Screens of Good
If you had three days to work on a project with senior design students what would you do?
That was the question asked of me by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville design program. The first thing I thought of was an episode of 99 Percent Invisible where an ingenuitive Los Angeleno designed and installed a new exit sign on an LA freeway so that he and others would no longer miss their off ramp. Out of that inspiration “Signs of Good” came to life. Signs of Good was a three-day design blitz with the goal of installing temporary signage around the university to create a more pleasing campus experiences (like the freeway sign). Below is an example of one of the resulting projects. It’s a texting lane so that students wouldn’t run into each other while walking across campus.
Fast forward to 2017. I had to come up with an assignment to conclude a user-centered design course at University of Cincinnati, DAAP. This time I was an adjunct professor. Rather than design "Signs" of Good, I decided with my TAs that the students would work toward "Screens" of Good.
The assignment was introduced with a quote from an interview with Tony Fadell, the inventor of Nest, and one of the designers of the iPhone. “I wake up in cold sweats thinking, what did we bring to the world?” Fadell shares his concern over the negative consequences of new technologies like the iPhone. He points out the fact that most new technologies are designed by men in their 20s without kids. They aren’t developing products with anyone else in mind but themselves. Fadell ends the interview with a question. How do we fix the technology? And that’s the question Screens of Good asks of the students.
Executing a user-centered process, the class was tasked with generating humble solutions to the gigantic problem articulated by Fadell. The students (split up into teams) had to demonstrate skills in user research and evaluative research. In a nutshell, they had to interview and survey users, design and build a paper prototype based on that research (use of the computer was discouraged), and evaluate the prototype for feedback that would make it better. In theory, their idea and design should get better the more it was filtered through the user-centered process.
The results? Here are a few examples from different stages of the assignment as reported from several different teams. Each are from the fall 2018 semester. It was my second semester giving the assignment. The final deliverable was a Medium.com entry highlighting their design process from start to finish. Click here to read one of the more excellent essays.