open lab blog
Designing for citizens rather than users: Purdue students bring some UX magic to Open Lab
If you came to Open Lab towards the end of May you might have noticed that we had more students than usual walking around the office.
Former Open Labber, and visiting researcher Austin Toombs and visiting researcher Colin Gray brought sixteen UX students from Purdue University to join us and take on the task to create their own ideas around our digital civics work.
Austin Toombs explained: “Digital civics projects like those conducted in Open Lab depend on long-term relationship building between the researcher and the community stakeholder.
Our goal for the students is that they are able to work through the experience of communicating design projects with community stakeholders, including both successes and failures of those processes. While the focus of the program is on providing our students with real digital civics experiences, we also hope that they are able to develop their intercultural knowledge and competencies during their two weeks abroad.”
In between visits to the North East’s finest attractions – Alnwick Castle, Durham Cathedral, and Riley’s Fish Shack just to name a few – the students took on the challenge to use their UX skills in a design sprint based around four Open Lab projects.
Open lab digital civics projects
JigsAudio which explores how drawing and talking can provide alternative means of having a voice in place change working with Zander Wilson.
From running surveys about milk in the kitchen to visits to the Sunderland Youth Council – the Purdue students hit the ground running, and were fully immersed into the world of digital civics.
“The idea that we are serving our citizens rather than designing for a user group is a brand new feeling for me. We are no longer designing for business decisions or efficiency. We are designing for real people and the design result will have had a real impact on their life.” – Liyang Qu, who worked on the Just Eat project.
“As I did research before coming to the Open Lab, I knew the developers were giving back to the community, but actually being in the space and seeing the faces behind all the projects made it feel more impactful. It was different realizing I was no longer designing for this “user” but rather actual citizens.” – Matthew Winger, who worked on JigsAudio.
After the two weeks were up the students presented their ideas to the Lab. These ranged from using physical spaces with JigsAudio – creating a 3D physical space for people to hang their jigsaw puzzles or putting in a phone where people could connect with each other between rooms or even between two different museums.
“What is more symbolic of communication than a phone?” as one of the students explained.
To entirely online proposals such as creating a web augmentation app for the takeaway site Just Eat, which would filter out options based on dietary requirements or to find healthier food choices.
One group took a trip to another North East city, leading activities with Sunderland Youth Council, a group of young people between 13 to 19, looking at how they could help them make a change in their communities.
Abbee Westbrook worked on the project: “Seeing how Open Lab operates and the commitment they have for the people they create for was nothing short of inspiring. At one point Sean told us how one of the youths he was working with relayed to him that it’s not the places that make Sunderland home, it’s the people.
At the end of my time in Newcastle, I can’t help but relate that sentiment to my experience, too.”
The people of Open Lab were actively involved in one of the projects, looking at ways to collect real-time experiences and feedback for staff. The team decided to quiz Open Lab on their opinions about our milk rota combining Gabber, an app Open Lab designed which helps structure and record conversations for feedback and discussion, and a Google survey.
“Instead of looking at it as, what can I get out of it, it was more looked at as, what can the citizens get out of this? Is the work I am doing going to help my Open Lab research make something useful that can help make a difference, even something as small as a push of a button? Overall, this was an eye opening experience to digital civics user experience and what it is like across the pond.” – Maddisen Sharpe, who worked on the NHS project.
After lots of questions and congratulations from Open Lab people – we all retired to a local pub for one last hurrah, before they went home.
As Deanna Bell explained: “Your idea doesn’t have to be ground-breaking or extremely novel to make an impact in the world of digital civics. It matters more that your idea serves a purpose to help its citizens.”
Thanks to all the Purdue UX students who joined us!
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