UCD Charrette

January 4th, 2017 was the first day in the studio. At the start, the TA concisely explained the concept of a UCD Charette as “an intense period of design activity” that focuses on the users’ situations, needs, and limitations.

Whiteboard full of various user groups

During the charrette, we focused on the problem of designing a smart car console to fit the needs of specific groups of people. After coming up with various user groups and needs for those groups, my team settled on tackling the problem of improving the driving experience of emergency vehicle drivers, and more specifically, ambulance drivers dealing with heavy traffic.

Chad, one of my team’s members, draws the flow between user interface screens.

Through the ubiquitous design tools of sticky notes, whiteboards, and easel pads, our team mapped out how a typical scenario involving our problem would proceed and how our navigation system attempted to solve it. The system the three of us developed constantly checked to make sure the route to the hospital wasn’t too congested. Once the onboard computer detects heavy traffic on the ambulance driver’s route — and thus a greater risk to the driver— , the console displays a warning and suggests the driver to take an alternative path with less traffic. At the time, this seemed like the most viable solution to dealing with traffic. We also mapped out the interactions that take place through our console system and sketched out the interface screens. We decided for simple interactions, such as the quick warning alert and the single-tap interaction to change routes because we imagined that the driver of an emergency vehicle should keep his/her attention on the road at all times.

The basic interaction flow with screenshots

This activity made me realize just how difficult it is to let go of any neatly formulated notions in your head and come as a group to a consensus about different design decisions. It seemed as if each of the team members had to compromise the image we had in our minds to combine ideas for the final prototype.

Through this charrette activity, I enjoyed the process of rapid prototyping because after only two hours, the studio had come up with some amazing ideas and mockups. I learned that good presentation of visuals makes a pitch much more appealing.

Looking into the future, this useful technique of rapid ideation and prototyping can be applied to many design situations as well as certain types of problem-solving. If one were presented with a problem that could not immediately be solved, but required meticulous planning and various moving parts to interact with one another, brainstorming all possible outcomes and planning for possible problems before they happen would help tremendously. For example, creating a website from scratch would benefit from UCD charrettes. Contrarily, if a problem is fairly simple and does not require much forethought, it is better to take an engineering-type approach: modifying your approach gradually until the current solution works. For example, maintaining an existing website that does not possess major errors would be better off without a charrette process.

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