STEP BY STEP DESIGN

LEMELSON INTERNSHIP 2021

Benjamin Lembaro Blog #3

 

As student engineers, we sometimes had to design when solving basic problems that we came across. However, in most cases our designs were based on the solution that first came to mind. We never did enough to explore the options that we had in terms of the solution. Therefore, we solved problems using designs that were not really the best ones and in most cases were inefficient and did not last long.

In the third week of the Lemelson Internship, we started by working on the insight statements that we formulated the previous week to come up with different ‘how can we’ statements. ‘How can we’ statements are formulated from insight statements to give the designer room to diverge and come up with different alternatives that answer how a designer can achieve certain objectives inspired by the research done previously.

Figure 1: Some of the ‘how can we’ questions obtained from the themes and insights

In order to give answers to ‘how can we’ statements, we had a lesson on brainstorming. The brainstorming lesson was aimed at developing our skills in creative thinking as well as improving our ability to think outside the box. We brainstormed in order to create as many answers as possible to the ‘how can we’ questions. In order to do this, it was emphasized that we always do constructive brainstorming which is adding positively to what your teammate already proposed. An example of a bad brainstorm would be the one in which a member only talks about why the ideas already mentioned won’t work. We also looked at some of the tips that can be used when brainstorming such as encouraging wild ideas, building on the ideas of others, staying focused on the topic, having one conversation at a time and being visual.

Our brainstorming brought us so many ideas that were actionable towards the design of the final product. However, not all these ideas necessarily had to be worked on or had to appear in the final design. Therefore we had to do convergence to get to some few actionable brainstorms. One of the ways to achieve this is by bundling the ideas. This involves putting together ideas or brainstorms that have a similar characteristic or similarity in some way. This led to a few bunches of ideas from which we would select a few for the first rapid prototypes.

From the bundled ideas we went a step closer to the final design by starting the prototyping phase. A prototype is simply a primary design that exhibits the essential features of a later or final product. We saw that prototypes could either be low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototypes. Low-fidelity prototypes involve the use of basic models and do not necessarily capture all features of the final product. High-fidelity prototypes on the other end operate very close to the final product. A good prototype has to capture or give the best representation of the final product and most importantly, must be testable. My team, which is working on a problem from an online food delivery service, came up with four prototypes that were derived from the bundled brainstorms. All of these were aimed at reducing spillage of drinks when transported from the restaurants to the customers using bikes .

Figure 2: One of the rapid prototypes of a holder that we came up with

Not all the prototypes we came up with were going to be used in the final product. We had to find a way to get the best prototype from the four that we had. In order to do this, we first had to define our design objectives. Design objectives are the goals or expectations that a designer has of the final product and its outcomes. We learnt that design objectives must be specific, quantifiable, measurable, justified and prioritized. These design objectives help us when making a decision on which prototype should be carried forward to the final product.

Apart from defining our design objectives, another activity that helped us decide on the best prototype is feedback and criticism. This is when a fellow designer or a user is given a chance to air out what they think about the prototype. We looked at the advantages of feedback both to the receiver and the giver of the feedback. We received feedback from members working on another project and also gave our feedback on their prototypes. We all hope to work on the feedback to come up with prototypes of higher fidelity.

To finish up, I learnt that there is a very clear gap between what we think is the best solution to our problems and what we find out when we do careful exploration of the solutions that are available. It is normally very easy to judge based on what we already know or what we are used to. It is however through a careful analysis process that we may be able to come up with the best solutions to our problems. 

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