The Connected Cities Design Jam was an opportunity to expose undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Michigan’s School of Information to designing with constraints. The workshop was organized in phases where the students had a stakeholder, a deadline, and the ability to interview users and stakeholders to get feedback on their direction and design. The exercise attempted to simulate an environment with constraints – e.g. a stakeholder who has limited time to provide input, competing information from others in charge of the project to whom the primary stakeholder had delegated responsibility to, and citizens with different views. In addition, the students were thrown other curve-balls, such as moving one member from the team to another team in order to simulate a reorganization or the loss of an employee.
Design Jams are somewhat common within the University of Michigan School of Information. Companies like Google, Facebook, and many others come in to provide students with a design challenge, give them a fixed amount of time to work on it, and then announce winners. Being an alumnus of the school, I wanted to provide a more unique and engaging experience than those that I had in the past. Therefore, myself and a team of other designers came up with the idea of an activity designed around constraints, uncertainty, and the fast paced world that reflects the environment of the working world in which design work takes place in contrast to the academic setting the students might be used to.
Setting the scenario and getting the students situated into the proper mind-set was important. One difficult thing to do was attempting to balance multiple factors: setting the design jam in a context students could relate to, giving them freedom and flexibility, and providing enough guard rails that they didn’t drown in the open-ended character of the scenario.
Students were handed out cards marked with either “User Feedback” or “Stakeholder Feedback”. In order to simulate design constraints the students were limited in the number of times they could request feedback and had to choose carefully when in their design process they wanted to use one of the cards.
The biggest challenge of the Connected Cities Design Jam was how to balance the dynamics we wanted to introduce into the process with an optimal learning experience. There was a lot of debate and thought during the design process in how different scenarios would affect teams, what the potential pitfalls would be of introducing different constraints. As an example, how would removing one team member affect the group. Furthermore, who was most likely to pick-up the artifact that determined if a person was going to be moved from one team to another. Hint – it was usually the person leading the team.