The Easy Part of the Design Challenge

Have you ever wondered into a place where you couldn’t do anything?

I am a novice design thinker in the program Innovation Diploma, were we learn many things, one of which is the DEEP design thinking process which I demonstrate in the challenge below.

I walk into the Lightbox, a large room with many windows, on a Thursday morning for iD, where we see a piece of paper with a picture and a prompt on the table.

My team, Maclean, Nina, Claire, Melina, Anya, Margaret, and I started observing and asking questions to find the problem.The garden was run down and has obviously not been touched in months, maybe even a year, there were weeds all over and there was no trace of the plants that were once there. We asked questions like, “What are other uses for this space?” “How can the school use this garden?” “What does this lack of concern for this garden say about us?” “Why wasn’t the garden sustainable? Why isn’t someone helping it become sustainable?”

In the end, we decided to put all of this into one question, our HMW (how might we)

We started to do empathy interviews, first interviewing Dr. Jones, the Environmental Science teacher, and Ms. Domby, a 5th grade teacher who is passionate about the environment. From these interviews, we observed that people often think of recycling when the word “sustainability” come into conversation. From this, we deduced that the problem was not the garden, it was recycling in MVPS (Mount Vernon Presbyterian School). So we looked into past recycling project that students did at MVPS, and we noticed one trend, they never got completed, they hardly even got past the ideate stage, so we promised ourselves to see this through and defer from the trend. When we looked more into why recycling was a problem at MV, we discovered why it was such a big problem. MVPS is made from 3 schools, the Lower school, the Middle school, and the Upper School. One of these schools, the Middle school, has 1 recycling bin throughout the whole building! The bins were removed for very specific reasons that could be solved easily, so we decided to solve these problems with the RISE sustainability system.

Since the Middle school isn’t very big, space was a big issue, so the RISE sustainability system solves this problem by utilizing vertical space instead of horizontal floor space. We also built an anti-laziness element to it because many students throw recycling in the trash simply because it is more convenient, that is why we put the recycling bin on top of the trash bin. Another feature of the system is putting a landfill sign on the trash instead of a trash sign, so the user thinks about where the trash is going after you put it into the bin. Another problem they had was that the students in the Middle school didn’t know what to and what not to recycle. When custodial staff see trash in the recycling bin, they dump the whole bin into the trash dumpster. We are actually still in the process of solving this problem, we tried to implement a poster with pictures of what you can recycle, but students ignored the poster. We know this because when we interviewed the custodial staff, they side that trash items were still going into the recycling bin. This is ok, because even though that part of our prototype failed, we learned something from it. In my mind, a failure is never a failure if you learn something from it, or as Mount Vernon puts it, fail up!

With our first full-size prototype finished, we launched ourselves into the testing process. To track the uses of the recycling bin part of the prototype, we hooked up a Makey Makey to the door. We put our prototype into 3 different classrooms over an 8 day period, in Mr. Song’s room (a middle school classroom), the prototype got 30 uses into 1 day, in Mrs. Graham’s room (another middle school classroom), the prototype got 60 uses in 2 days. The last classroom we put it into was actually Mrs. Domby’s classroom, a lower school classroom, because we wanted to see how a younger audience would respond to our prototype. The feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive, and we received outcomes that weren’t even expected! It was reported that rooms were noticeably cleaner and our prototype was even sparking conversations about the environment.

Our next step is to make a product development plan, which we don’t have the skills to do, and is why we need an outside expert to help us with it. Some definite steps are to make many prototypes out of different materials, implement them one by one into all Middle school classrooms, and receive tons of feedback and results. With each iteration of our prototype, we will change it according to our feedback to make it better each time.

We don’t know what the outcome of this barrage of testing will be, the recycling bin may even be the wrong solution to our problem. If it is the wrong solution, we will go back to the drawing board and try to come up with the right solution. As I said earlier, something that fails is never a failure if you learn something from it. We even have began talking to potential buyers of our product.

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2 thoughts on “The Easy Part of the Design Challenge

  1. Philip,
    I love this phrase: “something that fails is never a failure if you learn something from it.” Your team during the DT Challenge and your current team for the coVenture are doing fabulous work to discern user needs, make insight-based leaps for design, and test multiple prototype parts/wholes. Thanks for capturing your story at this transition point and sharing it with others to follow and learn.

    Liked by 1 person

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