Tufts Design for Social Good

Creative Confidence

July 18, 2018 - 4 minute read -
product design

by Olivia Hewitt and Ananya Ram

Tufts Design for Social Good is a club that brings students from the School of Engineering and the School of Arts & Sciences together in an effort to bring positive impact to our local community. Each year, Tufts DSG will select a marginalized or under-designed-for group, find a group of users in our community, and design a solution to a problem we identify in their life. To do so, all DSG members learn a useful problem-solving process called Design Thinking, which is a cyclical process of interviews, synthesis, prototyping, and iterating. At the end of this process, we hope to create a solution of real value to our users.

The over-arching end goal of DSG is to have our members leave each year with a sense of creative confidence and the knowledge that they can create immediate and tangible impact for another user with limited time and resources. We hope that all DSG participants realize that they already possess the ability to design for the world around them, no matter their level of “experience”.

(A side note: Last semester, we prototyped what the Design for Social Good club would look like by pairing with the MAKE club for a semester. The club was incredibly supportive, shared their resources, and helped us get the word out about DSG. The DSG sub-club did very well, pulling 15+ members that were committed and returned each week, and our feedback at the end of the semester was overwhelmingly positive. However, since our club was far more focused on the design process than the MAKE club, we realized that our timelines didn’t overlap much, and our club goals were rather different. Specifically, our club tries very hard to be a 50-50 balance of Arts & Sciences and Engineering students, and the MAKE club is mainly engineering, thus unevenly selecting for our pool of potential club members. Given that our club was tested extensively last semester and we have copious feedback, we’re confident that this upcoming year will be an even better iteration.)

Last semester (pilot semester for DSG) we decided to focus on the user group of elderly people. We went to a local elderly home in Somerville and conducted user interviews with three residents. The interviews consisted of conversations ranging from the residents’ lives at the center to their hobbies, families, passions in life and technical frustrations. Once we had a fuller picture of their lives at the center and what challenges they were facing there, we decided to re-design a button the were using to communicate with the nurses. The frustration with the button was a concern most highlighted in conversation with a resident named Pedro, so we decided to focus in on his experience as much as we could and re-design the button to better address the needs he had voiced. We first made a large amount of low-resolution prototypes, where the goal was quantity and judgement-free idea generation. All members of the team (even those who were hesitant to trust their own designs/see worth in their ideas) prototyped at least one re-design. From there we made a list of what functions we saw as most critical, what patterns were emerging in our prototypes that we saw as most effective, and what was visually intuitive in our designs that we wanted to carry over into our higher resolution prototype. We then made a series of drawings of what we wanted the final product to look like, and brought our prototypes and drawings back to Pedro to have a second discussion with him. We talked through the design, had him try out the prototypes, and heard from him what he felt the best way to move forward with the design was. Meeting with Pedro for a second time was incredibly valuable as it gave us user feedback to incorporate in a really tangible way. We then made our final prototype, which allowed us to learn/further our skills with Arduino/Tinyduino and other electronics, Adobe Illustrator and laser-cutting. This was especially rewarding for members of the club who aren’t engineers and had never worked with this type of technology before. All in all it was a super cool way to kick off the first semester of the club and get a feel for the design process, user interviews & feedback, judgement-free idea generation and how cool it feels to create a tangible solution to a complex human problem.