6 Design-For-All Lessons Learned at the Enabled by Design-athon

It’s hard to believe it’s been a month since we held the first ever international Enabled by Design-athon (in Washington […]

It’s hard to believe it’s been a month since we held the first ever international Enabled by Design-athon (in Washington D.C.) with event partners United Cerebral Palsy’s Life Labs and FutureGov.

Still in full recovery mode from my recent trip to the US, I’m yet to sit down to write my thoughts and feeling somewhat guilty as a result. So in the meantime (and to ease my conscience of course! ; ) I thought I’d share this excellent post on the Enabled by Design-athon: DC Edition, written by FutureGov designer, Emma Gasson. Enjoy! : )

From a Designer’s point of view, the Enabled by Design-athon in Washington D.C. was an impressive couple of days.

Housed in the massive Ronald Reagan Building, over 100 people spent two intense days designing hacking and 3D printing a series of products to support people to live independently.

Mixed groups of designers, manufacturers, entrepreneurs (and a psychiatrist) worked for 24 hours to produce working prototypes to support people with reduced mobility, dexterity, hearing and sight.

From getting food out of the oven to chopping things which won’t stop rolling, using a touch screen when your hands are doing their own thing or trying to find your cat when you can’t see well (and your cat doesn’t want to be found), the challenges were wide and varied.

Here’s 6 lessons we learnt about Design-For-All when the Enabled by Design-athon went to DC. 

Try walking a mile with someone else’s crutches

Design-athon crutches

Day one began with exercises in empathy. For members of the group who didn’t have lived experience, they committed to spend time experiencing a sensory or physical impairment.

For some this meant trying to get through airport style door security with crutches, or trying to get your phone out of your bag with reduced dexterity (there’s no easy answer here – you’ve just gotta hurl your bag upside-down).

Spending time literally to walk through someone else’s life brought a wave of solvable challenges to the surface. After a quick standup groups had to focus down to a single challenge to tackle.

Paper Prototyping is universally brilliant

Design-athon paper prototyping

For the next twelve hours teams were in design, build, test and iterate mode.

As hopelessly enthusiastic British people, we were slightly nervous up to this point that the DC folks seemed to be quiet and kind of serious; then we learnt that they like to deliver.

Sketches and paper prototypes moved to card and tape as we headed into the night, aided by burritos and weird pumpkin beer.

3D Printing quickly takes prototyping to the next level

Design-athon 3D printing

After an early breakfast the next morning, card and tape gave way to heat moulded plastics and sugru.

3D printed components were assembled and tested and even the meek were armed with glue guns.

Prototyping physical products suddenly becomes accessible and achievable in a very short space of time.

Optimism often makes way for Realism at Hack Days

Design-athon Dexterity

From a Designer’s point of view, this was an impressive couple of days. Having users in the room meant optimistic assumptions were cut down to size quickly.

One group who had come up with a massive kitchen refit for an individual. On showing the prototype to him, he realised he just wanted help to cut onions once in a while.

Our group were all set to build some kind of uber scientific location device for a blind couple when what they actually cared about was not loosing their cat when they opened the front door to a busy road.

You can focus on a narrow problem but still achieve wide appeal

Design-athon Cutting Apple

Designing for a very specific need allowed you to focus really quickly:

  • a watch which you can read without looking
  • a knife which holds food in place and slices without needing to apply much pressure
  • a mobile potting shed which ages like an ornamental feature.

This also helped us realise that if you get the product right, the solution will have universal appeal.

Rapid reporting helps create a sense of progress

Design-athon Google Glass

Frequent rapid reporting sessions let all the groups get a sense of the progress in the room as they moved towards their final pitch deadline.

By 2pm on day two, groups are lined up to do a pitch to a panel of judges (Dragons Den is known as ‘Shark Tank’ in the States).

A panel of judges, including representatives from Google, Enabled by Design, FutureGov and Adobe, awarded prizes to: “Sous Chef”, a mobile kitchen island with variable height, and the people’s choice award to “Springboard”, a device that combines a cutting board with any knife to help stabilise the food preparation process.

Here’s the triumphant “Springboard” team with their Google tablets as well-deserved prizes:

Design-athon Springboard team

We had a fantastic time at the Enabled by Design-athon in Washington DC. Make sure to check out our event partners, UCP’s Life Labs and Enabled by Design

You can find all of the event photos on Flickr and there’s another write up over on Product Design & Development.

We’ll see you at next year’s event!

Kindly written by Emma Gasson, FutureGov designer