Colleen B Murphy

Change Your Commute

Design, Ideas, Thoughts


The bottom line is that the US should join Europe and become a biking community (in my opinion, of course.) For a number of reasons, bike commuting is becoming a more viable option for many Americans. It’s healthier, better for the environment, and in some cases, can be faster than cars when factoring in traffic and parking. Find out how changing your commute can lead to a better life, and make each morning something to smile about.

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Contagious Creativity



I’ve been working on my print portfolio, Contagious Creativity. Always a work in progress, but check it out!

The Little Library

Design, Fun


My family’s small addition to the Sharing Economy

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Exploring Human Centered Design



After a very long (and freezing) four months, I’ve successfully redesigned the Bootstrap Brand Identity and the Bootstrap Coding workbook. The best news is that Bootstrap is going to use my designs in the upcoming year.

I tackled the redesign by taking a human centered design (HCD) approach. The basic philosophy behind HCD is that the people using the product are the most important in the grand scheme of things. A designer must focus on a users needs, desires, and aspirations. The shift in view point allows the designer ask critical questions that have the potential to shape the design or uncover new avenues of growth.

I used HCD to design Bootstraps’ coding workbook. The students write in the workbook before using the computer. It is important for them to learn to write in code in pencil before bringing it to the computer. I needed to understand the Bootstrap curriculum in depth and see it in action in every dimension to be able to make the correct design decisions. I attended Bootstrap after-school classes, asked students for feedback, and spoke to teachers. I attended teacher-training programs to understand how they use the workbook. Throughout the semester I had multiple experiences that shaped my design.

I started with secondary research. I researched in depth how the book was printed and distributed. The workbook can be downloaded and printed by any teacher in the country. It is also more commonly printed in black and white ink. The assembly of the workbook is the teacher’s choice, so it could be printed as a whole book or sections for each class. Because of this research, I made restrictions before I started to design. The book is not in color, each page can function without the rest, there are page numbers and titles at the bottom for teacher’s reference, and if it were to be bound the margins are appropriate for it.

I started primary research (on-the-ground research) in November of 2013. One of the first sessions I attended was a sixth grade class in Roxbury Mass. at Orchard Gardens School. I took notes about student behavior, how the workbooks were being used, what made them excited about Bootstrap, what made them bored, etc. I spoke to some of the teachers and asked them questions like, “What is the hardest thing about teaching the Bootstrap Curriculum?” The answers were really helpful. They said the one of the hardest things to do is get the students to write in the workbook. One reason students may not want to write may be that the space to write is not big enough for kids handwriting; 6th grade handwriting is still a little larger than adult handwriting. This was one of the changes I prioritized; the workbook now has large space that allows the students to write comfortably. Below on the left was the workbook before, on the right is the new design.


Left: A page from the workbook with small spacing Right: The same page from the new workbook; bigger space to write

In January 2014 I went to a Bootstrap teachers training program and I learned the elements of the workbook. I sat with a bunch of Computer Science Northeastern Students who didn’t know that I was actually learning from the mock teaching classes they were presenting, taking notes about the way they taught but also notes on racket code. It was important for me to understand the elements and tools. I had started off not understanding any computer coding, and now I can use the tools from Bootstrap to write in Racket Code! While learning, I realized that the workbook needed visual imagery to help students understand important tools. I created icons and symbols that help with memorizing important steps. Below on the left is a Circle of Evaluation, an important tool that takes a function and translates it into Racket Code. To the right are the symbols I came up for the Design Recipe; Step 1 is Contract, Step 2 is Example, and Step 3 is Definition. Together they make the Design Recipe.

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Left: The Circle of Evaluation Right: The Design Recipe, along with the steps, Contract, Example, Definition

The design recipe was the most important tool. I needed to make icons that were appropriate. I came up with a few different icon designs and I brought them to a sixth grade Bootstrap class to get feedback. Turns out, the mac n’ cheese symbols were not “mature enough”. They said the three steps were better represented by the design recipe loading symbols and not the mac and cheese.

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Left: My mac n’ cheese design failure Right: The Design Recipe

By showing the students my designs helped me see through their eyes. I had forgotten that in sixth grade you were a “big kid” but treated as a “little kid” by adults, which can get so annoying! My mac n’ cheese idea was not that funny or cool to them at all.

One small detail I added is an animation at the bottom of the workbook, so that when you flip through the corner pages a coding superhero flies into the book. Emma Youndtsmith, a regional manager who helped me throughout the semester with insight on coding and the curriculum, gave me the idea to add it after brainstorming with a few teachers. Such a great idea!

This process was very new to me, but after it really brought my designs to the next level. It has become very clear to me why HCD and design thinking are important to make functional and yet beautiful design.


You can check out the final Bootstrap Workbook by clicking this link.

Download the Bootstrap Brand Identity Guidelines to check out the final Brand Identity.

Visual Design Skills + Concept of Value + Life Experience + Happiness = Quality Design

Design, Thoughts


A response to Michael Beirut’s “Why Designers Can’t Think” “Why Designers Can’t Think”

Michael Beirut’s theory as to why graphic designers “can’t think” claims that graphic design curriculums value the way graphic design looks but not what it means. He determines that mediocre design comes from designers who are “worshipping at the altar of the visual”. He proposes that important exposure to fine arts, literature, science, history and politics (things that “unite us in a common culture”) are excluded form design programs. This essay was written in 1989 yet it seems to be even more relevant today than ever before because of the need for graphic designers thus resulting in more graphic design curriculums at universities.

