, participants generated lots of great ideas. Subsequently, the market management, Hollins Roundhouse Neighborhood Association, and I organized a pop-up shop event in Hollins Market to test them out. With the go-ahead from the management and the help from the neighborhood, we were able to set up a kids’ drawing table and invite musicians, artists, and new businesses to come perform and sell their products.

As the result, the event encouraged the market’s workers to interact with the neighborhood. Also, it created an opportunity for non-regular shoppers to come and explore Hollins Market. This event served as a prototype for both social engagement and new business opportunities. My project report helps lay the groundwork for the new market development to take a community collaboration approach.
Read the whole report here

Hearing loss is so common among older adults, but hearing aid use is not.


Baltimore HEARS, the research part of Access HEARS, develops a two-hour intervention that a trained community health worker deliver hearing screening, device fitting and education to an older adult with hearing loss and his/her communication partner. Our team is working with them to take the existing intervention to the next level. 

  • Problem: there is huge gap between hearing loss and device use because of ineffectiveness, cost, accessibility and stigma in the current system. Hearing loss can possibly cause self-isolation, depression and dementia to older adults. 
  • Research: academic research and reading, empathetic exercise, hearing device user interviews, older adults interviews and observation, hearing device demo and training, build personas and journey maps.
  • Key themes and Insights: 
  1. Hearing is critical for safety, but safety is often overlooked as a selling point.
  2. It is easy to overlook hearing loss because it doesn't 'hurt'.
  3. Even the oldest adults don’t want to seem old.
  4. When motivating older adults, even the smallest human interactions can have a big impact.
  5. Living with the 3 Fs (friction, frustration, fatigue) is a full time job.
  6. Human connection makes life worth living.
  7. Seniors don’t like to feel dependent on others, yet social support makes getting old easier.
  8. While hearing devices are given to individuals, the benefits that come with hearing are enjoyed by the whole community.
  9. As an intervention, the HEARS training has to be delivered the same way each time, yet each participant has unique needs.

How might we help older adults see the invisible value of hearing? 

  • Design: HEARs value book, HEARs reminder magnet, video, engaging training, vibrant HEARS community event.

Read more here

Learn from nature and redesign a better food system

  • Problem: in Baltimore, one in four residents live in a food desert, lacking physical, economic, and cultural access to healthy food. This is the result of decades of segregation, white flight and disinvestment in neighborhoods. Current urban renewal projects prioritize attracting new residents over addressing the needs of current residents in less affluent communities within East and West Baltimore. While these communities often lack supermarkets, they are home to many of the city’s 435 corner stores.
  • Approach: we take an earth centered design approach - the combination of human centered design and biomimicry - to analyze problems, find inspirations and develop strategies.
  • Research: academic research and reading, workshop with Baltimore food system experts and biologists, visiting corner stores.

How might we bring fresh healthy food that people desire to these communities in need?

Then we asked nature for inspirations, how might we bring fresh healthy food that people desire to these communities in need?

  • Biological Inspirations:

  1. The Type 3 functional response curve illustrates how predators adapt to a new type of prey: consumption is slow at low densities (when prey is first introduced) but then increases with increased prey density.

  2. Optimal foraging theory models how animals make decisions about what to eat. They consider how much energy will be spent on the process of acquiring the food compared to how much energy will be gained from eating it, also factoring in time spent. When choosing between different prey options an animal will choose the more pro table option (or sometimes multiple, depending on time constraints). If prey is found in a microhabitat, a constrained area or ecosystem that is distinctly different from it’s surrounding environment, it can help to reinforce a the search image of a new prey.

  3. Attraction & Pollination: Bees are attracted to flowers. They come to collect nectar and pollen is dusted on their legs in the process, facilitating cross-pollination for the flower.

  • Intervention: Get Fresh (our submission is selected as winner of 2016 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge in the open category)

The value proposition that Get fresh offers is threefold:

1. Human-centered and it meets both biological and social principles

The current food structure is not supporting those principles. Baltimore City invests lots of money on programs such as “Healthy Stores” and “Healthy Eating” that teach people in food desert areas to buy fresh food ingredients and prepare their own meals. However, people who need these programs are not necessary people who have time to cook. People’s burden and frustration are often overlooked in the current system. In contrast, Get Fresh caters the right things to the right people at the right places - introducing freshly prepared meals to people in need at corner stores. This user-centered shift is where our value comes from.

Get Fresh wants to bring fresh healthy food that people desire to communities in need. Get fresh respects people’s natural learning processes. Based on our biological inspirations, we realized that successful education happens when individual behavior and preference are considered. We envision Get Fresh’s model encouraging a more healthy diet and helping to lay the foundation for happier and healthier communities.

2. Get Fresh is financially viable

It brings more financial values to the existing business model. Corner stores typically rely on small margin profits of products such as soda and chips. Prepared food might have a shorter shelf life but a higher pro t margin than the current pro table merchandise. As long as there is demand, which our proposal is also addressing, Get Fresh’s model is surely more valuable in the long run.

3. Get Fresh has the potential to be a social enterprise that creates social impact

We picture Get Fresh playing an important role to lead a systematic food transformation. In this transformative model, there are four stakeholders in the food industry involved in our food production process - farmers, food preparing workers, corner store owners and individual customers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in February 2016, the unemployment rate 8.1% in Baltimore city is much higher compared to 5.8% in the nation. Some of neighborhoods in West and East Baltimore are experiencing rates as high as 20%. Get Fresh will source excess produce from local farmers and train local residents in the culinary skills necessary to produce the Get Fresh menu at scale. In the future, the more people Get Fresh serves with healthy, affordable, fresh meals, the more impact it generates.




They were marginalized people in the job market and our society. Survival was the main motivation in their life instead of pursuing health and happiness. 

Their lives could be different. GoodDo handcraft, a social enterprise that focus on job training and historic preservation, started from a one year program that teaches these people a second job skill - renew wasted wood and cloth to make beautiful woodcraft and textile product. 

When I was the workforce training program manager, I designed training sessions that not only trained job skills but also helped students to gain positive appreciation towards the history of their city, the environment, and themselves.

They eventually started seeing the brightness in their lives, and were able to share and teach others.