The inaugural BarnRaise conference in fall 2014 focused on using Human Centered Design (HCD) practices to prototype solutions for Chicago’s social challenges.

With support from the Social Enterprise Initiative, four Booth students and recent alumni attended the event, hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design. Tricia Felice, ’14, took part in the event and shares her thoughts here:

One part conference, one part workshop, and one part make-a-thon. That was the unique recipe for the inaugural BarnRaise event. Attendees were organized into teams, given social issues, and tasked with developing solutions.

My team, hosted by HERE (a Nokia-owned mapping company) and Design Concepts (a Madison-based product design firm), was charged with exploring the potential social challenges which may develop in conjunction with the introduction. Though no one on the team had ever ridden in an automated vehicle, we were able to use a Human Centered Design framework and tools to break down the problem and ideate around potential solutions. Here are the steps we took:

1) Frame the problem: Basic preliminary research and brainstorming around the concept helped get us all on the same page about how self-driving cars might affect life in Chicago. This was especially important because the subject matter (i.e. automated cars in Chicago) is currently unrealized. By projecting future situations, we were able to determine potential problems, such as what might happen in an interaction between pedestrians/bikers and automated vehicles.

Tool: To guide our brainstorming, we used prompts such as "what good might self-driving cars bring to the city?" Or "what challenges might arise with self-driving cars in the city?" Each team member used Post-it notes to document their thoughts. We then culled similar ideas into thought groups.

2) Access current behaviors: HCD utilizes ethnographic research and user-based behavioral insights to inform product strategy. Since we didn't have automated cars to study direct interaction, we chose to monitor current behaviors on the streets, where this transportation would someday occur, to see how driverless vehicles might best assimilate into the current transit environment and perhaps even add an element social good.

Tool: We used the "AEIOU Framework" to structure our observations, deliberately noting Actions (what was happening), Environment (insights on the location), Interactions (person-to-person or person-to-object), Objects (what else was in the space) and Users (looking for and defining user groups).

3) Build potential solutions: Using the insights we gleaned from our observations of the environment and knowledge of current behaviors around transportation, we began our ideation process for developing potential solutions.

Tool: Our tools for this were paper, hot glue guns, and markers. That’s right—physical prototyping was the focus. So the question became, what could we make that could help lead us to more potential solutions? This was exciting, because it brought us out of a land of ideas and spreadsheets and into the physical world of products. One prototype led to creating an automated bus that would aid bikers and walkers with lighting, as well as a weather shield and protection from the streets.

This three step framework—framing the problem, accessing current behaviors, and prototyping potential solutions—led all the BarnRaise teams to very interesting solutions throughout the workshop. For more on what other teams came up with, check out more on the BarnRaise blog.

And next time you are facing a strategy challenge or problem-solving need, try one of these Human Centered Design tools for a new perspective!—Tricia Felice, ’14