As a current student in graphic design education, I have had a first-hand account of the situation, and there have been times throughout my education I have felt something was missing. It took me a little while (plus a year abroad) to figure out what it was and I soon realized that I was missing the world outside of the graphic design hemisphere. I was too busy reading in depth about Neue Grafik that I didn’t take a second to read a book I’ve always wanted to read. As a result, I started to create a life that had time dedicated to other passions. I searched for value, meaning, and philosophies. I studied abroad, took business classes and started pedicabbing instead of taking on more design freelance jobs. Since then I’ve felt fulfillment, but to be honest, I feel a bit ashamed. I am not engrossed with graphic design twenty-four/seven. Why should I feel ashamed to be equally as passionate about other things?

There are a few colleagues, people I look up to, who are hopelessly devoted to graphic design to the point where having a conversation about anything else seems pointless. They are intimidating and pretentious, but they are the students that professors like and give the best grades to. I have deducted from my education that the difference between a good graphic designer and a great graphic designer is to immerse yourself in that world and that world only; to find connections with graphic designers who also are immersed in that world, to talk to them in circles about that visual graphic design world. It is to pretentiously dismiss other worlds. Beruit’s theory is that “modern design education is essentially value-free; every problem has a purely visual solution that exists outside any cultural context”. To be successful as a graphic designer is to immerse oneself completely in the design world and to be solely passionate about that and that only. Only then can you prove your commitment to design and be a successful graphic designer. How can I be a “great” graphic designer if I don’t live up to these standards?

But wait, that feels wrong. I am passionate about design and I know my designs are successful. What is going on? This can’t be right. What is the difference here? Why is my university telling me that it is not okay to value other things?

If I, as a designer, only consider the visual aesthetics of a subject matter without valuing it, without really having a history with it, a knowledge or philosophy about it then the results will be a low quality design that doesn’t have an impact on me or the viewer. I will lack a feeling of fulfillment and the feeling of success.

I feel as though I can create a logical equation to simplify this:


Visual Design Skills + Concept of Value + Life Experience + Happiness = Quality Design


To be successful as a designer, in my opinion, is to find balance within all aspects of life. Immersing yourself in one idea, one interest, one-way of thinking, is to blind yourself from other aspects of life and design. This will then have influence on a designers work whether they know it or not. Everyone needs experiences like travel, culture, drinking and mistakes. A graphic designer can design components to experiences like a concert poster but to experience said concert will shape thoughts, action, and design. Although a university that focuses on the process and visual design strengthens a student’s graphic skills, it may simultaneously weaken other life skills that could contribute to whether or not a design is successful.

So, in a perfect world, a university creates a curriculum with the intent of exposing other worlds into students and thus value is instilled. But wait, this leads us to an even more important question that may never be answered: can you teach the concept of finding value or is it something that every human is responsible for attaining himself or herself? Can you teach someone to be curious, to take risks, or to create an opinion on something? Can you teach someone to find things that interest him or her and pursue them whether the social norm (or in this case, the graphic design world) says it is allowed?

Michael Beirut, you’ve made me think. 

Bootstrap & Cause Inform



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When I entered Northeastern University in 2010 and jumped into the world of graphic design, I immediately started to question my role in this world. I felt as though I was missing something in the work I was producing. I could never pinpoint the missing element, but I could feel it. I wanted my work to have more meaning and impact but I really didn’t know how that could be a possibility in design. I did a lot of self-exploration, even declaring an Environmental Studies minor at one point (I quickly realized chemistry was not my strong suite it was dropped it). I had been reaching out for something more, but I never felt like I quite got it.

In the fall semester of 2012 I signed up for Graphic Design 2, a class that focused on created a campaign for a social cause. Margarita Barrios Ponce, our professor, exposed us to a new world of graphic design. I had a narrow vision of the design world, one in which I did not feel totally comfortable with, but after this course I started to see another new, emerging social design world. I felt like this was the realm of design I wanted to exist in and that the element that was missing before in my work started to take shape and become tangible.

This fall (2013) I decided to take advantage of the freedom of Northeastern University’s Senior Degree Project (thesis) and use it as an opportunity to make positive change. After a lot of collaboration and trial and error, my final degree project is to redesign the branding of a non-profit computer science program called Bootstrap, along with redesigning the computer science workbook used in the program.

Inspiration for this project came from a reflection of graphic design’s role in my life. Graphic design had uncovered “design thinking”, an important tool when it comes to problem solving and communicating. It occurred to me that I had never been exposed to this way of thinking until college. How could I have had twelve years of education where I did not learn these important life skills on a higher level? I connected this to the lack of critiques, communication, and projects in the classroom. These activities in the classroom are such vital skills for LIFE! This one thought in my head led me to research about our education system, design-thinking, and human centered design. I read books that pertained to creativity at a young age and project-based curriculums, and interviewed people who were knowledgeable in the subject. It expanded into a ton of different ideas for my degree project and led me in so many different directions, but through refinement I figured out which direction to go in.

During my research I came across Bootstrap, a computer science program that functions throughout the United States and uses a project-based curriculum to put math into context for students in middle school and high school. It gives students an answer to the question regularly asked in math classes “Why do I need this?” The program teaches them to create a video game through coding (math and algebra). Not every student is destined to be a coder, but it allows all students to see math in context, critique their work, and learn how to communicate with each other. So many benefits come from Bootstrap, but their branding and design doesn’t reflect it.

I realized there were strong design needs for Bootstrap and after I contacted them, they were more than happy to get some help.

My goal is to explore human-centered design by conducting on-the-ground research and to take advantage of design thinking to create a brand identity and math workbook that reflects how important Bootstraps’ program is. I am hoping that through this redesign, more teachers will want to utilize the six-week curriculum in their math classes and that students will start to be excited (or at least a little excited, better than nothing right?) about math.

This is my opportunity to do great design and create a small but important dent in the universe. I feel as though this is only the beginning.

To read more about Bootstrap go to