This Week Sustainability Design Challenge

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Our first prototype

As you probably know if you have read my previous blogs, I am doing a design challenge for a start-up, Innovation Diploma, where we try to make sustainability part of our schools DNA. On Thursday, our group pitched our redesigned recycling bin to our class and some visitors. From this, we learned a lot of things we can improve from feedback, and looking at our peers reactions while we presented. Our recycling bin included a waist level recycling bin, a foot level trash bin, and an informational poster telling the user what to recycle and and what to throw in the trash. We also labeled the trash can “landfill” so the user would think twice about if it could be recycled now that they knew where it was going.

The feedback we got was relatively underwhelming. Our peers that raised their hand to comment on our pitch were mostly commenting on the presentation and the facts presented in them, not the final prototype. I believe that this was because we didn’t have a full prototype, only the top half with the recycling bin in it. People were also commenting on the first places that came to their head when sustainability was mentioned, California and Switzerland. While we did do research on those places and their environmental laws, we did not put them in the presentation because they would require a lot of money, research, and permission (from the government), like a room designated for burning trash to produce energy for our school. However, my coworkers who did comment on the prototype had some very good questions and feedback for us. We would have gotten much more feedback on our prototype if it was complete, for we only had the top half, the recycling half to show the startup, so some people couldn’t get an exact image of what we were thinking of.

Before we redesign a recycling bin for the whole school to use, I think we should have laid a base and started with simple changes to make our school more sustainable. I think this because you should always start on the base of the problem, with the changes that would make the most impact, that are often the most simple, and then work your way up to the more complicated ones that might not make as much of an impact. If I could go back to the start of the challenge and do something differently, I would propose something totally different and not as groundbreaking. I would suggest that we would start to use alternative energy, alternative energy doesn’t require much upkeep and pays for itself after a couple of years, then continues to pay you after that. Some other routes we could take are to get rid of the styrofoam plates in the cafeteria, having motion sensors that turn lights off automatically, and even something as simple as putting a recycling bin into the cafeteria, as it has none. They are terrible for the environment and even paper plates would be so much better for the environment.

A next step that my group and I could take is going through our feedback and trying to improve both our pitch and our prototype. After we go through the feedback and modify our prototype, we can test it on different classrooms and monitor the recycle bin usage before and after, and gather even more comments and feedback from the students. After that, I hope we can implement it into the whole school, increase recycling bin usage, and make sustainability play a larger part of our DNA!

Ideateing ain’t so easy

Our Innovation Diploma group has been studying how to apply design thinking these past few weeks. Our first experience was on the Upper School garden, where we explored possible uses for it from growing plants for the kitchen to use to finding a completely new use for the space. From that experience, we created many “how might we” statements and separated them into groups. From those groups, we chose 4 statements that were broad, yet relevant (applied to our school or the innovation diploma program). Then, each group chose one “how might we” statement and began working immediately with the goal of creating an implementable solution by the end of the next week. My group, consisting of Anya, Maclean, Nina, Melina, Margaret, and Claire, chose the statement “How might we make our school more sustainable.”

In our green house gas infested world, reducing, reusing, and recycling is becoming ever important. Immediately, we started to observe and empathize with the students, we identified problems and even began to form possible solutions. Some of the problems we observed were, information posters like this, were way too big and didn’t provide any information about how each of us can contribute to making the school more sustainable, recycling bins throughout the school were unused and confusing, and our LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating was too low to proudly call ourselves a sustainable school. We decided to hone in on the recycling problem because it seemed like everyone should use a recycling bin, so why aren’t they? To start, Anya and I interviewed Dr. Jones, the environmental science teacher. From out interview, we concluded that, 1. Students are confused about what to recycle and what not to recycle, so they just completely ignore it, and 2. Most students become interested in recycling once they see how it effects them. Because design thinking is human centered and to confirm that students in fact don’t know what to recycle, Margaret and I developed many ways to get in touch with the student population. To begin, Margaret opened a google doc and created questions, some tricky, to print and hand out to be collected later to record results. Together, we concluded that it would take too long to record the results even if the students put in the effort to give it back to us.

Next, we came up with an idea for a sort of game show, where the student spins a Wheel of Fortune type wheel that lands on an object and he/she gets to decide where it goes, in the trash, in the recycling bin, or in the compost pile. We developed this wheel online and ran an internal. An internal is a type of test where you prototype your creation and see how people respond and get their feedback. From this internal and doing some more research, Margaret, the group, and I decided that we didn’t have enough time to get permission from the teachers, or collect enough responses from the students. So, we went back and did something a little more boring, an online survey sent to the whole school. Many students will probably see this in their email and ignore it, but it was the best way to send it to a significant number of people and get at least some responses.

Since we are part of the student population, it makes it harder to step back,  be ethnographers, and find the “hidden obvious”. However, we also don’t have to empathize as much as we are the students and we have that unique perspective. As I am a new student at Mount Vernon, I hold an especially unique perspective, for I have not even noticed the recycling bins in many of my classes. A lot of them are covered with trash bags which seems kind of weird as it has the word “trash” in it instead of the word “recycling”.

