Design Sprint: World Usability Day

Saving the World with Design Thinking

Opening Presentation

What’s the WUD?

Thursday, November 10th, 2016 was the 11th annual celebration of World Usability Day (also known as Make Things Easier Day). World Usability Day (WUD) was started by the UX Professionals Association in 2005. The mission of WUD is to promote the values of usability, user-centered design, and every user’s responsibility to ask for things that work better.

“We must put people at the center of design, beginning with their needs and wants, and resulting in technology that benefits all of us. We … agree to work together to design technology that helps human beings truly realize their potential, so that we can create a better world for ourselves and future generations.”
UXPA World Usability Day Charter

Each year groups around the world meetup to celebrate WUD and think of creative, design solutions to major usability issues. This year I helped facilitate a WUD design sprint hosted by General Assembly in San Francisco, California.

Claudia giving introductions (also my name on a big screen!)

How UX Can Impact Sustainability

WUD adopts a different theme each year, this year’s theme was sustainability. To pinpoint major issues to tackle we looked at the list of sustainable development goals (SDG) from the UN. The list covers goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. Goal 2 in the list: zero hunger.

“There are 795 million undernourished people in the world today. That means one in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.” — World Food Programme

The goal to end world hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture is huge issue, far too big of an issue for a 90 minute design sprint. The “Lazy Person’s Guide to changing the World” outlines simple steps your average Josefin can take to become a sofa superstar and accomplish the sustainable development goals in her everyday life; small changes that add up to have a big impact. So, to localize this goal the design sprint would focus on coming up with creative solutions to answer the question:

“How might we help people avoid food waste?”

Design Grok and Roll

Grok /ˈɡrɒk/ is a word coined by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. The Oxford English Dictionary summarizes the meaning of grok as “to understand intuitively or by empathy, to establish rapport with” and “to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment.”

The idea behind the mini design sprint was two-fold:

1. To start showing people the opportunities for projects and involvement regarding the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

2. To practice a more purposefully facilitated design sprint where we not only impart our ideas, but actively listen to the ideas of others. Or, using the lingo, to really grok each other.

Each step had a strict time limit.

The Challenge of Adhering to the Process

My group of four was Kathlyn, Armando, Charles, and myself. With the help of the my smartphone’s timer app, the four of us set out to help people solve food waste in 50 minutes. An impossible task, of course, but we were really only starting a conversation.

We started by drawing out our ideas, individually, in silence, on the table — whiteboard table, don’t get mad! Each team member had a different style of communicating their ideas. Some drew pictures, some made lists, one made an algorithm (image of that to come).

An app that allows restaurant owners to schedule picks of food that would otherwise be discarded.
Three ideas in five minutes: Track my fridge app, Smaller meal portions, Food Recovery

For the round robin stage of the sprint each team member took turns presenting whatever he or she had produced in the previous phase of the process. The trick of this phase is to shut your mouth and listen if you aren’t the one presenting. All of the ideas present challenges, inspire elaboration and modification, but that comes later. Active listening to truly grok the entire group is the goal of this stage of the process.

In our group discussion we made a list of all of the ideas we came up with individually. There was a fair amount of overlap in ideas, but each idea has an element that made it distinct. For example, both Kathlyn and I had similar ideas about recovering food that would otherwise go to waste. But her idea revolved around recovering food from dumpsters (her drawing did, at least) and mine involved a restaurant owner donating surplus food at the end of the night.

Here’s the list of what we came up with as organized by general problem space, and more specific solution:

  • Edible food recovery — platform facilitating collection and donation of food that would otherwise be wasted.
  • Non-edible food: compost — biodegradable recipient that one could discard along with compost, eliminating issues with bad odors and flies.
  • Smaller portions to encourage less waste.
  • Ways to prevent food from going bad in the fridge — idea barcode compatible with other devices.
  • Tips on how to keep food fresher, longer.

Consolidate & Rank

Next step of the process was to decide which idea the group would move forward with. To do that we allowed each group member two stars to vote on his or her favorite idea. The idea that got the most votes at the end was to prevent food from going bad in the fridge by creating barcodes on food products that could be scanned into smartphones or similar devices.

Bodystorming Presentation

I will need to update this post with a video of our presentation, which I know exists. In the meantime I’ll try to explain with words what we did. Bodystorming is a method used by design teams in which the team roll-plays a scenario of a situation, in our case, a user’s journey in discovering, using, and benefiting from the food-barcode system.

In the roll-play Kathlyn is checking out at the grocery store. The clerk, played by Armando, points out a barcode on the food and tells her about a new product, an app that will keep track of expiration dates for you so that the food you buy doesn’t spoil. The app is easily downloaded and integrates with other technologies, such as the Amazon Echo.

Fast-forward a week later (thanks to Charles, our omnipotent narrator and time fast-forwarder) and Kathlyn is at home. She’s not sure what she should fix for dinner, so she asks Alexa (the Echo’s persona, played by me). Since Alexa is keeping track of all perishable food purchases, she is able to remind Kathlyn that two days have passed since she bought fresh salmon. If she doesn’t prepare it soon, it will go bad.

Kathlyn settles to prepare the salmon. And the product, which I believe we named spontaneously in the roll-play, Earth Saver (?) has served its purpose: saving Kathlyn money, and preventing food from going to waste.


This was a short event, but I learned a few lessons.

  • The existence and meaning of the word grok.
  • Active listening is sometimes difficult, but, if we are able to accomplish it, it leads to an increased understanding of others (a grok-fest).
  • Even though each person in my group presented similar ideas, the devil was in the details. The nuances of each idea, and how it was presented, were what made it unique and inspired further.