Week 5: To the Drawing Board

It was finally time to harness the maker mindset we had spent weeks of preparation building. Today was the day in which our group would go to the drawing board and put pen to paper. Of course we had tossed around a few ideas in passing, but now was the day which we try to figure out a few ideas to fine tune.

To set the mood, Professor Sachdev played part of a documentary about Ideo, an international product design company founded in 1991. The documentary spoke on how diverse groups and collaboration can help encourage and build ideas. The video also talked about empathy for the consumer, figuring out what people want and understanding their pain through observation. There was quote about design thinking which truly spoke out to me. The quote was “it’s not rocket science, it’s empathetic.

That quote rang in my ears as my group and I came up with ideas. At the beginning stages of our brainstorm, we came up with “how can we statements” as taught from our Design for America workshop. These “how can we” statements allow us to think about how we want our product work and help other people. We tried to think empathetically. We thought of problems in which we, as a diverse group of individuals have in common. Our list of statements included

  • How can we get busy individuals who are working or in college to drink more water?
    Problem: dehydration.
  • How can we create a laptop case which can fit all laptops and keep them from breaking?
    Problem: no uniform fit for all laptops, lack of cases for non-Apple laptops.
  • How can we get households around the world to save energy?
    Problem: wasted energy when using lights.
  • How can we get bikers in college to wear helmets and keep their bikes safe?
    Problem: biker safety, not enough storage room for bulky helmets, bikes can get stolen often.
  • How can we get people in working areas such as college or the workplace to keep their whiteboards clean?
    Problem: Dirty whiteboards, erasers are not environmentally friendly, dirty erasers cause streaks on board, erasers are difficult to clean.

Once these statements were created, we draw on our creativity to find ways to solve these problems. As the Creative Sparks article mentioned that to have creative ideas “total freedom is necessary—no directional guidance, constraints, criticism, or thinking within bounded scope. Then ideas can be drawn and contemplated from an infinite space during the creativity process.” So while we thought of possible products, we listed many ways in which we could answer each problem, regardless of whether we believe that it was possible. We brainstormed the different ways (This idea is supported by psychology in this article), but ultimately came up with one idea which we drew as shown below.


Fitbit wristband attachment – solves issue of dehydration

Universal laptop case – solves the issue of lack of non-Apple laptop cases
universal laptopcase

Ecosmart lamp – solves the issue of wasted energy while using lamps

Expandable helmet – solves the issue of bulky helmets and bikes being stolen.

Bioeraser  – solves the issue of dirty whiteboards and makes erasers more eco friendly


After presenting these ideas, we had a guest speaker who was a maker himself. His name is Mike Bohlmann and he is the assistant dean of technology for the college of media by day and by night a maker. He spoke about his journey into making and the ideas that have come to fruition for him. He also spoke about the resources he used to help create his projects. I later spoke to him about our ideas and asked about what resources we can utilize and what parts we can use. This conversation made me so excited about what our team can learn, utilize and make!

xnihilo maker logo

Here are some other sources which helps the creative juices flow:

Design Thinking and Innovation at Apple:

6 Ways To Brainstorm Ideas:

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson


Brainstorming with Freedom

This past class our team was able to spend a lot of time brainstorming and figuring out different problems that we could solve. A big lesson we learned was that not to brainstorm product ideas in search of solutions to solve but to rather focus on finding a good problem to solve. By focusing on finding a good problem to solve you leave room to make any product possible and leave a lot of creative freedom for your team to figure out what to make. For us certainly did fall into the trap of focusing on creating products first rather than finding a proper problem to solve. We thought of drones for kids, an aquaponics, and a way to better manage your time.

All decent ideas on their own but again the issue is that we definitely limit ourselves by just focusing on the product rather than the problem statement. By moving backward into the problem statement we give ourselves a lot more freedom in regards to what to make.