The “ideate” step of design thinking is the hardest, it is the base for the rest of the process and currently, my group is stuck on it. We have narrowed down our idea a bit to specify recycling, but we need to narrow it down even more, to a prototype that can be pitched this Thursday. My end goal for this project is the get the students in our school enthusiastic about this topic as well. I want them not to be consumers, but participators to help further sustainability in our school.

First use of Design Thinking

This week was one of the most interesting weeks we have had. I cannot speak for my entire Jobs cohort, but I feel like I learned the most this week due to many different reasons. First, we got into the field and did a kind of mock design thinking exercise where we interviewed Mrs. Domby, the teacher responsible for maintaining the garden at the lower school. The purpose of this interview was to see whether or not the “garden” at the upper school was worth keeping, or if the space would be better utilized for something else. The interviewers we nominated used the group’s questions which were questions like, “How have you and other faculty used the garden for education?” and “Tell me about a time where both you and the students were excited to learn due to the garden.” With everything that we did during this interview and before it, was utilizing the first two steps of Design Thinking. I really enjoyed this because, for the first time, I was able to utilize something that I learned in school, and use it to make a real world difference, even though it may be as small as a high school garden. Although we never actually made a difference, I feel like we had the tools to do so, and that is the first time I have ever felt like that. I felt like before the interview, our thoughts and ideas were slow and not very well developed, but after we empathized and did the interview, our thoughts flowed like water in a stream, all the while being complete and clear. Something that I think we could have done better was put “define the problem” before “empathize.” When we tried to define the problem the first day we did this, we visited the garden and empathized just a bit and realized the problem might be that there is a garden there in the first place, whereas before we visited it, we were talking about upkeep and how the cafeteria could use the products. Empathy is a vital step in the Design Thinking process that I don’t think should be tampered with, if anything, put more emphasis on it. As I said in a tweet a couple of days ago, “Using Design Thinking without empathy is like trying to eat soup with a fork.”

What is Design Thinking and what are its products?

        I watched “What is Design Thinking” by Daylight and “What is Design Thinking” by Sean VanGenderen. Both of these videos were extremely informative and useful. However, I believe that the video by Daylight was better because it identified the Design thinking process and supplied an example, while still going very in depth into each. The Design Thinking process starts with talking and learning from the people. From this, you deduce how you can approach the problem and even if there is a problem to be solved by talking to everyday people as well as extreme users. The second step is to find patterns. You have to process what the people are saying and put it into groups, is there something that everyone is saying? Is there a hidden obvious? The third step is to design principles. In this step, you find principles that will resonate most with your audience and design your solution around them. This was the most confusing step of all of them. The fourth step is to make tangible. You want to put your solution into the hands of the audience, test it, and recieve feedback. The last step is to iterate relentlessly. You want to make your solution tangible repeatedly, each time refining it and making it better. All of these steps combine to create the process called Design Thinking. With this, you can create the solution to almost every problem. The second video that I watched, “What is Design Thinking” by Sean VanGundersen, conveyed basically the same information. The first article I read, “Solving Problems for Real World, Using Design” by Nicole Perlroth, went into the heart of Design Thinking, Stanfords D.school. It explained how the students there used design thinking to come up with million dollar ideas as an assignment. “These successes have made the D.school the envy of universities around the world.” The founder of the school, David Kelley, believes that students should start small and gain “creative confidence” with each success. Another tool that is vital to their students’ success is something called an empathy muscle. The empathy muscle is teaching students to get away from computerized data, and to talk to the people encountering the problem directly. The second article was mostly full of videos on those successes, titled, “Products of Design Thinking.” These videos described everything from “Miraclefeet” an inexpensive brace for children suffering from club foot, to “Ravel” a search, analytics and collaboration tool for lawyers. Design Thinking should be taught in every school as it is the future of problem solving and education

What do you want to be known for?

What do you want to be known for?

I want to be known for many things that all fall under one category, leaving Earth better than I came into it. A lot of people would be satisfied by doing just little things, like tutoring kids or volunteering, and don’t get me wrong, those deeds help a ton in small communities. However, I want to do something that would make a big impact in the world, such as providing stable homes for refugees or even solving world hunger! I know that everyone can make a big impact in the world if they put in enough effort, but it is only the people that make sacrifices that are given the opportunity to change it. Part of the process to make the world a better place is to seek and solve problems, not just as they come up, but to anticipate future problems as well. I also understand that you will have to start small and work your way to solving the big problems in the world. I think I will be able to do this in the future, but not as of now because I find myself being very wary of venturing into an unfamiliar question or problem. I will learn to become more comfortable with it in the future due to the Innovation Diploma program and my own personal growth. #iDiploma #Innovation #MVPS #Tevchnology #twentyfirstcentury