My First UCD Charrette

My first studio class this quarter allowed me to get a taste of what it might be like to be a designer by taking part in my first UCD Charrette. In a general sense, a charrette is an intense flurry of design activity in which problems are pinpointed and then ideas and possible solutions to combat these problems are tossed back and forth between team members.

Charrette Process

Ideation taking place!

Our focus in this charrette was technologies one might find in a smart vehicle. We began by generating possible user groups as ideas on sticky notes and then transferring them to a large whiteboard where they could then be sorted by category. This step of the process was important because it allowed us to pinpoint general groups as well as to highlight new or unconventional ones that could potentially generate interesting design challenges. Once those groups were formed, they were randomly assigned to table groups in the studio space to begin the process of designing a smart vehicle technology for that particular user. From this point on, all groups were directed in completing a paper prototype step-by-step in timed increments.

My group was tasked with designing a smart vehicle technology for an eight-month-pregnant woman. The first step was to brainstorm a list of all the possible needs this woman might have while she is driving. This included such necessities as navigation to the nearest hospital, a blood pressure and pulse monitor, and a speed dial function for a designated friend or family member. Next, we designed a storyboard to give a narrative that would give the context of a problem experienced by this woman and then how our technology would help her overcome it. We chose to tell a story where a pregnant woman realizes that her water breaks while she is driving and then her smart vehicle technology helps guide her to the nearest hospital. After, we drew pictures to show the interface of the technology in the story and how the user would navigate through it in order to complete certain tasks. Finally, we presented our story and illustrations to the class, explaining our user group and the various functions of our technology.

Storyboard and Interface Design


Although having a pregnant woman as a target user was difficult for an all-male group, it served as a good practice in empathy, a very important component of user design. It was a fun and interesting challenge to try and envision the needs of a user whose experience I can never know, and it raised questions of accessibility design that had not occurred to me previously. Although I believe my group was able to generate a significant list of possible needs that the user might have, I later realized that we had not thought much about the physical or visual design of the technology, since a very pregnant woman might struggle to see a screen when her stomach is blocking it. In the future, I will remember to keep in mind not just specific needs of a user but the ways in which that user’s physical condition affects their ability to use a technology.

As for the project itself, I found it enjoyable because it was very different from anything I had done before. I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of it and the intuitive sequence of tasks that led up to the final result. Furthermore, the ways in which the individual tasks came together in such a harmonious way was satisfying to me. Lastly, I enjoy collaborating with others in general and seeing where our combined ideas can take us.

How Will This Charrette Influence Future Experiences?

In the future, I could envision applying this same approach to any project where a specific solution or technology needs to be created in order to meet the needs of a well-defined user group. For example, I participated in the co-motion ideathon this past weekend, and I was taken through a similar process to the one I experienced in the studio. The general idea of the project was to design a space that students could make use of and benefit from in West Campus (and equally a space that would also make a positive impact on the West Campus community). Like in Wednesday’s charrette, a plethora of sticky notes and small presentation boards were used, storyboards were drafted and drawn up, and ideas were aggressively churned out and categorized. Although this project had little to do with technology, the general idea was the same in that a specific and tangible solution was created in response to the needs of a specific and real user group. Finally, although the process used in the charrette was a good fit for the situation described above, I don’t have confidence that it would work as well for a situation in which the solution or technology is less easy to visualize or combats a more complex array of problems (e.g. a pharmaceutical drug that requires a great deal of time and scientific theory to create).

Like what you read? Give Ethan Walkley a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.