In the brainstorming process, we were given a ton of freedom to pretty much find any problem we want to try and solve. That alone was incredibly exciting. The possibilities were pretty endless without considering anything like costs or even to some extent feasibility of the idea itself. We were given a huge sheet of white paper and some markers to which we just pushed forward to start writing anything we felt like.

Moving forward I think our team will be looking to figure out “how can people who want to urban garden in small areas grow plants”. So for this, we’ll be drawing inspiration from a couple of existing solutions. Typically to make this aquaponics it requires a single fish and some sort of environment for the fish to live in. The plant then uses the fishes’ waste to grow and in turn, the plant provides nutrients to the fish so it can keep on living. We would look to probably 3D print the parts necessary to contain the fish and contain the plant.

Example Aquaponics: https://flic.kr/p/SqJFZY

All In all, we’re very excited to start making the product and here are some resources that we hope to use to help us keep on brainstorming ideas and solutions!

Brainstorming tips:



Brainstorming for the Problem Before the Solution

This week we were back in the Maker Lab after two weeks away. At the beginning of class we broke off into our groups and were able to start discussing our projects. As we learned from our session with Design for America, the best designs do not start immediately from a solution. Instead, we took an approach that had us start from a broad problem before narrowing it down to a single specific problem that a unique solution could be developed to solve that problem.’


The Interaction Design Foundation says, “the first step of product thinking is to determine the problem that your users are looking to solve.” If a problem exists, consumers will have a reason to purchase a solution. Therefore, successful designs should begin with the problem and affected users. We also considered the “10 ways to evaluate a new business idea” article when generating ideas to work with. Our group thought about problems we encountered in our lives and identified these three problems: overcharging laptops and cell phones, reliability of self-storage options in public spaces, and keeping athletic equipment up to specifications over time. While these were good to use for this exercise, Charlene, Carter, and I agreed that for the purpose and scale of the semester project, these problems are not realistic to find a solution for.

A valuable part of our class session was peer review. One member of each group rotated to another group in order to offer constructive feedback on the problems each group identified as they worked towards a solution. Going forward, we now know how valuable it can be to receive an outside opinion on a project or idea. An outsider can find flaws or even alternatives that were previously overlooked. UK based Corintech defines design peer review as “a process whereby a design project (or aspect of) is reviewed and evaluated by a person, or team, not directly involved with the project, but appropriately qualified to provide input that will either reinforce a design solution, or provide a route to an improved alternative.” It continues on to say that utilizing the experience and expertise other people will add valuable insight. As we develop our project, we will be sure to reach out to classmates or others who are familiar with the topics we are working with for their feedback.


In the second half of class, Mike Bohlmann, Assistant Dean of Technology in the College of Media and self-proclaimed Maker came to discuss many of the projects he has worked on. It is important to note that all of the examples he showed us started from a problem that he then worked to solve by making something. He did not begin his process by making a product and finding a problem to associate it with. From digitalizing a Star Wars game to making a holder for his airplane radio, he identified problems in his life then developed a solution. Another takeaway from the presentation was that Making can be a fun, affordable hobby that can be pursued at anytime. On top of professional and family obligations, Mike still has time to make prototypes, often supporting his other hobbies and passions. Even after this class ends and I am working full-time, I hope that Making can be an outlet for learning and having fun.

Week 5: Brainstorming with Passion

This week we began to brainstorm for our semester projects. We started the class by splitting into our groups and began coming up with different possibilities and outcomes to solve problems. Our group used a top-down approach in which we started with a big picture and broke the problem down into smaller pieces. Firstly, we picked out what our target audience would be (students, mainly high school and college). Then, we analyzed what type of problems that students faced (bullying, time management, stress, mental health, etc.). Using such categories we analyzed what the underlining cause of these problems was and what were some common and generic ways to fix them. Through that, we came up with some complex products that we might want to design for such issues. Our innovative products were not quite tangible and definitely too hard to build at our current level. Personally, I believe that our ideas were too broad and too complex. I believe that going forward, our team needs to pinpoint a SPECIFIC and simple problem. We need to keep in mind that though it would be amazing to solve BIG problems, we are not here to solve the world’s problem, but just a little bit of our lives.

