24 Students, 4 Examiners, and the Future of Design
What would it take to get to zero plastic waste? Or to move from country to country and work without any bureaucratic hurdles? Or to brew insulin at home when you’re diabetic and can’t afford the very medicine that keeps you alive?
For designers, today’s thorniest challenges look like opportunities. And the 2018 graduating class at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) have come from every corner of the globe to take them on.
I’m sitting in the back of a dark room watching final examinations—four days of back-to-back presentations representing 10 weeks of breakneck design work.
Each student starts by identifying a problem or opportunity, then charts a course through a structured design process that starts with research, takes shape in user journey and systems maps, and culminates in a seemingly endless series of prototypes of a product or service that addresses the problem or opportunity—hopefully.
Here’s a quick recap of the the six projects that were presented on DAY ONE:
1. Better Bin
With a background in Mechanical Engineering, Sareena had worked in manufacturing at an automotive startup and implemented design, but didn’t understand the process behind it. She enrolled at CIID to find out.
Sareena’s project looked at plastic waste. The stuff we glibly buy every day and are now drowning in, or rather, that is drowning the whales who ingest a ton of flip-flops and water bottles and end up beached with bloated bellies. The stuff we rely on China to buy up and recycle (though they’ve started to reject our encrusted takeout trays and are now only accepting 1–2 percent of our output).
Sareena was used to discussing how things are made, but she’d never had a conversation about what happens once a product has outlived its use.
She found out that plastic doubles the life of produce on store shelves. And that though the farmer’s market seemed like a better option, workers had to wrap the produce in reams of plastic wrap every evening to store it for the night. They told Sareena that they hate throwing away all that single-use wrapping in the morning and know it will end up in the ocean.
Her solution? An app called Better Bin that shows shoppers at check out how much of their purchases include plastic and how much is recyclable. Machine learning capability scans pictures of products and identifies which parts are recyclable. The more recycling items that are accepted by a smart bin in the courtyard of their apartment or curb of their home, the more of a kickback you the consumer gets — more to spend back at the store.
Next up was Mantas, who’d been a brand manager before coming to CIID. Mantas looked at how people work in Europe as they flow across borders—not without a lot of bureaucratic hassles.
Turns out 22 million non-EU citizens moved to Europe in 2017, and despite the promise of EU open borders, one must go through a localized process of re-entry every time. In some countries, application forms are only written in their native language! Worse: You’re leaving much behind—your home, a bank account—often including access to the exact documents you’ll need when establishing yourself on your new turf. The immigration process can feel downright Orwellian.
His solution? MEU, a digital passport of sorts. Principally an app, MEU stores all of your documents in one place, and completes applications by using stored personal data. When you move, it’s easy for you to stay organized. MEU walks you through local work permit and citizenship application processes step-by-step. It also communicates to authorities what you have in place and what you need going forward.
3. Open-Source Insulin
Next up was Jing with the first health-related project of the day. Jing has a background in bioengineering, but found science to be an industry bound up in silos.
But biohackers are starting to break those barriers down, and Jing, inspired by the work of the Open Insulin Project based in Oakland, CA, who are working on easier, less expensive ways to make insulin, wanted to design a service layer that would make it easier for people to read open protocols and mix their own insulin at home.
One vial of the lifesaving stuff that regulates blood sugar for diabetics costs $3 to make and $300 on the open market. That inflated price affects everyone, but especially those who can’t afford it. People end up rationing their insulin supply to make ends meet. Thats how people die. And in poor countries, where there isn’t the funding or political will to negotiate price, people suffer en masse.
Insulin isn’t hard to make. Biologically, its not too different than brewing beer. And today’s medical tech has made it possible to do oneself.
So Jing created the Open Insulin Kit that has all the parts you need to make it at home, plus a service layer (in the form of an app) that helps people protect themselves and cultivates a community of fellow makers.
