Designing Your Life

by New Idiom


Finishing up A-session of Spring semester and recruitID in the past two weeks has brought prospects of the future front and center for us here at the Institute of Design. While in the midst of analyzing data, building conceptual prototypes, and conducting user research, we are also trying to figure out where we will be interning this summer or working after graduation. But more importantly, we are processing how the ID experience is affecting change within ourselves and how it will bring value to our future selves. Each of us is building our story — where we came from, what we are doing here, and where we are going. Predicting the future might be out of our reach, but having the skills to build that future is not.

I had the chance to hear about this first hand when I sat down to talk to Chicago-based Lee Corrina Cano, an ID 2000 MDes in Design Planning. Lee and her husband Miguel, an ID 2001 MDes in Product Design, own a design studio called Design Union and have recently opened The Coffee Studio, a modern espresso bar in the north Chicago neighborhood Andersonville. The Coffee Studio was just an idea in 2005 when Miguel and Lee were looking for a way to create a more sustainable lifestyle: a good balance of work, time, and freedom. Once they decided on the coffee shop idea, they began the process of designing a cohesive system.

Initially, the couple did research: visiting Seattle, attending coffee conferences and workshops, talking with other coffee shop owners, and even working at Starbucks. They did observational primary research in different Chicago locations to understand unmet needs and potential holes in the market. After choosing a spot, they created a business plan and vision to get the needed investment approval. Lee told me that the ability to look at the business as a system and apply frameworks throughout the process was particularly valuable. It enabled them to structure and simplify the information into a concise argument that helped to sell their idea. But the process was not without its obstacles; Lee kept a blog at where others can learn from the challenges they faced.

Visiting the coffee shop now, you can see (and taste) the beauty of that initial vision. From the ambience of the interior space to the precision of the foam patterns on your latté, The Coffee Studio is an outstanding example of the power of the design process. During our talk Lee said that after leaving the Institute of Design, “you can do anything better.” No matter if we go back to what we were doing before ID, go on to a new industry, or even try something like opening a small business, we are going to be able to think about it differently and do it better. Having the tools and critical thinking skills to work through any process is pretty amazing and has the potential to help in situations big and small, professional and personal. As Vijay Kumar said in our final Design Analysis class last week, “Don’t underestimate the value of the tools.”