Hi there, I’m Shreya! I’m fueled by effortless experiences and dedicated to building products that strengthen our relationship with technology and propel our society forward.



April 23 -24, 2016

This past weekend, HackDuke hosted it's first ever design thinking conference: Ideate. Eight speakers from Google, Box, IBM, Slack, and Frog were flown in from all areas of the United States to host lectures and workshops centered around design thinking for nearly 200 students. 


The opening keynote by Cindy Wang emphasized the importance empathy in design. She took Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and transformed it into a "User's Hierarchy of Needs", which I thought was a perfect way to explain to what design and UX is to those who were not too familiar with the field (like me). 

User's Hierarchy of Needs: 

1. Functional

2. Reliable

3. Usable

4. Pleasurable

5. Empowerment

In her talk, she explained design through her love for video games. Using the video game "Journey", she shifted back and forth between how the game provided a very fulfilling user experience and how she used the game to influence her designs in other fields. She also used Mailchimp and Asana as examples of great user experience. Because of these companies' ability to empathize with their users, they were able to address each user concern. Cindy noted how Mailchimp and Asana both embody users' emotions by acknowledging his or her fears and celebrating with users when they have completed the task at hand, hence overcoming their fears (Mailchimp does this by acknowledging the fear of sending out an email to the masses, and asking you to give your "chimp" a high five when you have successfully sent the email. Similarly, Asana sends a flying unicorn across the screen when you have completed a to-do task). Within the first hour of IDEATE, I had already learned so much about design and UX. Cindy's talk set the stage for the rest of the conference by providing great food for thought for the conference weekend.


Fiona Yeung and Andre Tacuyan - both UX designers at Google - provided a detailed and insightful lecture on their steps to becoming a designer. They also gave tips on how to build a portfolio, which I thought was really helpful for budding designers/newcomers in the industry.  I really enjoyed this talk, in part because it was one of the talks I was looking forward to the most. Before the conference, I spent hours browsing Fiona and Andre's websites and looking at all their work. They are such a source of inspiration to me, and I'm so thankful that I was able to talk to them about their work and ask them all the questions I had about the design industry over the conference weekend. 

Their talk, along with their workshop, dove straight in to UX design and strategies for design. Instead of slowly dipping a toe in, their talk and workshop allowed us to dive in headfirst. Their tips for starting a portfolio were extremely useful because it gave me a basis for where to start. There were two takeaways I got from their talk. The first was how to start a design project; they gave us a very concise five question model to follow: 

  1. What is the problem? 
  2. Who are you solving it for? 
  3. Why is this a problem?
  4. What do you want to achieve? 
  5. How? 

The second takeaway was a quote that resonated with me: 

"The first version will always suck." 

I think this made an impact on me because I have often been afraid of my work not being good enough, but after going through a workshop with Fiona and Andre, I realized that a first idea is never going to be the best idea. In the initial stages, it's better to have quantity over quality and then go through multiple iterations after putting down as many ideas as you can on the paper. Keeping this quote in mind made it easier for me to put down any idea that came to my mind without worrying about whether or not it would be considered "good". 


Fiona and Andre's workshop was an hour long design sprint. They introduced us to the concept of a "sprint", and then had us go through one such sprint. Before we went through the sprint, they gave us a simple two sentence model for starting our designs: 

In order to [vision], our product will solve [target audience]'s problem of [user problem] by giving them [strategy].

We will know if our product works when we see [goal].

This model proved extremely useful in coming up with designs that were meaningful and efficient. Before starting, we were also introduced to "how might we's", or HMW's. HMW's are meant to be written on stickies and are meant to come up with the different problems that need to be solved. When doing the HMW's, coming up with a solution or thinking about constraints isn't necessary, these HMW's are just a preliminary process in finding the problem that is going to be solved. 

We were also given a succinct model of a user needs statement to help us in coming up with the HMW's: 

[User name]  is a [user characteristic] who needs (a way to) [user need] 

because (they value) [insight].

Our sprint for the day was to come up with an app that would connect an entire family and keep them updated with each other. After the HMW's, we voted on which two problems were the most popular and deserved to be addressed.  Then, using the "crazy 8 sketches" technique - eight designs done in eight minutes (emphasizing the idea of quantity over quality) - we each came up with eight such designs for the two problems that our group as a whole chose to address.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time and were unable to complete the rest of the sprint. We were given a rundown of what the rest of the sprint looked like, and we also were given Google's five phrase framework that provided a timeline of the sprint. I think that the techniques I learned in this workshop were really helpful and gave me a great understanding of how to get started on a design project. I also really liked where our ideas were going for the family app, so I plan on revisiting it in the near future to continue working on it and maybe turn it into a project! 

UPDATE May 12, 2016: View the result of the project here!


