UX is not just about screens.
Nowadays it seems like when we talk about user experience we refer only to that of digital products, forgetting that even the simplest physical product we interact with also provides an experience to the user. As industrial designers, we must integrate into our design process methodologies that take both the user we’re designing for and the experience they’ll have with our product into account; in this way, not only will we be able to design better products but also we’ll be better designers. Even though that sounds obvious, I didn’t figure out how the user experience methodologies could be integrated in the design process of a physical product until I used what I had learned in a UX/UI Design Boot Camp in an industrial design competition. And I can only say that I wish that somebody had taught me those methodologies at uni.
In this post, I’m going to tell you my experience during the competition and how I integrated Design Thinking and UX to create a winning solution.
On the first place, I should start by giving some details about the competition. During the last edition of Madrid Design Festival, AIDI (a Madrid-based association for industrial designers) created the Diseñatón, a competition in which different multidisciplinary teams assigned by them would have 24h to set out a solution for a problem using industrial design. They teamed up with MINI, which lent its HUB during the 23rd and 24th of February for us to work there. On that edition, the challenge, which was disclosed the very same day of the contest, was related to “the future of cities” and it was centred on Malasaña, one of Madrid’s neighbourhoods:
Design a proposal for an intervention on Malasaña using new paradigms of accessibility, mobility, social relations and design
As evaluation criteria: feasibility, originality, suitability and next steps.
Madrid’s City Hall participated indirectly by providing us with a list of the main problems the neighbourhood suffered in order to help us focus our solutions. Some of those problems were: mobility, air & noise pollution, cleanliness, garbage collection, confrontations between neighbours and visitors, gentrification due to tourist apartments and loneliness. It also shared its plan to create an Area of Residential Priority to limit the access by car to only residents on the city centre (affecting Malasaña) the next November.
With all that information in mind, all teams were gathered and introduced for the first time.
I was assigned to Team G alongside three others: Jorge, an architect, Edu, an industrial designer, and Luis, an industrial organisation engineer. After a quick introduction, we did some exercises to foster team building. We were ready to start working on the challenge.
Let’s get this Diseñaton started
Timer started at 19 o’clock on Friday, with the deadline set up at 19 o’clock on Saturday for us teams to deliver our proposal, divided in a communicative board, an explanatory board and a dossier with all the technical information. The organisation provided us with a map of the neighbourhood and a sheet with the double diamond diagram of the Design Thinking methodology. That was the first clue on how we must face the challenge.
They gave us the Design Thinking diagram so they wanted us to follow it. I knew the methodology due to my UX/UI design Boot Camp so I came up with the idea of using user experience and its techniques to find an industrial solution that would make the lives of the neighbours of Malasaña better. None of my teammates knew neither the Design Thinking process nor the UX methodology, so once I explained both methodologies to them the best I could, we decided to use them to solve the challenge.
Step 1: we’re Wilderness Explorers
Our first move was to get out of the HUB to wander the streets of Malasaña in search for potential problems of the neighbourhood and also to talk to some locals to get insights about the life in Malasaña. We went down most streets and squares and in barely 40 minutes we collected a long list of problems such as garbage bins and motorbikes blocking the narrow pavements, dirt on the streets, squares filled with bar terraces, lack of accessibility, poor lightning conditions, lack of pedestrian crossings, uncomfortable urban furniture, etc. We also took photographs of the main problems we saw.
Step 2: the fellowship of the post-it
Back at the HUB, we wrote down every problem in a post-it note and placed them in a wall. Once all were put, we grouped them according to the similarity of the problem, creating parent categories that we later named: the trendy neighbourhood, bad design & poor UX, neighbourhood cleanliness, a day in Malasaña and infrastructures.
Without realizing it, we had created an Affinity Diagram to identify the main problems of the neighbourhood. UX was making its way into our design process.
Step 3: Personas from the block
When all the problems we discovered during our walk were grouped and categorized, we realized that there were too many and that we din’t know which one to focus on to propose a solution. How could we know that the problem chosen would have a bigger impact for the better on the lives of the neighbours than the discarded ones? We couldn’t. After all, none of us lived there and what might seem important for us could have been a nuisance for the true neighbours. That’s when I had the idea: we should create user personas from Malasaña.
If you’re not familiarised with the neighbourhood, let me give you some insights about it: its real name is Universidad (University neighbourhood), but everybody calls it Malasaña. It’s one of the central neighbourhoods of Madrid and also one of the most typical and authentic. During the 70s and 80s it became the epicentre of la movida madrileña, a contra cultural movement that took place during the Spanish transition to democracy. Since then its name was synonym for cutting-edge and innovative but since the last decade Malasaña has become hugely fashionable, turning itself into the home of small design shops, bookshops and alternative bars and restaurants. Even though the recent gentrification of the neighbourhood (due to the proliferation of holiday apartments and being the most beloved neighbourhood for hipsters and artists), there are still a few lifelong neighbours who have watched the transformation of his neighbourhood first-hand.
That’s why we decided to create 3 different profiles: a retired old man and lifelong neighbour, a bohemian artist in love with the neighbourhood and a young mum attracted by the strategic location of Malasaña. Let me introduce you to Paco, Martin and Aurora.
Once our personas were created, we decided to give each problem a score according to them in order to narrow down the problems on which to focus. We created a scale from 1 to 5 (being 1 the less important problem and 5 the most important one), we assigned a different colour to each of our personas and we scored each problem as they would have done. To do that, we had to empathize with each of them, putting ourselves in our neighbours’ shoes to decide which problems in our affinity diagram would have a bigger impact on their day-to-day life.