After all the groups (using approximately 20-30 minutes) finished their brainstorming, we came up with “How can we” statements that formulate a problem so that it could be tangibly solved in the future. We went back to the lab to present our ideas to the rest of our classmates. Then after all the groups presented, one person from each group was randomly chosen to critic another group’s ideas and give them suggestions. Olivia listened to our pitch about time management and a possible design and gave us several suggestions to make it better and more plausible. The presentation, as well as critiques, were very helpful because our group did have some trouble forming tangible and plausible ideas so listening and seeing other groups kind of gave us a better idea of how we should think.

Recently I read a Forbes article and I started to ask myself questions such as, “Will our design really solve a problem?” or “Will people ACTUALLY buy this product?” or even “Am I really passionate about this problem?” These questions really hit home because honestly, some of the problems that aroused were not things that I was really passionate about and I was quite hesitant about using some of the problems. Furthermore, I realized that the indecisiveness of not minding what type of project we would do really took a toll on what our possible outcome or ideas were.

I never realized how difficult it was to come up with tangible and plausible ideas were. This class has definitely been pushing me to be a better version of myself, starting with becoming less indifferent with what type of project we should do.

Innovation with Empathy

Michael Carroll, a researcher at Fast Company magazine, used to work with C-level leaders who have difficulty to support their ideas as an executive coach. Based on his experience helping the top management to solve the problem, Michael found that the people who can successfully bring new ideas to maneuver have a common characteristic, resonance. It is important to resonate or experience others as if from within their own skin so that agents could have a broad perspective about the whole issue. Then, the agents could generate proposals that cater to different stakeholders.


Design Proposal:



Same reasons apply to the methodology we adopt for the semester project. After learning necessary skills of 3D designing software in the past weeks, we formally started to design for the semester-long project. Focusing on resonance or empathy, we began brainstorming.


First of all, personally I always want to get a case for my laptop, Razerblade. However, it is a very uncommon brand and only has a few users. Accessory suppliers do not have the interest for making the customized case for Razerblade. I do believe the users of other uncommon brand laptop must have the same problems as well. Thus, the first idea for the final project is to design an expandable laptop case. Because the size of the laptop case can be adjusted, it literally can fit any laptop regardless of their sizes or types.


One of my teammates cares a lot about her health condition. She would often dehydrate while she herself does not notice the situation at all. Although she has a fitbit to keep track of her health condition, she still would not drink water timely. Accordingly, we think a lightening wristband that can remind users to drink water would help dehydrated persons solve the problem easily.


Sometimes, we also notice that in our apartments, lights or lamps are on while no one is in the room. To make our apartment green, we want to design a solar panel noise detection lamp. The lamp will turn on automatically when it senses noise and will dim when the environment is quite. Users can place it under sunlight in the daytime to charge. We believe this lamp can not only make users lives convenient but also more green.


Bike is one of the most common transportation tools on campus. Every cyclist knows the importance of wearing a helmet, but at least half of them even do not have one. It is cumbersome to carry a helmet, especially when the user has to carry it from one classroom to another. To solve the problem, we plan to design a contractible bike helmet with a lock. The helmet can be contracted into a lock when the cyclist park the bike.


Honestly, I didn’t expect that we can generate so many ideas within 20 minutes. I have to say the positive atmosphere really boosts the innovation among us. As emphasized in the supplemental readings, belief in yourself and your colleagues will create a mutual positive influence.

Trial and Error

When coming up with an idea for a product, you will have a million ideas and you have to narrow down to the ideas that appeal to the most people and have a need for it in the world. In class last week, all of the teams had to brainstorm about three ideas that are potential ideas for our final project.

