Generate Labs is a program that I pitched, created, and now am the director of. Generate is Northeastern's student-led product development studio. Our Build Studio works with Northeastern ventures (students, faculty, alumni) on whatever engineering challenges they may have over the course of a semester. However, being a non-engineer in a sea of engineers, it occured to me that, while the engineers had amazing technical chops, there was a lack of design thinking in our product development process. Thus, Generate Labs was born.
Generate Labs is our program for freshmen engineering students where they are taken through the iterative process and taught how design thinking can be applied to engineering challenges. Unlike our Build Studio, which functions as a consulting firm on a semester-to-semester basis, the Lab runs as more of a start up, beginning with problem identification and contnuining through a functional product over the course of a year.
Over the course of the fall semester the team progressed through the ideation portion of Generate's Product Design strategy (yellow) and in the Spring they will continue by working on a works-like and looks-like and eventually creating a functional prototype.
For the very first meeting of Generate Labs I asked the team to come in with 5 problems per person that they'd encountered so far in their short time at Northeastern. Once they arrived I asked them to come up with additional problems and put everything on post-its up on the wall.
The next step was for them to create an affinity diagram where they grouped similar problems into categories. In this case, a few of the categories were: classroom problems, space and scheduling problems, information and communication problems, dorm living problems, food problems, printing problems, etc.
I assigned each of them a category from the affinity diagram and tasked them with problem research for the next week. We discussed ethnographic research as well as interviewing users with open ended questions and repeatedly asking why to try to get to the source of their problems.
The team came in this week with their thoughts and observations, which we then put on post its on the wall (we used lots of post its over the course of this project). Then, each team member presented their findings and emphasized anything they found particularly surprising or important.
Next, the team organized the findings into categories based on the source/type of problem in order to dig down to the root cause of users' problems. Some of the types of problems that emerged included: communication, policy, lack of resources, human error and time issues, and crowding. The next assignment was for each team member to take a problem area and begin brainstorming potential solutions (both feasible and completely impossible).
We narrowed our problem areas down to 3: Proctors, Printers, and Rebeccas (our on campus cafe). Next, we spent 5 minutes brainstorming solutions for each topic and then each team member presented their ideas and stuck them up on the wall. Then we removed duplicates and grouped similar ideas.
Each group member selected a solution that interested them and spent the next 2 weeks researching its feasability and sketching ideas.
Each team member came in with their research and sketches for this week's meeting. Topics covered included:
Everybody pitched their ideas and explained the pros and cons and whether or not they believed the concept was worth pursuing. After much discussion amongst the group it became clear that many of our problems and solutions were tied to the husky card's functionality. Ultimately, the concept selected was the wearable husky card.
Presentation | Next Steps
As the semester wrapped up, I tasked the group with creating a final presentation for Generate's Demo Night, where each team in the organization explains their work for the semester. They created this presentation explaining the idea and addressing the technology involved as well as concerns and future steps.
Generate Labs will continue with the same team into the spring semester where the focus will shift from ideation towards engineering and creating an MVP prototype of the wearable husky card. We will also address issues with adoption and how our solution would impact the university as a whole. Additionally, I am bringing on a computer engineering upperclassman to aid with the technical aspects, while I continue to teach the design thinking and user testing aspects of the project.
Date: Fall 2017
Contributors: Brenna Sorkin, John Buczek, Akhil Bagul, Aleyah Aragon, Benjamin Barber, Christopher Owen, Henry Desai and Oscar Chen
Tags: Design Thinking, Leadership, Engineering, Interaction Design
Client: Generate Labs
This project was an incredible opportunity for me to apply my design thinking skills to the field of engineering. I also was able to improve my leadership skills and get firsthand experience in project management.