Up for the Challenge

Reflections from Day 1 of the Student Design Challenge @ IxDA

Inclusive design allows us to accomplish designing for everyone, while also designing for individuals.

Light snow flakes fell quietly from the sky as nine students joined our small but mighty Microsoft team in the lobby of Mama Shelter in Lyon, France. We’re all here as part of the Student Design Challenge at the Interaction 18 Conference.

Views from the conference window in Lyon, France

I’m here with Margaret Price, a principal design strategist at Microsoft, who has helped revolutionize Inclusive Design methodologies both at Microsoft and in classrooms around the world.

Cassie Klingler, a principal designer with the Hacking STEM team, is also here helping students shape their thinking about accessible education — how a classroom with no internet, for example, can learn about seismography for less than $10 a lesson.

Ana Domb (a UX consultant with a Master’s from MIT) and Ahmed Riaz (who won the first year of the SDC) are co-chairs of the challenge, and are helping students guide their thinking throughout the week.

Anna Domb, Margaret Price, and Cassie Klinger outline the challenge for the week.

Me — I’m a former journalist, now writer for Microsoft, focusing on UX writing, support content, and currently covering this conference for Microsoft Design. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Meet the finalists

Nine students came together today from all corners of the world, from Switzerland to Savannah, Georgia, to tackle a brief on quality education.

The challenge? 
How can design increase access and reduce friction for the widest number of people? Through a practical given topic, we’ll teach students an approach to understanding and solving for barriers experienced by teachers today.

These amazing design challenge finalists are: Amy Ashida (School of Visual Arts), Adam Chasen (Austin Center for Design), Pathikrit Bhattacharyya (Carnegie Mellon University), Jenn Lee (Savannah College of Art and Design), Katarina Yee (School of Visual Arts), Milda Norkute (KTH Royal Institute of Technology), Brooke Bosley (Georgia Institute of Technology), Melodie Jacob (Leonard de Vinci Villefontaine), and Kevin Ong (Malmo Universit).

Our finalists came together and shared their superpowers on sticky notes.
We chose quality education as this year’s brief topic because of Microsoft’s commitment to providing accessible STEM education to students around the world. We were interested in finding students with diverse backgrounds who wanted to come together to solve issues, break barriers, and provide more access.
-Margaret Price

Before casually trying to topple that small subject, the nine student finalists did a group icebreaker/team-building activity — involving rope and a blindfold. Put the blindfold on, search for the rope hidden somewhere in the open space — but don’t say a word. Got the rope? Great. Find a way to make sure everyone else has it too. Once you’ve completed that, feel free to chat away as you attempt to make a perfect square with your rope. Easy, right…?

Students tested out their communication skills with a blind-folded team-building exercise.

Inclusive Design Primer

Before receiving their design topic, the students completed a crash-course in Inclusive Design, a workshop Margaret has facilitated in companies and universities around the world. With material scaleable from an hour to nine weeks, the program helps provide a glimpse into what “inclusive design” means.

Margaret Price (standing) leading an Inclusive design 101 crash-course with our student design finalists.

Inclusive design allows us to accomplish designing for everyone, while also designing for individuals. Take closed captioning, for example — it was originally developed for those who were deaf or hard of hearing, but now, just about everyone benefits from it. Ever been that person on a bus who didn’t have their headphones, but reallllyyy wanted to know how Ellen’s latest interview with Michelle Obama went? Cue muted volume with closed captions. Or, wanted to teach your child to read, with a video that has captions? Yup, same thing. A design solution for a smaller group of people ends up benefitting millions.

“As designers — emerging or professional — it’s our collective responsibility to understand the impact of the designs we make, and think mindfully about how to embrace all forms of human diversity in the design process,” Margaret added.

Still with me? Great — now back to the students…

After they heard from Margaret, they met with several design experts. Jean-Baptisse Joatton, a professor of interactive design at Lycee Leonard de Vinci, and one of the co-chairs of the Education Summit at IxDA this year, provided insight into the concept of teaching design, and what limitations you may encounter in a classroom. Andres Lombana, a post-doctorate fellow at Harvard, video chatted with students about the research he’s done on interactive design.

Adam, Jenn, Kevin, Melodie and Amy chat with Harvard’s Andres Lombana over video.

“At my school, I met a lot of people who are studying interaction design but only designing for themselves,” Milda Norkute said. “Inclusive design needs to be a bigger part of the curriculum, because otherwise we’re all only creating things that we like, and that leaves people out. You should bring it to the root of your designs.”

Milda Norkute, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

They received their briefs and were broken into teams of three. They’ll have three more days to devise a design solution addressing quality education, and to create a 3-minute pitch video for the entire conference to watch on Thursday. (I’ll be reporting on their progress here on Medium. No pressure, right?)

I asked Jenn Lee about her first day of the challenge: “I’m so excited to see what we can come up with as a team in such a short amount of time, the people we get to meet, and the parties. I’m also excited about the brief — rhythm is unique but there’s a lot of room for this to be applicable to a lot of important problems.”

Pathikrit “Po” Bhattacharyya added, “I feel honored and flattered to be included in this. Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect, except that it was focused on education, which is something I’m extremely passionate about. The challenge seems really well set up, by starting with the workshop on accessibility, doing research and now narrowing it down with the brief. It sets some limits to inspire us, but is isn’t limiting.”

Milda, Jenn, and Po are all on a team together — which they named “Team Tango” — because, it takes two to tango, “but three to find a rhythm-based solution.”

(from left) Jenn, Milda and Po (Team Tango) ideate on rhythm as an educational tool.

The evening reception for the conference opening was filled with tasty treats, local drinks, networking, and exploring the Musee de Confluences. Students will hit the ground running Tuesday morning on designing their solutions for quality education.


Meet our nine finalists.

Stay tuned for more updates from IxDA Interaction 18 — by following Microsoft Design on Twitter and Medium.

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Want to learn more about inclusive design? Head to our website, where you’ll find our Inclusive Design Toolkit, activities, videos and other resources.