Designing Innovation: Affinity Clustering and Teams

Identify and focus on a problem

This week, we spent some time in class mapping the multitude of problems and pain points within healthcare and the health and wellness of people/communities.

This process is known as affinity clustering; a way of sorting items based on similarity. It minimizes the overwhelm of big ideas, problems or when writing an important paper. This process also helps to identify themes and patterns. It is a wonderful group exercise.

Create Teams Around Health & Wellness

(Honestly, I could not have planned this any better as every topic was an interest. In fact, I had met with Maria just a week earlier to brainstorm ideas for a project. Education and health related problems were at the top of our list.)

I learned about food deserts while studying clinical nutrition at the Maryland University for Integrative Health in a class that gave us an overview of how food and politics in communities. It was eye-opening and infuriating; a definite wicked problem and one I wanted to investigate further now and perhaps in the future. I suppose it was in learning about the social determinants of health that planted the idea that I was meant to stay in design but shift the space in which I worked. Perhaps.

Reviewing and refining our work.

Thankfully, in addition to Maria, two other classmates — Mackenzie and Laura — were also interested in tackling this problem! I’m eager to work with them.

This is Part 2 in a series documenting my learning experiences developing a solution to address food deserts, food security, health literacy, and health for populations. This project is part of our Designing Innovation course with Professor Lien Tran at the University of Miami, School of Communication. I am an IMFA (Interactive Media Master of Fine Arts) candidate. 

Designing Innovation: Designing the Anti “Social” Network”

Today was my first class in the IMFA (Interactive Master of Fine Arts) program.

Designing Innovation is being taught by Professor Lien Tran and we were presented with a design brief titled, Designing the Anti “Social” Network. This will be our first project.

Project Objective

We currently live in an era in which we spend more time connecting via technology, social media, and social networks and more time physically away from each other than with each other. One might say that technology and social networks has made us artificially or superficially connected to each other rather than allowing us to genuinely connect as an authentic community or to develop authentic relationships with people. Ironically, technology and social platforms in general have made us more antisocial. Youth are more comfortable communicating via apps than they are talking to someone IRL (in real life).

Assuming the role of a designer, your objective for this assignment is work in small teams to research and analyze existing “social” networks and related products/features and to propose the design of a new system (or new feature to an existing system) to:

  • enhance an existing community;
  • enhance social interactions;
  • create a new community; and/or
  • enhance “how people weave together within communities and wider society as a whole” (CHI 2019 SDC)

First Exercise: Identities and Communities

How we as a class identify ourselves.

This exercise was incredibly fun and a first step in the process of defining a problem to address for our first project. While we learned about each other and our interests (I’m among kindred spirits!), we also learned how we identify ourselves but also how others might self-identify and in the broader sense, how we belong to communities within communities within communities and so on. It’s a fascinating way to look at how we relate to each other and the world in which we live.

The communities to which we belong
Problems we want to solve or pain points we experience.


This is Part 1 in a series documenting my learning experiences developing a solution to address food deserts, food security, health literacy, and health for populations. This project is part of our Designing Innovation course with Professor Lien Tran at the University of Miami, School of Communication. I am an IMFA (Interactive Media Master of Fine Arts) candidate. 

Why I Chose Maryland University of Integrative Health

There are many places to learn and get training to become a nutritionist or health coach; loads of places in fact. I know because I spent hours and months of research to find the right place for me.

A major factor in why I chose Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) to pursue an M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health is that the degree and coursework will qualify me to sit for the BCNS CNS exam.

What is the BCNS CNS exam?

If I pass … no, when I pass the exam — ahem— I become a Certified Nutrition Specialist, “the best clinical nutrition” credential. [Source] From what I’ve read, it is the highest level, nationally recognized credential for clinical nutrition practitioners.

And, why is the CNS credential important?

I was surprised to learn that not all states recognize nutritionists. Only RDs (Registered Dietitians) are recognized by many states and the (U.S.) government to be qualify for licensure to practice, get reimbursed for insurance due to health care laws, and I’m sure other forms of legal protection and benefits. [Source] So, that means it would be illegal for someone who doesn’t have the RD licensure to practice in states such as Maine, Ohio and Montana. [Source] States regulate nutrition practices so, your mileage, er training varies. This could affect where you practice and how you label and market your services. For example, if you call yourself a Health Coach and you are in a state that only allows licensure for RDs, a clear disclaimer should be on your website and marketing materials. As The Health Coach Group advises, it is vital for you to do your due diligence and “hire an attorney”.

What other factors influenced my decision?

There are so many but here are a few others:

Remote, online training

I live in Syracuse, NY. My husband loves his job. A remote marriage, living apart for me to go to school? Uh, not for me. MUIH offers courses online, in a classroom or a hybrid version. Flexible for everyone, especially professionals looking to make a career change.

Cooking labs

I love to cook and I want to be better at it. I want to learn techniques, develop recipes and most important, learn the science behind foods and how the body uses food. While there are plenty of culinary schools and nutrition schools that have a solid cooking sequence, most did not offer a remote option if at all. It sounds odd to learn how to cook remotely but I was assured it goes well. I’ll let y’all know how it goes. Stay tuned.

Areas of Study

My area of concentration is Nutrition and Integrative Health but MUIH also offers Yoga Therapy, Health Coaching, Health Promotion, Herbal Medicine, and Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine. This excites me because the nutrition track requires taking electives such as Food Systems and Policy, Herbs for Home Use, Health Education, Sports Nutrition, and more. As a future “whole health” practitioner and advocate, exposure, understanding, and training in other areas seemed a no-brainer.

I researched a lot of schools and programs. I talked with so many people, attended webinars, listened to podcasts, and seriously, I spent hours reading and comparing programs. It made my head spin. The entire process led me to this: choosing where and how to train is about being honest with yourself.