Diogenes Brito, a product designer at Slack, gave a talk on why design matters. Dio noted that although "design" is a common word, there isn't a simple definition to design. He also said that trying to answer the question "what is design?" is useless because it is similar to asking "what is art?". Design is subjective and it's each person has a unique definition of design. Instead, Dio answered a different question - what is design good for? 

In his answer, he related "designing" to "planning" and defined "design thinking". His definition of design thinking was a five step cycle: 

Empathize -> Define -> Ideate -> Prototype -> Test -> Repeat

I liked this definition because it was able to clearly map out the process of design thinking and the different aspects of design that needed to all be considered while doing a project. Dio also commented that design is kind of a way to see something that hasn't been made yet, so in a way it's like being able to see the future. And because of this somewhat superpower that designers have, they have an obligation to society to make their projects good. 

You made something that didn’t need to be made,
so you have an obligation to make it good.
— Diogenes Brito


In our second workshop, led by Stephanie Engle (an incoming Facebook UX designer) and Ashley Qian (a designer at DIY), we analyzed how Airbnb redid it's entire user experience model to build trust to increase their user base. To begin the workshop, Stephanie and Ashley led us through an eight step cycle that Airbnb followed to revamp their brand. This eight step cycle was: 

1. Define the problem, is it real? 

2. Understand the audience and define their needs.

3. Define success. 

4. Define the barriers to reaching success. 

5. Come up with ideas that are tangible and testable. 

6. Test and record. 

7. Refine the design.

8. Repeat. 

There are many similarities between this eight step process and the previous five step process Fiona and Andre introduced us to. From these lectures and workshops, I've been able to come up with a skeleton of the design cycle that each designer seems to follow.  The cycle starts with understanding your user and defining the problem, and ends with iterating before repeating the entire process. In the case of Airbnb, their problem was that they didn't have a lot of users because their users didn't trust the homes that were on the Airbnb website.  So, by simply getting professional photographers to take pictures of the homes that Airbnb was endorsing, they were able to build trust amongst their users. In addition to better photography, Airbnb also redesigned their website to make the professionally taken photographs larger, prices smaller, and show location maps to emphasize where the listings are located. By enhancing these simple parts of their website, Airbnb was able to make each user's experience on their website more enjoyable, leading to an increase in home bookings. 

Before and after of Airbnb's website

Before and after of Airbnb's website

After the case study, we were given a problem to solve as an exercise. In our exercise, we were given $50,000 from Duke University to come up with a way to make sure students were returning home safely from Shooters - the nearby popular nightclub. Me and my partner came up with a simplistic app that could be used even if students were intoxicated. Our thought process was that if someone wanted to leave alone, then they could use the app to connect with someone else who was also at Shooters who wanted to leave as well. Of course, there was the concern of making sure that the person a user gets connected with is a safe person to go home with. Our solution to that concern was that each user would sign up with Facebook, and the app would first look through your friends list to see if any of your "friends" were leaving, and if it couldn't find anyone it would then move on to number of mutual friends. We would just have one simple button that said "leave now" and then would send a notification out to all other people who had the app. This was only our first idea after ten minutes of brainstorming, but I think that there are definitely better ways to combat this problem - and the solution doesn't even have to be tech related. My mind went straight to tech because we had been talking about design and tech so far, but there were other groups that came up with non tech-related solutions that were very feasible. 


On the second day of the conference, we were originally supposed to do multiple design challenges but instead they turned it into a second design sprint challenge. As a large group, we brainstormed problems that we wanted to tackle and we eventually all settled on one problem that we wanted to solve: how to make people care about saving the environment. 

Again, me and my partner started with HMW's to come up with a list of the most pressing issues. Our three main concerns were: 

  1. Engaging the community
  2. Raising awareness for a greener environment
  3. Action based rather than reading based
  4. Incentives

We both agreed that creating something to raise awareness wouldn't be as beneficial as creating something that would give people a chance to take action. So we began thinking of incentives, or reasons why people would want to take action. We settled on going green through composting, because we believed that it would be easy to target homes and restaurants to compost as food waste is extremely common in both these communities. This time, we tried to think less tech based. We toyed with the idea of homes and restaurants having some sort of trade system with a popular local market (Whole Foods etc.), where our product/company would deliver locally grown food and pick up compost, the incentive being either a discount at the market or publicity for restaurants at the market. We were thinking that for homes, every compost pickup would earn each household a stamp and a after gaining a certain number of stamps (number undecided), each household would be rewarded with an attractive discount to the market we have partnered with. For restaurants, we came up with the idea of restaurants getting to promote themselves at the market through tabling or food samples after they have had a certain number of compost pick ups. Of course, these ideas are also all very early ideas that need hundreds of iterations to come to the final product, but I am also very excited about this idea and I will be taking this idea (or something along these lines) forward this summer as a project!

This workshop concluded IDEATE 2016, and although I was exhausted after the conference I had a great weekend learning, immersing myself in the world of design, and meeting some really inspiring designers. I am already looking forward to IDEATE 2017, I can't wait to see what it has to offer!