After voting, we isolated the problems with higher scores and chose the one that had the highest score for, at least, two of our personas. We finally had a problem to face:
“It’s not easy to walk down the streets of Malasaña: besides the narrowness of the pavements, most of them are blocked with garbage bins, motorcycles or bikes.”
To help us in the search for a solution, we transformed our problem into an opportunity using the How Might We…? Technique, whose advantages IDEO sums up perfectly:
“Every problem is an opportunity for design. By framing your challenge as a How Might We question, you’ll set yourself up for an innovative solution.” — IDEO
Thus we obtained two HMWs intrinsically related:
With our recently found opportunity, we ended up the first day of the competition. We went home to recharge our batteries, keeping the problem to resolve in mind and ready to come back the next day to start generating ideas.
Step 4: the Miami draw machine
Back at the HUB the next day and with the deadline closer, we decided to work individually to find solutions for our newly discovered problem: how to retake the pavements for the pedestrians. While my teammates set out to find solutions directly, I preferred to delve into the user research in order to frame the problem better and figure out the best way to overcome it; that’s why I filled up a Lean UX Canvas:
Once the canvas was done, I narrowed down my solution into a system that could centralise the garbage of a street in one point, with recycling bins included. With that system, a lot of space would be freed up in pavements as each building in the street wouldn’t need to have its own garbage bin.
After thinking of solutions individually, we put in common the ideas we had and, surprisingly, we came up with a very similar idea: what we later called FTP (Free The Pavements).
The City Hall had plans to limit the access to the neighbourhood via car to mainly residents and public transport (with a few more exceptions) so that many parking lots once used by visitants would be freed now and we could use them. That’s how we conceived FTP: a structure that integrates in the same space garbage collection, motorbikes, bicycles and electric scooters and that should fit in one parking lot in order to place one on each street.
It was time to define the shape and specifications of our solutions so we came back to work individually to later put our findings and ideas in common, narrowing down a bit more the solution with every round table. We also did two user journeys for Paco and Aurora in order to detect possible pain points of the solutions and to be able to correct them on time. Once the pain points were detected and corrected and the design was almost final, we entered the final sprint a few hours away from the deadline.
FTP is an structure that uses the conventional garbage bins and adds them a compaction system, so that more garbage can be stored in one place. The structure also provides space for recycling bins, parking bikes and motorcycles and for charging and storing electric scooters. It is divided in modules, each one with the same area than a parking lot, so the different modules can be configured according to the needs of each street. The compaction system makes it possible for 1 compaction bin to store the same amount of garbage than 5 of the traditional ones; that means that the garbage collection is no longer a matter of each building but a matter of each street. Each compaction bin has a sensor that provides information about the capacity of each bin, allowing the City Hall to optimise the garbage collection routes and to get information about the garbage production of each street. You can read more about the solution here.
With less garbage bins per street and the motorbikes, bikes and scooters placed in one place and all located on the road, we free the pavements for pedestrians, allowing them to take a walk on Malasaña without obstacles.
Step 5: divide and conquer
We already had our idea, so we needed to create the panels and explain the idea in a dossier. We divide the tasks to speed up our work flow:
- Jorge went out to find a location to place the solution, took photographs and created a photo montage from the solution and the location.
- Luis finished the definition of the materials and technology used, studied the viability of our solution and wrote the dossier.
- Edu created hi-fi artistic sketches of the solution to integrate them on the montage
- My tasks were the creation of technical sketches to explain some technical details and the layout of the panels we needed
We worked in a hurry to finish the proposal, creating the panels and writing the dossier to put them in a pen drive given by the organisation that would later be evaluated by a jury. We delivered the pen drive 2 minutes before the deadline.
After a well deserved break of 30 minutes to disconnect a bit (only a bit, as we needed to prepare our presentation), presentations begun. Each team had 3 minutes to explain their solution to a jury, being penalised if we exceeded the time.
When the presentations were done, the jury, composed of Marcelo Ghio, strategical director of Experimenta magazine; Roger Berdayes, co-director of Startup Grind Madrid; Eduard Villar, product design director of BQ and Marta Jurado as AIDI representative, had 30 minutes to deliberate in which they could access to all the documentation handed over by the teams.
Finally, the AIDI team proceeded to give the special mentions to the “best project related to electric mobility”, the “best project for prototyping using digital manufacturing” and the AIDI special mention, as well as the first prize. Much to our surprise, not only did we won the special mention to the electric mobility, but we also got the first prize.
What have I learnt from Diseñatón? Many things and very enriching. I’m not a huge fan of design competitions but the format of this one lured me into it. Although the time restrictions made it quite daunting and even stressful, it’s a really interesting exercise that pushes you to give the best of you for 24 hours. Besides, working with people you don’t know until the very same day of the competition can seem strange at first (even more when you’re such an introvert like me) but it’s actually quite productive because the lack of a previous relationship lessens the distractions and everybody is focused on working to the fullest to deliver the best solution.
I’ve also confirmed that Design Thinking is a methodology that suits perfectly for team work. It has stages on which all team members have to work together but it also leaves space for individual ideation. These stages of individual ideation help minimise conflicts and avoid some ideas to be left unexplained because the ideas of “noisy” members outshine the others.
Much to my surprise, I’ve discovered that many creative people like architects, industrial designers, etc. (and even myself until a few months ago) aren’t familiarised with methodologies such as Design Thinking, user centric design and user experience. Although in my limited experience I’ve seen that these methodologies focus mainly on digital products, I’ve confirmed that they can be perfectly applied to the design process of a physical product. I never learned them when I studied Industrial Design and hadn’t been for Ironhack’s UX/UI Design Boot Camp, I would have never discovered these methodologies that have shook up my work process and that have changed the way I face now every design process.