Design, Technology, and Innovation Projects


image of Balcones Recycling Center Tour

We are Design, Technology, and Innovation (DTI) Fellows with the City of Austin and you’ve made it to our project documentation site. This site features the collaboration between DTI Fellows and Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) to come up with new approaches to reaching the city’s goal of Zero Waste by 2040. Here you will see the latest progress of our work, the research and design methods used by the Fellows, and key project outcomes.

We hope our research and design findings will be useful for city staff who are making key decisions regarding recycling and composting services and programs. We hope our methods are useful for departments who wish to do similar work. We also want this site to be a behind the scene peek at what it looks and feels like to be designers and researchers embedded at the local government level. We hope this information is inspiring and useful.


image of recycling sorting center

Everybody likes to trash talk. Actually, this is recycling talk. In early 2016, Austin’s Design, Technology, and Innovation (DTI) Fellows joined forces with Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) to make an impact on Austin’s Zero Waste goal through a 6 month partnership. The DTI Fellowship supplied full-time Fellows with expertise in research, design, development, and project management. ARR supplied subject matter experts and funding. September 2016 marks the official start of the project.

Before jumping to solutions, the first step is to learn about the perspectives, knowledge, and behaviors of Austin residents regarding recycling. What makes Austin residents tick is not the same for residents in Singapore, San Francisco, or even San Antonio. The needs of Austin’s residents and neighborhoods is the guiding North Star for developing approaches to recycling that caters to them. Please continue reading to hear about our journey in using methods of human-centered design and agile design to help make Austin a more recycling-friendly city.


image of planning


This is a 6 month project with two main phases: (1) Research, Discovery, and Synthesis and (2) Concepting, Prototyping and Testing. The Fellows are responsible for planning the project, executing the project work, and delivering appropriate deliverables after each phase to Austin Resource Recovery. In addition to delivering actionable insights and solutions, the Fellows will expose and teach human-centered design tools and techniques to Austin Resource Recovery staff and partners.

More details on the scope can be found in the partnership agreement.


The project will run from September 2016 - Feb 2017.

A detailed timeline can be found here.

Project Phases

1. Research, Discovery, and Synthesis (3 months)

During this phase, the Core Team will met with stakeholders and partners to better understand the problem area. The team also conducted ride-alongs with operators to understand how the city serves it’s residents. The bulk of the field work was conducting 40 to 50 interviews with individual residents, families, and property managers across the city to understand how people currently think and act around recycling and composting. As we talked to different types of residents and property managers, we identifed patterns and insights and developed behavioral personas to help segment different types of behaviors, perspectives, and living situations. We documented and shared our findings with the larger network of stakeholders, and began the concepting and prototyping stage with a deep understanding or real-world behavior.


  • Research plan
  • Recruiting strategy
  • Interview protocols
  • Review of existing print and digital resources
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Resident personas
  • Research artifacts
  • Insights document and videos
  • Insights share-out sessions

2. Concepting, Prototyping, and Testing (3 months)

During this stage, we’ll design and test possible solutions to support Austin’s zero waste goals. Across digital and non-digital channels, we’ll develop options based on the research gathered during the Discovery stage and test them in the real world with different types of residents and property managers. We’ll create quick learning loops of designing, testing, iterating, and testing again, allowing us to understand which solutions will work best for different personas, demographics, neighborhoods, and housing types.

Deliverables will include:

  • Design and testing plan
  • Extensive list of concepts generated
  • Testing protocols
  • Measurements and observations of behaviors after testing possible solutions
  • Recommendations for possible solutions based on research and testing
  • Recommendations for improvements to existing print and digital resources
  • Recommendations share-out sessions

Teaching Human-Centered Design

Austin Resource Recovery staff and other city partners involved in the project will learn new research, concepting, prototyping, and evaluation skills that can be used on a smaller scale to test messaging and materials on future projects.

More details on the deliverables can be found in the partnership agreement.