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Sept. 28, 2018

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If practice makes perfect, a group of User Experience Design (UXD) students at Wilfrid Laurier University are on their way to mastering the design sprint process.

Laurier Professor Abby Goodrum and eight second-year UXD students led a design sprint for a group of 85 high school students as part of the internationally renowned UXD conference, Fluxible, in late September. The 90-minute design sprint, held at Google’s Kitchener location, introduced high school students enrolled in Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) courses to the field of user experience design.

Design sprints are a key component of user experience design used to foster rapid, user-centred innovation. During a sprint, designers ideate, prototype and test solutions to a given problem – anything from how to create engaging experiences online to improving the in-person experience at a theme park. Using the basic tools of design thinking – empathy for the end user, iterative prototyping and testing – design sprints drive user experience designers towards a user-focused solution earlier, avoiding the creation of a product or experience that is not useful for the client.

Assisting with executing a design sprint introduced Goodrum’s students to some of their program’s second-year learning expectations.

“By the end of their second year in the program, our UXD students have the skills and know-how to go into any organization and run a design sprint to help them achieve their goals,” says Goodrum. “They have the skills to take ownership of the sprint and become leaders.”

Goodrum and her students used The Extraordinaires Design Studio, a product-design game, to kick-start the sprint. Players leverage design-thinking principles to create a product or experience for one of the game’s many fantastical characters based on their specific set of criteria.

“The game is a great way to get students thinking big while creating empathy for their character,” says Goodrum. "It’s a fun and creative way to rapidly create innovative solutions and products to meet their character’s needs.”

The students began the sprint by using information on their character’s card to imagine their hobbies, jobs, likes and dislikes to develop empathy for their character. They were then given a product to design for their character – anything from a building to clothing or mode of transportation – which launched them into brainstorming ideas.

Christina Stiller, who recalls playing The Extraordinaires during her first year in Laurier’s UXD program, says contributing ideas during the sprint’s brainstorming phase was difficult for some of the high school students at Fluxible.

“I tried to help them understand what the task was and that it was okay to offer up any kind of idea,” says Stiller. “No idea is a bad idea, but it can be intimidating to share your ideas with team members you have just met.”

Stiller and her classmates checked in on the various teams of high school designers to help the ideation process along. About halfway through the sprint, Goodrum threw them a curve, asking the students to incorporate new criteria into their designs. The final product now had to be solar powered, mobile and sustainable for 100 years.

“The students had to go back to square one to make sure their prototype met the new criteria for their characters,” says Goodrum. “Iterative prototyping is a big part of what user experience designers do.”

Stiller was impressed with how some of the teams adapted to the new criteria.

“It was great to see how some of the students really embraced the whole process,” she says. “They made sure their character’s needs were met, which is the goal of the game and a design sprint.”

One team of students was tasked with creating a home for a nomadic ninja. They came up with an inflatable shelter, worn as backpack, and made from sustainable materials.

“It’s really cool for us to get excited about user experience design with other students,” says Stiller, who is one of 25 classmates registered in year two of the program. “We are building interest in the UXD program and that is something we are all very proud of.”

Laurier’s Brantford campus welcomed the second cohort of first-year students to the user experience design program this fall. A minor in UXD is now available at Laurier’s Waterloo campus.

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