Student Spotlight: Chris Karounos

1. What brought you to the Shapiro Design Lab?
I was first introduced to the Shapiro Design Lab two years ago when the director, Justin Schell, served as my mentor for a U-M Library mini-grant project. Justin’s mentorship of our misfit group of wide-eyed, wanna-be social entrepreneurs was nothing short of pivotal to keeping our group together through our first pitch competition, Innovation in Action. In 2017, Justin told me that the next year he would be starting a graduate student residency program concentrating on video games and I have been lucky enough to be part of the Design Lab ever since.

2. What are you most excited to work on? If you’ve continued working at SDL, what is a project you’re proud of?
I think accessibility is extremely important. It is something that I have become more aware of for a couple of reasons. First, while working on the 10 Degrees mobile game with Abaca Games through my residency in the Design Lab, I have learned about accessibility failures and successes in video games. In addition, my awareness of accessibility issues has grown from my own own chronic injury of immobilizing back pain. It takes an experience like this to realize just how many cultural and structural hurdles one has to overcome if they do not enjoy the privilege of physical ability. It gives me an immense amount of respect for people who face disabilities and work relentlessly to overcome them, something I have struggled to do with my back injury.

3. How do you work towards an idea? What is your process?
I start with the fun part, dreaming big. Then comes hard work of pushing myself to stay focused, inspired, and committed. It means sacrificing things. Ideally, that means sacrificing addictive guilty pleasures or an extra hard class I don’t really need to take, and not the things that are important in your life. Another part of working towards a big idea for me is pushing myself to do things I don’t want to. I try to get out of my comfort zone and interview people who know more than I do. It’s also important but hard to get people to test your idea with and getting their honest feedback. The hardest part of working toward an idea for me is balancing negative feedback with your own feelings. The human psyche has so many blind spots and it is really tough for me to untangle negative feedback and make it constructive or use the feedback to decide to throw in the towel. Never giving up is something my dad instilled into my brain from a young age. Unfortunately, though, you have to give up on some things. It’s knowing which things that’s the hard part. Finally, if the idea requires input from or interaction with a lot of other people, one of the hardest things for me is finding a way to self-promote that doesn’t feel sleazy.

4. What are your current interests (hobby, something cool you’ve learned on the web, a podcast, etc.), both related and unrelated to design?
I like rock climbing a lot, which currently means watching videos and movies like “Free Solo” more than actually getting to do it in my home climbing area in Kentucky. 

1 Comment

on June 13, 1:45pm

Thank you Shapiro Design Lab for teaching me so much about design and beta testing our game! Excited to announce the release of our game 10 Degrees on September 3rd! You can pre-register to get access to exclusive content by going to Thanks, Justin Schell and the rest of the lab for making this possible!