Oceans by Design

Latest update April 16, 2019 Started on November 27, 2018

An experimental and experiential course at the Stanford d.school, in partnership with the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions

November 27, 2018
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In this final post, we describe the final classes of the quarter, reflect on Oceans by Design, and share our overall experience using the Open Explorer platform.

During the final design review on March 12th, students presented their prototypes to each other, their project partners, the Center for Ocean Solutions, the d.school, and the wider community. Prototypes included Rise: climate change-themed escape room for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Draw the Line: a social movement to prevent plastic waste, Building Baselines: an activity that visualizes the Shifting Baselines phenomenon through virtual reality, Trace to Plate: an app that helps supermarkets identify sustainable seafood, and Island Hopper: a platform that connects communities and researchers to prevent parachute science. One team improved on FishLine, an existing platform to help fishers sell seafood directly to consumers and another created a sophisticated tax policy to reduce plastic pollution.

To bookend our class “Launch” in January, we sailed back into port for our final, reflective class on March 14th. Like on the first day, students got to dance with the amazing Aleta Hayes and connect with their classmates. The rest of class involved discussion and reflection to synthesize the class experience, and provide feedback to the teaching team.

One exercise was “I used to think...Now I think” where students wrote on a card what they thought before the class (about design, about oceans, about anything) and then comment on how the class might have changed their thinking. In these reflections, many students shared the sentiment that they now value design thinking, whereas previously they did not see it as relevant to their field. Here are some examples:

“I used to think...Design thinking wasn’t applicable outside product design and now I think...Almost anything can be broken down using design thinking.”

“I used to think...Well done science was one of the best ways to work environmental science and design thinking was something my product design friends did. and now I think...This is an extremely valuable, positive, and thoughtful toolset that can be applied to any problem. Everyone in Earth Systems needs to take a design class!”

“I used to think...Design thinking wasn’t relevant to me and now I think...we need a design major!”

“I used to think...That design thinking was best suited to certain disciplines and “human centric” problems. and now I think...That a design approach can be applied in any field.”

One of the topics for reflection was this Open Explorer platform. The students enjoyed the tool as a way to share the process with the world, and document their own design journey. Written reflection included: “Interesting to connect to [the] outside world and other groups in class.” “LOVE OpenExplorer. I think it’s a rad platform.” “Brilliant, thank you for letting me discover it”

Constructive feedback was also directed to the platform itself (e.g., suggestion on making it easier to create a profile, post photos, and share to social media) as well as to how it was used for class. For example, rather than asking students to create these posts as homework, some students suggested integrating it into class time and working on posts as a group. One student said that having the website open during class would have encouraged them to engage more. Another suggestion would be to develop a system of “likes,” such as thumbs-ups, hearts, or other emojis. Such a feature may help generate more engagement on Open Explorer and across platforms.

Students also enjoyed being a part of the S.E.E. program, although only a handful of students were able to test and use the Trident R.O.V. Students that did journeyed with it to Mauritius, Puerto Rico, and the campus pool. Written reflection on the R.O.V included: “WOW thank you for this great opportunity” “Wish we had a class outing to use this. I didn’t get to.” “Not really sure how we could have used the R.O.V. in our prototype but it would have been dope.” “So cool! Such a unique experience.”

Overall, this Open Explorer platform was a great tool to share our course in a new and unusual way. Our hope is that that our experimentation with the platform as a “non-expedition” Expedition might inspire other instructors- from grade school to university level- to incorporate this open-access tool to share their teaching and learning journeys. This would ideally lead to further prototyping and sharing of curricula and more multi-disciplinary approaches towards solving problems at any scale.

As one student said in their reflection essay “I think that cross pollination between disciplines is the future of all research and adopting new methodologies and perspectives is what will help us solve these daunting global issues.”

