Generate Labs

A program to introduce first-year engineering students to the product development process.

Summary

Generate is Northeastern's student-led product development studio. Our Build Studio works with ventures on whatever engineering challenges they may have over the course of a semester. Generate Labs is our program for first-year engineering students where they are taken through the iterative process and taught how design thinking can be applied to engineering challenges.

What I did

Generate Labs is a program that I came up with, pitched, and was the innagural director of. Being a designer 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. I directed the program for a year and my role included teaching design thinking strategies and providing feedback and guidance.

Research & Brainstorming

We spent the first few weeks utilitizing different techniques to identify and categorize problems around campus. I taught the team about enthnographic research, affinity diagramming, and the joys of post-its.

Team coming up with problems

Problem Generation

I asked each person to come in with an initial list of problems they'd encountered or observed. They then created an affinity diagram where they grouped similar problems into categories. I assigned each of them a category and tasked them with observing that problem area in detail over the next week.

Observation & Research

The team organized their observations into categories 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 bottlenecks on campus.

Post-its on a wall
The team works at a table

Solution Generation

This week the team came up with solutions to the various problem / problem categories that emerged. I encouraged them to explore both feasible and totally outlandish ideas, which we then put up on the wall and discussed. Each group member selected a solution that interested them and spent the next 2 weeks researching its feasability, determining if it would interest users, and sketching ideas.

Solution

Everybody pitched their ideas, explained the pros and cons, and argued whether or not each concept was worth pursuing. After much discussion amongst the group it became clear that many of the problems and solutions were tied to our university's access card functionality. Ultimately, the concept selected was a wearable husky card.

3D printed wristband

Form

Part of the team focused on the aesthetics and user experience of different housing mechanisms. They ultimately decided on a removable chip that could be placed in a number of different casings, including a wristband and a keychain. They modeled the options in CAD and then 3D printed the prototypes.

Function

Another part of the team took on the task of learning how to manipulate RFID signals. Northeastern already uses RFID in the husky cards so it was a matter of finding the right chip and making sure it was compatible with all of the materials chosen.

RFID testing
Pages from impact report

Impact

The remaining members of the team put together an impact report detailing the effect that implementing their solution would have on campus. They considered the logistics, cost, and benefits, and recorded the work that the team did, in detail.

Takeaways

What I learned

I learned a ton from this experience. I had worked in teams before, but this was my first time managing a group of people. I learned that concepts in design thinking that are intuitive to me are actually difficult to convey to others and I developed my skills as a communicator and motivator.

Project Details

Date: Spring 2018
Contributors: Brenna Sorkin, Akhil Bagul, Aleyah Aragon, Benjamin Barber, Christopher Owen, Henry Desai, Oscar Chen
Skills: Project management, affinity diagramming
Client: Generate: Student-led Product Development