My team, Supra, and I knew we wanted our product to fix problems everyone has. Most of our ideas fixed “first world problems” that everyone has. Our first idea was trash compactor for trash cans in households. This appeals to everyone who makes trash. I struggle with this personally. If the trash is building up in my apartment, I do not think to push it down myself because I do not want to touch the trash. So I usually end up taking it out of the trash can and when I do, the bottom portion of the trash bag is empty. This means I am only using half of a trash bag. That is wasteful and expensive!

For our idea, the trash bag would attach to the bottom of the trash can so if would be more open for trash to fall to the bottom. Also, when you step on the foot pedal that opens the lid, an arm would press the trash down to ensure you used as much of your trash bag as possible.

I found it very helpful to get feed back from other groups. This helps bring up more things that we may need to address or small improvements we could make. I found an article by Forbes Magazine that has ten questions listed on it to ask ourselves for us to have a successful product. This is a good reference to use when you are brainstorming. The questions are focused around a few main things.

  1. Appeal to a broad audience
  2. Simple enough to use
  3. Solve a problem

If your product can appeal to a large audience then it will be successful. Everyone will find a need for your product and go out and buy it. Simplicity is crucial. If something is too complicated to use or understand the use, no one will put out the extra effort to understand it. Then one of the most important things to keep in mind is that it actually solves the problem. After you have passed all of the checkpoints then your product is ready for sale!

Week 5: Brainstorming for Semester Projects


This week, we began the process of beginning our semester projects. To begin class, we split up into our groups with some paper and markers, and we began thinking of problems we could solve in our lives. Our problems included making it easier for people living in urban environments to grow gardens within their homes, as well as making time management easier for students. We also talked about solving the problem of shaky phone videos as well. In the end, we created a list of ideas as shown below.


After all of the groups made these lists, we then met back up and presented our ideas to the class. Our instructor, Vishal, then critiqued our ideas and presentations and gave us helpful advice for choosing our projects moving forward. Once this was done, the members of each group were then split up into separate groups where we presented our ideas to the members within our group, then they gave us their feedback. This was very helpful, as it gave us fresh new viewpoints from outside our group that gave us an insightful new perspective on our problems.

This process was a very helpful learning experience for me, as it shows me what evaluating an idea will be like if I work at a business after college. As the dummies.com article titled “10 ways to evaluate a new Business Idea” says, there are many questions you should be asking yourself and taking into consideration when thinking of a new idea for a product. Things like “Am I really passionate about this?”, or “Does this idea actually meet or solve a real problem?” are questions you should definitely be asking yourself when thinking of business ideas. This is a something I learned how to do this week, and it is a very important skill to have if you would like to create new products or identify needs in a business.

Now that I have learned the skill of thinking critically about problems in our world and how I can solve them, hopefully I can use this experience to create something of my own that would solve problems. I hope to design products at a company or possibly run a company of my own one day, and having the skills to identify a need or problem that needs to be solved is a very important skill that provides the starting line for product development. I can’t wait to develop these skills even further in the upcoming weeks, and hopefully with some more practice on developing products I can design some products of my own one day.

In order to continue my learning on evaluating business ideas, I did some more online research by myself. One article I liked a lot you can read here. While in class we worked on identifying needs that needed to be met in the world, articles like this one are more centered on the finances and business feasibility of such ideas, which are very important factors to consider when thinking of coming up with an idea.

I also liked this article, as it goes into ways you can evaluate ideas as a group if you’re working in groups. This article is helpful because in most scenarios it will not just be you alone in a room thinking of the next great idea. You will be put in groups with other people just as smart as you and you have the opportunity to build off of each other’s ideas. This kind of groupthinkinking is invaluable, and the suggestions listed in this article help to maximize the benefit of thinking of ideas in groups.

Necessity is the mother of invention

The process of creating a product is a long and tedious process of trial and error. One can not simply think of something and then assume that the product will change the world. There has to be a need for the product to become successful, there has to be demand for a solution to an inherently big problem. This week we are at the ideating stage of the course. Our teams brainstormed problems that need to be addressed in various demographics. Team IJK, focused on 3 problems in our everyday lives and came up with a few How Can We… questions.