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In The Field

Last week I attended the second Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Grant from our Oceans by Design class was also in NY, so I invited him to visit the UN where negotiations were underway. We ran a negotiation simulation in class that mirrored these current UN negotiations and Grant's role as Russia demonstrated a very important perspective that may derail negotiations, i.e., maintaining the status quo. The current state of the world's oceans and the growing impact of climate on it demonstrates a need for a major pivot, the status quo with respect to ocean management needs a major overhaul and this agreement may be a way to do this.

However, it's quite a lift to have close to 200 countries working in unison with the goal of protecting the area of ocean and seabed beyond national jurisdiction and committing to it. There are many agendas at play from national, regional and international levels. Current international and regional institutions are concerned about their mandate being eroded and states that for decades have ravaged the high seas are concerned with losing this freedom. There are large groups of states that are advocating for this agreement so there is some momentum.

Much like the Tragedy of the Commons, if we don't take steps to regulate and manage our High Sea commons we may soon be facing a global tragedy of the largest global commons we all share.

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We wrapped up design review 2 with a modified version of our experience prototype. Team Kelp-ing Hands is super proud of what we've accomplished with the idea for an education escape room which shows visitors how their everyday actions impact the environment. We're also very grateful for our partners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium-- they gave us some great feedback and were receptive to our ideas.

This course may be over, but our journey is not! We hope to work with our partners at the aquarium in the spring to see where this idea might lead.

Attached are some photos from our presentation last Tuesday!

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Hey guys! We wrapped up the class with our final design review yesterday in which we presented three prototypes: the Dishbot, a Zero Waste Campus Policy and our higher resolution prototype Draw the Line. Last week, our class focused on experiential prototypes, which is where we conceived of Draw the Line.

You can check out our video for it here: https://youtu.be/54QZBQJjiMs

Eva did an amazing job editing the video and McKinley designed an unbelievable splash page of what our website would look like, which you can find here: http://drawtheline.strikingly.com

We brought it to a higher resolution because we felt like it was the culmination of earlier prototypes. That is, it leverages technology similar to the Dishbot and has the potential to alter lifestyles like a Zero Waste Campus Policy. We received some positive feedback about the idea and we look forward to what we can do to possibly make it a reality.

Attached are some photos of our posters!


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Thank you for sharing OceanWise. Great work!
In The Field

Ocean by design gave me the incredible opportunity to experience the ROV for my project in Mauritius.
The Maritime Archaeological Project of Mauritius (MMAP) aims to give voice to the precious underwater cultural heritage (UCH) of this island which has about 800 wrecks. For this mission, the goal was to map a famous site, the wreck of Le Sirius sunk during the battle of the Grand Port battle through geophysical survey. Check here some historical info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMSSirius(1797)

Thanks again Ocean by design class for this incredible opportunity

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This weekend, our team went on a field trip to Half-Moon Bay to learn more about the benefits of selling seafood directly to customers. We learned that an app, FishLine, is currently in use and highly preferred by fishermen and is used to sell directly to consumers. Some of the important issues mentioned by the fishers were about regulations and how the law enforcement agency does not actively engage fishers in decision-making. This is something we have seen in Hawaii as well and were interested in the linkage. This trip was highly beneficial to assess our current tech and policy prototypes!

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Glad it was an insightful trip!

Over the weekend, the Coralistas got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Cal Academy of Sciences from Dive Safety Officer Mark Lane. We saw their facilities for “creating new water,” the dive locker, and the incredible network of pipes, tanks, and folks needed to keep the exhibits running. Above the CAS is Renzo Piano’s iconic living roof, an ideal model of how technology can serve sustainability in an engaging, beautiful way. Thank you to Mark Lane for the tour, Erika for the intro, and the CAS for an amazing visit!

-Grant, Shikha, and Andrea

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This weekend, I watched David Lang's TED talk on preserving our oceans like national parks. He called for universal engagement on the issue of conservation. We are engaged, and now we are trying to engage in engaging others.

