The Imagine Cup 2008 competition consisted of 3 rounds. To make it past the first two rounds, my colleague David Roedl submitted the Energy Challenge project, which, after critique by the judges, we were invited out to Paris for the final round competition. Due to flight complications, we arrived on-site in Paris only an hour before the interface finals began. We were then handed a design brief detailing a complex problem demanding the conceptualization and development of several interface design for various stakeholders. Essentially the task at hand was (i) to develop a air quality sensor device for elderly community members to use. These users would then have to upload the collected data from the device to some kind of online portal. From there, (ii) scientists would need to collect the aggregated data for analysis, and then(iii) present these analyses in a form accessible to public policy makers (to hopefully impact future decisions). We had 24 hours to iterate through the design process, develop these interfaces and create a presentation illustrating our designs and rationale. At this point we had already been awake for 48 hours (never ending string of missed flights, striking public transport workers and lost baggage).
We began breaking down the systemic design problem into accessible chunks. Then, based on some quick research, we enumerated all of our stakeholders requirements in terms. We constructed personas and used scenarios to help guide our design process, particularly because we did not have access to any real users. Following these requirements, we sketched the information architecture of our system and sketched several potential interaction sequences. We continued to apply constraints and eventually developed wireframes and graphical mockups of our interface designs.
The majority of our process was spent deeply understanding the various stages of the design problem and developing a sense of empathy for our users. Instead of creating a ‘one-button’ solution for our elderly users, we created a device that, while still simple to use, had enough autonomy built into it to potentially engender deeper interest in air quality problems and grow this user-base of citizen scientists. We create a simple upload wizard for them to use, so they did not have to use a web browser, however there were areas where they could include comments or concerns if their interpretations of readings prompted them.
We additionally created a visualization tool that included the option to see elderly participants’ comments as well as a community board where scientists, elderly community members, and public policy makers alike could come together to discuss future changes. We presented our concepts and design argument to a panel of esteemed judges including Surya Vanka (senior manager of UX at Microsoft), Tom Chi (senior director of UX at Yahoo), and Neil Churcher (head of design & usability at Orange). We won first place.
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