We created a series of workshops with 4th year design-engineering students; introducing them to user centered design. We took our workshops up to Forres, and explored user-centred design for a product-orientated project.
Snook were asked to be involved in a product-focused project, involving the penultimate year of Product Design Engineering students at the Glasgow School of Art. The project centred on the re-design of pendant and wrist-worn personal alarms for the elderly, and was to involve a series of workshops with users to capture vital information, feedback and ideas for improvement. The students had never encountered this type of user-involvement in any of their previous projects, and so Snooks initial role was to introduce methods and tools for capturing users’ insights and opinions.
During briefing and teaching sessions with the class, we explored how to approach a workshop; what types of questions to consider asking, how to position yourself in the room, how to distribute roles amongst the students to collect as much information as possible. We introduced our tools; Personas and User Journeys to fill in with text and/or drawings and made sure that the students were familiar and comfortable to use them for the first time.
Our first trip to Forres, and the students’ first user-involvement workshop went really well. The students taking to the tools, and really engaging with the conversations and questions they were involved in. Snook’s role here was to act as a touring facilitator, moving between the rooms of students ensuring the workshop was flowing as intended, and to add guidance and answer questions as the day went on. As the workshop progressed, the students were beginning work with their users to create quick mock-up models and sketches. These ideas were then presented back to the entire collection of students and service users at the end of the first workshop.
Several weeks later, Snook were involved in the project again. By now the students, in their groups, had narrowed their focus down to two concepts and were developing variations within these ideas. The next workshop was intended to allow the students to explore these ideas with their users, and to add to and develop them further. This time, instead of supplying the students with pre-determined templates to fill out, Snook encouraged the groups to create and manage their own sessions. Each group had different ideas as to what they wished to gain from their users; material preference/aesthetics/level of technology for example, and so Snook’s involvement was to guide the students in the creation of their own templates.
The second session of user-involvement took place in Forres. Another early start and a bus full of sleepy students, another tour through areas of Scotland we want to be spending much more time in!
This time round, the students were using their time with their users to present their concepts to the entire audience, and then dividing into smaller groups to discuss their ideas in detail, gather feedback and together, create alternative suggestions.
In a matter of weeks, and only two user-engagement sessions, the students had gone from being wary of the idea of customer engagement to confidently chatting about their projects, their own plans and their users likes and life. Conversations were a brilliant mix of types of plastic, strength of magnets, Harley Davidsons, types of tea and art exhibitions visited. This particular workshop was intense, in order to make use of the limited time available in Forres we had scheduled in a round-robin of feedback sessions, allowing each group to talk to as many users as possible.
We ended with tired but enthusiastic students, new and informed ideas to develop, a better understanding of what user-engagement can achieve and how to structure a session. Our service users were thoroughly impressed with the students’ ideas, thinking and attitudes.
Several weeks later, Snook were involved in the project again. By now the students had narrowed their focus down to two concepts and were developing variations within these ideas. The next workshop was intended to allow the students to explore these ideas with their users, and to add to and develop them further. This time, instead of supplying the students with pre-determined templates to fill out, Snook encouraged the groups to create and manage their own sessions. Each group had different ideas as to what they wished to gain from their users; material preference/aesthetics/level of technology for example, and so Snook’s involvement was to guide the students in the creation of their own templates.
This second session found the students creating their own templates to ask questions by. The students operated on a round-robin system, moving rooms every 30 minutes to speak to different users and so get as much feedback as possible. Snook’s role here was to keep everybody to time, and to aid in any discussions. The students had a collection of prototypes, in different sizes, colours and materials to try out and so the workshops were fun and active with the users trying on different alarms.
From no user-contact in any of their previous projects to having discussions about grandchildren and painting classes only one workshop later – it was amazing to see how the students took to this way of working. The examples that they were drawing upon really enhanced their concepts, and they were able to both illustrate and justify their main points with impressive instinct.
Snook are really looking forward to the next round of projects that this class tackle – they are really showing that a user-centred approach can come from an engineering background.