Our team, Kelp-ing Hands, is partnered with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to tackle the issue of climate change. The issue is clearly huge, but our hope is to influence people to adopt environmentally-conscious behaviors. The aquarium's visitors are a community of people who already care about the ocean. Our tech and policy prototypes aim to influence these ocean-lovers to take ocean-friendly actions every day. Now, we are beginning to think about an experience prototype that would have similar influence on aquarium visitors. Our experience prototype would take the form of a scavenger hunt exhibit. What we have so far is that there would be a manmade beach on one side of the exhibit, and sea level rise would be a barometer for the user’s progress through the exhibit. In order to navigate the exhibit, users would find solutions to problems relating to the environment presented to them, and “sea level” would rise or fall in response. This idea is still in development, and we’re excited to see where this rabbit hole leads!

Our policy prototype, Race to Zero-Waste, tackles the question: “How might we enable the MBA to influence visitors’ behavior to be more sustainable through new aquarium policies?” As the aquarium itself already strives for sustainable practices, a further goal to strive for is influencing visitors’ behaviors. Our policy prototype would enforce a ban on all single-use plastics in aquarium facilities. The aquarium would implement a "sustainability checkpoint" visitors must pass through before entering, and there would be efforts to move toward a plastic-free gift shop. Additionally, the aquarium would go paperless under this policy. Digital information kiosks and a MBA app would help visitors navigate the aquarium.

Some feedback we received on this policy is that it would increase the length of lines to enter the aquarium, might not impact visitors’ behaviors prior to coming to the aquarium, can make visitors angry, and will cause an accumulation of underused single-used plastics. People who we tested our prototype ideas on liked that this unique policy had clear intentions, demonstrated a dedication to sustainability, and achieves the intended educational impact. A suggestion we received would be providing sustainable behavior alternatives at the checkpoint. Another tweak to this policy would be providing lockers for temporary storage of single-use plastics for users to collect upon leaving the aquarium. With this change, the point about the aquarium’s stance on single-use plastics would still be made; however, visitors do not throw out plastic bottles before finishing them.

Our emerging tech prototype, DiVR, is a virtual reality experience intended to help the user visualize how their daily choices impact the ocean and the environment as a whole. The experience is relevant for both of our identified users, Owen and Allie. Owen is a 12-yr old boy who is learning about climate change in school. Allie is a 22-yr old college student who cares about the environment but has other things to worry about and does not live particularly sustainably. DiVR is modeled after a “Choose Your Own Adventure” storyline. This prototype tackles the question: “How might we use VR to expose aquarium-goers to the wonders of the natural world, which are impacted by their everyday choices?”

Some constructive criticism we received is that excitement over VR and limited number of devices would create lines, VR depictions of suffering marine animals or dead reefs creates feelings of guilt, and there is increased management required on the part of the aquarium to facilitate proper use and prevent theft. Some positive feedback we got is that such VR experiences inspire powerful emotions, catch the attention of younger kids, show realistic representations of life underwater, and are powerful pedagogical tools. We could address this feedback by further developing the storyline, providing more personal choices, more choices in general, and providing relevant solutions to harmful behaviors.

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Having mostly focused on individual fishermen up to this point, team Octo-Thinking began discussing how we could make our design more inclusive to other voices in the communities we are serving that are currently not being heard. We believe that some of the primary factors we haven't considered are gender, language, and ageism. Here's a bit on each of them!

Gender: Prior to colonization, Hawaii was largely a matriarchal society, which radically changed when colonization occurred.

Language: Specifically related to fishing and fishing practices, much of the native Hawaiian language cannot be directly translated into English, leading to either intentional or unintentional misunderstandings between native fisherman and lawmakers.

Ageism: Many of the small-scale fishermen in Hawaiian communities are getting older, potentially even aging out of the trade. With the population aging, there is a severe risk of traditional fishing practices going away as well.

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In The Field

Oceans by Design students are prototyping experiences this week, and some have taken the Trident for a spin in the pool. Produced some compelling footage....