The app helps you troubleshoot and requires that you send sample of your insulin back to open insulin project, to verify its purity. If qualified, you’re prompted to sell back anything you can’t use to the community, which builds a sense of collectivity.
Of course, all of this can only exist if it’s not regulated by the FDA—right now there’s no regulation against home brew, but once FDA catches wind of it, they may move in. Another big challenge is getting diabetics over the confidence hump of believing they can make insulin themselves—that they don’t have to be scientists with lab coats to do so.
Axel, who has a background in behavioral economics, focused on the problem of recruiting. He wanted to investigate how internal referral networks work and see if the process could be improved by learnings from the sharing economy.
He started with a few insights:
- A network’s value can be monetized.
- Internal referral programs generate homogenous workspaces due to implicit bias. (People end up referring and hiring people who are similar to them.)
- But a good reputation can overcome that bias.
- The experience for job candidates sucks.
His solution? Sponders, an open network platform that reaches out to trusted members, or Sponders, to find the ideal candidate.
As with sharing economy apps, Sponders incentivizes people to recommend others in their network with a finder’s fee if the person gets hired. Each sponder’s reputation is rated based on the relevance of the candidates they submit.
The app offers companies a dashboard view of open roles as well as the candidates who’ve been submitted by Sponders, allowing them a kind of aerial view of the referral networks in play.
Axel prototyped the service with real hiring teams and candidates and the process worked—one of the candidates is now interviewing. The service will actually come to life in 2019 so if you are interested in becoming a sponder or using the network to find the ideal candidate for your company, head to www.sponders.club.
Federico’s background in documentary filmmaking became clear the minute he presses play on videos he made with his target users—kids on the spectrum of autism.
Kids with autism either have too much sensitivity, or too little. And one of the main tools that’s used in their therapy is music. Disability has been defined as a mismatch between individual capabilities and the expectations of society. So Federico wanted to design something that would give kids a sense of connection, inclusion, and the magic that can come from a delightful interaction.
He created Chaplabo, an Arduino-based interactive toy that captures the creativity of children and allows them to make music through gesture.
He ran the prototypes with a few second grade kids. His videos show them picking up the connection between gesture and sound right away. They start experimenting with Fortnite dances to see what sounds they can make. One started copying the other, they started integrating suggestions of their peers—and they were off to the races. The kids showed authentic and spontaneous reactions and said they’d ask their mothers 1,000 times to buy one.
Alex, a software engineer and the son of a teacher, fell in love with punk as a teenager. Being so influenced by both education and music, he was drawn to create a music toy that kids could learn from. He wanted to explore how music could be used as a non-traditional mode of pedagogy.
A few principles that drove the work:
- The value of emotional development
- The value of communication and collaboration
- The value of unstructured exploration
Alex wanted to get into the mindset of 6 to 12-year-old kids, so had his mom send out a survey about what they thought of school. He got some amusing answers.
To get a sense of them firsthand, he worked with 6 to 8-year-olds to do some creative play during the school day. He first had them sketch various things (lots of rainbows emerged), then had them play with musical applications in Chrome.
Kids are the best research assistants for their brutal honesty—they told him flat out when something wasn’t fun. He found that when only two kids interacted on the Trio, one would try to dictate the sound and interfere with the others play, but when a third kid entered the equation, it smoothed out the interaction.
The device he came up with, Trio, is a set of interchangeable instruments that connect around a central hub. For his final version he created Pio, a piano-like controller, Buzzo, which alters the bassline, and Rhythmo, which adds the rhythm section. Played together, they create a synthy, DJ-like effect. The idea was to give kids an open-ended play option as a learning tool.
The examiners, Hector Ouilhet (Google); Marei Wollersberger (Normally); Riccardo Giraldi, formerly of Microsoft, and Ulrik Hogrebe from WeWork (also a CIID alum) offered rigorous feedback and helpful suggestions for how to take the projects forward. Many of the students are planning to do just that, and as they do, the faculty of CIID will be up in the bleachers, cheering.