User-Oriented Collaborative Design | Spring 2018

User-Oriented Collaborative Design is a design class at Olin that throws you into a user-oriented design project. It teaches you how to figure out not how to design something but what to design, through a continual process of learning about and designing with a specific user group. Teams of 4-5 work with a user group for an entire semester, beginning with simply learning about the user group and ending with a vision for a solution that could someday improve the lives of this group of people.

Phase 1

Phase 1 was focused on discovery: finding people in your user group, talking with them, empathizing with them, and synthesizing what you learn into over-arching personas that encompass similarities and differences within the group. My team worked with people who help refugees and immigrants, which meant that we traveled across many parts of the Boston area to talk to various nonprofits, charities, and community organizations.

We set out to find the answers to questions such as: Who makes up our user group? What do they do in their daily activities? What are their values, beliefs, and motivations? What tensions exist within the group? Because our user group consisted of both volunteers and paid employees, we also hoped to determine what differences and similarities existed among these groups.

After a number of user visits, we began synthesizing what we knew. This process began with simply laying out what we knew. What did we notice from our interviews? What important points or quotes could we pull out? We then began using several frameworks to categorize what we knew, plotting the people we talked to on various axes to determine whether any underlying patterns existed. From that, we generated personas which represented the three primary groupings we noticed. However, this process was hardly straightforward or linear. We had to go through a lot of questioning of both our user group and our own process to determine what anything meant, and to figure out whether what we were doing process-wise was actually leading to anything that was meaningful!

Phase 2

After wading through the nebulousness of Phase 1, Phase 2 brought us into the realm of solution ideation. We generated hundreds of ideas, progressively narrowing down through a series of filters and determining factors.

The other major component of this phase was co-design. We did base our ideas off of what we already knew about our user group, but that wasn’t enough. We also brought our ideas back to the people we originally talked to in order to get feedback from them: What ideas would actually be useful? What ideas could be improved? This phase also forced us to consider the boldness of the ideas we were creating. We were encouraged to think of ideas that had fanciful elements, things that would truly create change within our user group, instead of getting mired in the mundane. For my team, this proved difficult to overcome, requiring many rounds of ideation to create ideas that stuck. At the end of the phase, we had a few general directions with which we could move forward.

Phase 3

Phase 3 found us focusing on details. Starting with the three directions we’d identified in the previous phase, we narrowed down to one and began figuring out how the various elements and interactions would fit together. This process required a careful balance of focusing on the small details without getting hung up on any single thing.

Final Design: Inact

We ended the phase with our final idea, Inact. Inact is a “smart map” system that provides clear information to those who help refugees and immigrants. A system of RFID tokens and “smart maps” which map where the tokens are placed empowers refugees and immigrants by giving them a space to tell their stories and record feedback on their experiences with organizations such as the ones we talked to. This information is viewable by those who work at the organization, allowing them to become closer with those they help by better understanding their stories, and also providing actionable data on how various events and initiatives within the organization are helping the community.

Our full-size final posters can be viewed here.