In class this week, the Ocean Ragers thought about designing for inclusivity in a really thoughtful series of exercises. We started by talking about a recent Guardian article called "The deadly truth about a world built for men - from stab vests to car crashes" (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/23/truth-world-built-for-men-car-crashes) about how women have traditionally been left out of design. Did you know that more women die in car accidents because crash test dummies were modeled off men? I personally found this article really engaging and have since shared it with many women in my life.

After discussing the article, we selected three lenses representing often excluded user groups to discuss in the context of our project: (1) economic oppression, (2) education level, and (3) race/ethnicity. For each of these groups we answered a series of questions: What are some of the concerns of people from this group? what are ways in which these groups may be unintentionally excluded from design? How could you mitigate exclusion in your design?

We had a few interesting ideas emerge from this exercise that we are excited about. The first was to simplify simplify simplify and use accessible language. While the power of our prototypes so far is in amassing and digesting big data, the user experience flow can be extremely simple, and then allow for deeper dives into this data for those who desire it. The second was around including an affordability index in our data set, and then being sure to highlight affordable seafood options. It would be interesting to track pricing over time and include alerts like "now is a good time to buy!" The third takeaway is around considering a broader set of value systems around sustainability. Being "green" can't be a top priority for everyone, so how can we design our solution to solve problems around IUU fishing even for those for whom it is not a priority?

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This week, team ocean ragers has been focused on drafting policies that would make seafood purchasing far more traceable, trustworthy, and sustainable. We have been drafting a policy that would incorporate blockchain technology along with satellite data from sources like SkyTruth to try and make the seafood supply chain more transparent. The goal is to have all seafood be traceable up to the point of origin and to define baseline regulations to standardize seafood sourcing. Our drafted policy would hopefully make it easier for suppliers and wholesalers to determine if the seafood they are purchasing was sustainably caught thereby making the seafood then available at markets 100% sustainable. We will be prototyping the policy in the field and on campus this weekend!


Though the Coralistas were just observers to this activity, one of the highlights of the week was getting a crash-course on blockchain technology. Through using a tape network to exchange Post-its between participants at the ends (pictured above), we explored the main theme of centralization versus decentralization (one of the key benefits of blockchain) when it comes to making transactions and sharing information. We are wondering how a "database" where people can see each other's interactions can support coral conservation, maybe in keeping track of who is doing conservation work already. We are excited to keep this in the back of our minds as we prototype our "policy idea" (a tourist tax to support conservation efforts) to students/potential Puerto Rico tourists.


Team Kelp-ing Hands has been hard at work prototyping policies that might help the Monterey Bay Aquarium inspire others to reduce their footprint. So far, we've come up with policy ideas including making the aquarium a single use plastic-free facility, shifting from non-recyclable glossed information pamphlets to recyclable paper or paperless digital information kiosks, and implementing a "sustainability checkpoint" visitors have to pass through when entering the aquarium.

The image below is a picture of Holly, one of our teammates, reflecting on how our generation has been gifted with this powerful problem of climate change which brings meaning to our lives as we try to fix it!


Update from the Ocean Ragers!

This past week was all about beginning the prototyping process: collating all of our data from the last five weeks and brainstorming solutions for tackling the hurdles around sustainable seafood. Last Tuesday we talked about all kinds of “emerging tech” and the different applications they could be used for to tackle IUU fishing. Some of the ideas that came out of this session were creative to the point of lunacy- from microchipping tunas to goggles that track your seafood consumption- but everything steered towards our ongoing theme of increasing traceability and trust in the seafood supply chain and empowering users to make sustainable seafood choices. Our first prototype proposes a system where seafood can be tracked from its port of origin (i.e. a QR code tag that gives the species, location, date, vessel, and gear type for where and when the fish was caught) and a corresponding database which cross references your fish’s information with sustainability guides (like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program and Marine Stewardship Council Certification) and Skytruth vessel tracking information (https://skytruth.org/mapping-global-fishing/). This app will provide seafood buyers with a simple and easy to interpret recommendations on purchasing choices that is based on all of the available data for a given fish. Over the holiday weekend we tested our prototype in the field on community members here at Stanford and received excellent feedback on ways to improve our next iteration!


