Saving the Environment and Sparking Conversation

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It’s been a great (yet very tiring) week! I’ve had so many late nights that I feel like I haven’t blogged in forever even though I did two days ago…

What I haven’t gotten to do is give an update on my team in ID’s Healthy Living design challenge which has gradually become about recycling. Now while I haven’t blogged about it in a little while, the other night I did create a powerpoint about our journey so far with some pictures and comments that help show our story that once started with just an abandon garden. (If you look at this powerpoint keep in mind that it is a working doc and is constantly being updated now by all team members.)

The last time I blogged about our process on the challenge I had talked about the learning process involved with us creating our full scale prototype of our design and mentioned how once we finished we would start are user centered experiment. As of last Friday we actually put our product design (which should hopefully have a name by sometime next week) in an 8th grade classroom.

The results and findings since then have been amazing!!!

On Wednesday we checked in on our prototype and discovered that the recycling bin had been used 30 times, and when we looked all but one item– a small snack bar rapper– actually belonged in the recycling! This was cool qualitative data that we collected, but the feedback didn’t end there because next we did some observations.

The side door seemed to be slightly opened, meaning that someone, potentially student or teacher, must have been using the door meant only to be used by custodian. This means our design may not be clear enough with how to use it. We also noticed that our makey makey device, that allowed for us to count the number of times the recycling bin was opened, seemed to be messed up slightly so our findings may not be accurate. We also noticed that some of our prototyped hinges were falling off and the doors weren’t completely closed, so physically speaking, the design could be improved to better function.

Next step was to go talk to our users. We very purposefully picked Wednesday as the day we would check in with our prototype because on Wednesday’s the innovation diploma is meeting at the same time that the middle school is eating lunch. So we picked up some sticky notes and sharpies and got to interviewing! We split up and talked to 3 different users: the teacher who’s room the prototype was in, 7th and 8th graders, and some members of the custodial staff.

The first piece of feedback the teacher gave us was, “It’s amazing!” (That felt great to hear!) He then told us about how the prototype started to spark conversation amongst students because they noticed our prototype and were curious then about what could and couldn’t be recycled. He even found himself being more conscious of reminded students to recycle and hopes that after time his reminding could be decreased. Now on the one hand it was great to hear we were sparking conversation, on the other hand though, it means our prototyped sign, which talked in portion about what could be recycled, probably wasn’t getting read. We dug deeper to discover that indeed most people didn’t read the sign, and our user suggested maybe it is too long and would be better if it was on the prototype itself rather than a separate sign. This idea was inspired because he loved our labels on the prototype saying “recycling” and “landfill” because he thought it was a great reminder to students as to wear their waste could end up.

The students also said they really enjoyed having a recycling bin again, and thought our design was interesting. We heard more when talking to students about how they did in fact open the side door–confirming our observational hypothesis. Interestingly, while size had been something our team worried about, the students were the first and only ones to say they actually wished it as smaller because they felt it’s size and positioning in that classroom made the room feel smaller. Our team is keeping this in mind as we start plans for prototype 3.0.

The interviews with the custodial staff were also very insightful. They thought our design was great, but with the current prototype the bins ended up having to be duck taped in as a last minute fix, and thus the custodians couldn’t remove the bins as they could have liked to in order to empty the bins. Also I think the most unexpected thing we heard was that the custodians actually found the room our prototype was in to get noticeably cleaner in just those few days it was in the room. The room had less trash lying around and the custodians hypothesized that it was because our design had made people so interested in waste, and maybe people just wanted to use our prototype, that they actually did a better job of not leaving trash and recyclables lying around. We had never imagined that our prototype could create all of this change!

The thing is, we aren’t actually done with this experiment. After this initial feedback we have wanted to test some of the hypothesizes that have been risen. So we moved the prototype into a new room where the teacher is enthusiastic about recycling, and she even told us how she was not pleased with how messy her room can get (as did the custodians recommend the room). To test the idea that our prototype is actually making rooms cleaner, we moved it into her room this Wednesday (same day we were doing the interviews because we felt we needed to act fast).

We have not yet checked back in with this teacher and her students to my knowledge, but since this Wednesday we actually received an email from a lower school teacher, who we had interviewed way earlier in this design challenge process, that had seen and heard about our prototype and wanted one in her room!!!! That was pretty stinking awesome to be messed about someone wanting even just your prototype!

So recently we’ve actually been reiterating our design by researching and honing in on the best design, materials, ascetics, and systematic parts to our product, while also keeping up the experiment with our 2.0 current prototype. The prototype got moved today after school down to this lower school teachers classroom across campus, and the total recycling count was at 60 from just 2.5 days in this last classroom! This is twice as many times that people recycled compared to the first time which means that people in the 7th and 8th grade building have been increasing their recycling rate since the implementation of our prototype!!!

Throughout this design challenge I’ve never been super attached to our product; it’s not like I don’t care about recycling, that just isn’t what keeps me up pondering at night like it may for others. However, I think I’m starting to become more and more attached to our users through keeping up with this challenge, which is really the whole point of design thinking: falling in love with your user to help them. I feel the need to continue with the process because I truly see people needing and enjoying even our prototypes. We are creating visible positive changes in a system: recycling is improving, conversations and being generated, and less trash is being left around. I hope things only get better for our users/community!

Plus the longer we have continued, the more we have learned and soon maybe we’ll even get to a point of actually getting into industrial production type work. I’m so excited for us to continue this work and can’t wait to see what our version 3.0 ends up looking like, and then 3.1 and 3.2 and so on! All of us on the team are currently researching various components of our product which so far has included looking into 3D printing, laser cutters, CAD Models, word smithing, visual design, vinyl creation, and how to make homemade yet sturdy recycled materials.

Big goal of next week: learn as much as possible in our personal area to start making decisions, name the product, and come up with a more clear and consistent mission.

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