Questions I asked myself:

  • How do I learn best?
  • Can I handle a remote, online course?
  • How does my husband feel about this?
  • Why do I want to go back to school?
  • Can we afford it?
  • What could my future look like?
  • What would be my dream job or work environment?
  • What would I need to do to make this happen?

My decision arrived after a ton of soul searching for I think 2-3 years — hot mess —but I’ll save that for another time.

For now, I hope this helps those of you who are in the process of figuring out where to get your training. Please let me know if you have any questions. I’ll do my best to share my experience and information.

I’d also love to hear from others who are in school or have graduated. Why did you choose your program?


3 Favorite Food & Nutrition Podcasts

Last year I hurt my lower back — mulching.

At first, I thought: Wow, here’s a chance to binge-watch all my favorite shows and movies while laying on my back with a heating pad. Cool. But then I received orders from my physical therapist to move — two times a day. Movement helps keep the blood flowing which helps heal the body. Who knew?

I walked like a 95-year-old at first; snail-like and utterly self-conscious but I was determined to feel better. So every morning and every evening I went for a walk no matter if I only got half a block away from my house.

(Note: My back pain became chronic and took one full year to heal.)

Perhaps I’m weird but I don’t keep music on my iPhone. So, I decided to listen to podcasts. At first, I listened to marketing, design and business podcasts but I quickly got annoyed. They made me frustrated. I wasn’t sure why at the time but now I’m thinking it was because I was on a path toward something new.

Hmm … something to mull over for another post but let’s move on to my favorite three podcasts, shall we?


Insatiable Podcast LogoMy friend Reese Spykerman (a stellar designer, btw) indirectly introduced me to Insatiable. One of her posts came up in my Facebook feed and there Ali Shapiro and I struck up a brief conversation about Dr. Kelly Brogan. Me being the curious cat, I went to her FB profile, checked out her website and voila — became an Insatiable listener. What I love about Insatiable and really, Ali and Juliet, is that they. are. real. I love their no-bs talk about how they think and feel about life, food, fitness and well, a slew of health-related topics. They share personal, intimate stories about themselves and get people to share their stories; some which have made me cry! Both are downright hilarious at times; their laughter so infectious I’ve found myself laughing out loud during my walks (thankfully no one has been around — crazy Asian lady!) Anyway, the more I listen, the more I get encouraged to live whole and eat whole; not obsessively. OK, that last bit … it’s a work in progress but they are on my team even if they don’t know it.

Listen to Insatiable by Ali Shapiro and Juliet Burgh

Splendid Table

Splendid Table Podcast LogoThis podcast is new to me. I discovered it on NPR on my drive home from Wegmans. I had no idea listening to people talk about food (no pictures — hello) would be incredibly engrossing and how is it possible I had never heard of it until now?! Hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Splendid Table takes me into peoples’ lives, kitchens, farms, and pantries; restaurants, markets, gardens and more. I love the depth and richness of the interviews because they make me think about my relationship with food as well as food as community, business and well, identity. Physically I was in my neighborhood walking the familiar everyday route but my mind, heart, and stomach were taking a journey across the country and the oceans. Yum …

Listen to the Splendid Table podcast

FoodBlogger Pro

Food Blogger Pro Podcast LogoI’m not sure if food blogging is something I want to do as I navigate this career shift toward becoming a holistic nutritional consultant and coach but after listening to episode after episode I realized how much we self-employed people have in common. No matter our niche, running a business — individual or a small team — is a TON of work. I’ve learned a shit ton about what goes on behind the scenes for food bloggers, and the interviews opened my eyes to the dark side of blogging: trolls and well, mean people. But the yummy side? The episodes are full of techno-weenie goodies (Yay — I can be such a geek!) mixed with business strategy, productivity tips and plenty of great stories: how people got started, their struggles, their fears, successes, etc. Bjork does an incredible job with follow-up questions and the results are helpful, useful episodes with plenty of humor and just enough tangents to keep it real. Thank you, Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom (Pinch of Yum).

View the latest episodes and listen via iTunes or Stitcher (app)

Voila. I hope you’ll check them out and if you have a podcast you love and would like to share, I’m all ears (tee-hee). Let me know in the comments below.

Always, in health,




This is the beginning of many hopes and goals as I begin another shift in my life.

A wee bit of background: I’m in my mid-forties. Right now I make a living as a creative partner for photographers designing websites, books, and marketing pieces mainly. I’m an educator, a speaker, and I’m also writing a book. The working title: Web Design Principles for Photographers.

So, Why The Lovely Ferns?

The Lovely Ferns is a chance to write about my personal health journey and my experiences as I begin classes this Fall at the Maryland University for Integrative Health. In two years I hope to graduate with an M.S. in Nutrition & Integrative Health, qualify for the CNS exam and then work with people in a wellness practice, wellness spa or perhaps at a company or organizations who value a holistic and integrative approach.

What Will I Write About?

OK, so I don’t have this all figured out but one of my dear friends, Leslie, keeps saying, “Just start!”. So on my list so far: personal experiences, recipes, fitness, school and perhaps some travel or techie content. Really, I just want to write and share things that help with feeling healthy in mind, body and spirit. I want to share what feels like a mash-up of my current professional life and what is coming down the pike.


One of my primary goals is to connect with other holistic health practitioners, coaches, and well anyone committed and passionate about helping people heal. Through the years I’ve learned that relationships are key. Connection is important especially now that I’m making what feels like a huge transition. I’m starting over. And, I’m in need of geeking out with others who share my love of food and helping others feel empowered as they journey toward health. Plus, I want to learn from people who are more experienced than I and I want to hear about different ways to approach healing and overall wellness.

So … there it is; my first step!