Our group, Octo-thinking, has decided to work on finding a solution to address IUU fishing in small scale fisheries on Kauai island in Hawaii. It was exciting to share our "How might we" question with the whole class and distinguished guests during Ocean Review 1 in Week 4. We would like to find a way of promoting effective communication between traditional Hawaiian communities and government authorities. The main feedback we have from community leaders and fishers is that government should stay out of making regulations but lean into implementation of community approved activities. The feedback session was fantastic! This Tuesday, we also brainstormed on a range of tech solutions that could potentially help to address this problem.

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This week, the Coralistas focused on learning about emerging technologies and applying them to issues of reef conservation. From cameras that can sense behaviors and species around the reefs to genetically modifying coral to a crowdsourcing platform of images that uses machine learning to identify healthy corals, we really had fun playing with new concepts. This weekend, we are hoping to test our prototype "My Coral Blue" (a dashboard of local actions for users to take to protect reefs in San Juan) with people around us and in our network of users - we are excited to see how people feel!


Hey guys! Last week, we had the opportunity to present our design review of marine pollution to our instructors, our class and a group of various ocean experts. Our design review focused on the use of plastic on Stanford's campus and the role of an average student. From our interview with Julie Muir, head of Stanford's waste management, we were pretty astonished to learn how much plastic is not actually recycled either due to food contamination or low demand from the recycling business. Furthermore, the recent Chinese waste ban presents another obstacle as it places an onus on the US to figure out our plastic waste. We presented these findings to the class and suggested that our system is at fault. Even if our user, the average student at Stanford, is environmentally conscious and recycles their trash, there is a good chance their plastic ends up in a place like the ocean.

We received great feedback on our direction and were encouraged to pursue it further. Some pointed us to existing models that seek to reduce plastic use and others pointed us to policies put in place by cities and organizations that are eliminating plastic. While much of the focus was on redesigning systems, an important piece of feedback was to not forget the role of the Stanford student. We are excited to conduct more research on existing efforts to decrease plastic consumption, whether that be looking into plastic alternatives or model systems as we move into prototyping.

  • OceanWise *Below are some photos from our visit to Stanford's waste management center
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In The Field

Super interesting session that combined lateral and design thinking with big picture, next-gen emerging technology brainstorms! Our group thoroughly enjoyed - and found incredibly helpful - the process of spitballing our "How Might We" question relating to microplastics and bringing in layers of technologies of the (not so distant) future - in particular AI, A/R, V/R, and IoT. We look forward to integrating this work in our next design brief.


Last Tuesday, we had the chance to present our user, process, and how might we question to our class, instructors, and a group of experts working in a range of fields related to our topic. Receiving their feedback was incredibly helpful, and helped us both refine our how might we question and slightly alter the direction we were going in with our project. Some pertinent questions that were raised were: (Why) is sustainable fish more expensive (i.e. is the price differential real of made-up)? Why is 1/3 of fish in the U.S. mislabeled and are there certain places (stores, regions etc.) that are more prone to this problem? Who should have the responsibility to be informed – the consumer, the store, or the supplier? Is this a labeling problem or a traceability problem or both? What about cases in which the data about sustainability/IUU fishing coming into the system is wrong?

While we had thought about most of these questions before, we are excited to do more deep research into each of them, in order to not only understand our users and stakeholders but also the political, economic, social, and historic contexts that shape our pain points and will inform out solution. We also want to do research into the successes and failures and overall progression of “the organic movement” in order to better envision how seafood consumption might change over time. Some important themes that emerged from our discussion with fellow students as well as experts in the field were: trust, choice editing, traceability, complexity (i.e. acknowledging the myriad factors that play into the problem we are seeking to address), channeling people’s emotions and empathy and harnessing significant decision-making moments in our user’s or enablers’ daily lives.

Overall, we are grateful for this feedback, and tremendously excited to see where these next few weeks take us! – Ocean Rangers