  • Problem 1: College students have limited options when it comes to urban farming and we are targeting consumers trying to grow plants indoors in, areas. Examples include dorm rooms or small studio apartments.
    • HCW introduce college students to more urban farming methods on a college campus?
  • Problem 2: Amateur filmmakers utilize cameras that may be shaky and have distorted views. We are trying to increase the quality of handheld videos with an analog but portable solution. Potential exists for using digital technologies integrated into 3D printed hardware.
    • HCW help amateur filmmakers reduce shaky videos from their phones or GoPros?
  • Problem 3: College students tend to procrastinate and are not able to focus. We are trying to decrease the amount of time people spend procrastinating and trying to get people to work more efficiently.
    • HCW solve time management issues when trying to focus on a task for college students at home?

Upon developing these ideas, our team analyzed each idea through the 10 questions posed in this weeks reading “10 Ways to Evaluate a New Business Idea”. We have not narrowed down our ideas but it put the projects in a new perspective and allowed us to visualize if it is a viable opportunity or not. Creative sparks come from all shapes and forms and so the notion highlighted in Science Mag suggested that in order to reach creative ideas, one needs to be able to be free of guidance, constraints, and criticism.  In other words, for our projects to be successful, we have to think outside of the box and allow for our minds to explore every possible solution to the problem. Upon identifying a problem space, you need to analyze the assumptions attached, define the opportunity, picture the target audience and then prepare for the worse case scenario. The Innovation Management article highlights all these methods and gives us more ways to ideate efficiently.

Another article I found to be helpful was published by the Harvard Business Review. The article states that ideating and generating ideas is great but it is quintessential to be able to narrow down the focus and to develop the main ideas thoroughly. Refining existing products and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses may give insight into how we can reiterate it into a new idea. Mike Bohlmann spoke this week about his hobby of making and tinkering and it allowed me to appreciate how much preparation and consideration went into developing an idea and then executing it.

3D Printing Ideating

This week, we shift from learning about the basic operation of 3D printing machines, familiarizing ourselves with use Autodesk Fusion 360, and looking at potential 3D printing ideas, to crafting ideas of our own for our semester project. During this session, we split off into our designated groups to brainstorm ideas. For my group, we started from defining a target audience–high school/college students, and to generating ideas on the problems they face from broader terms like stress and time management to more specific parts that make up the bigger issue such as distraction from social media and peers. Later on, we brainstorm potential solutions to the problem. Along the way, we jotted down our ideas on a blank sheet of paper to keep track of our progress.
17036058_1519060224778962_1809638719_oOur whole ideating process was pretty effective, as in one hand it contains a structured framework but on the other hand, it is also free of stringent restrictions and criticism, as described as the optimal path of generating ideas in the article “Creative Sparks.” This article brings up an important point that sometimes we become too involved in the notion that creative ideas must come from randomness. However, that’s not the case, as total freedom could cause inefficiency and incompleteness.

A crucial part of the whole process was peer evaluation by a member from another group. This fresh perspective prevents us from falling into the trap of groupthink, as described in the article “Get a New Perspective to Prevent Workplace Groupthink” as a dangerous zone. Something I find interesting in the article is that during the hiring process of the company The Motley Fool (also unsurprisingly the author of this article) they would bring in someone from a department different from the one the candidate is applying for to see if that person is a unique contribution to the group and not just one that fits right in. On a related note, an article from Forbes titled “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work — Do This Instead” also brought up the idea of social loafing and groupthink. Brainstorming tends to be less effective when people either try to agree with each other and not speaking up or being too tolerant of total nonsensical ideas. This article promotes a better way to cultivate ideas in which people engage in healthy debates as well as reducing the amount of simply blurting out ideas. This is definitely something out group can look into moving forward.

An important takeaway from this session was that in order to come up with a solid idea, we must first think of problems we observe and then build solutions to solve those problems. More often than not, we have the tendency to quickly jump to a solution rather than thinking through the whole process. As the article “10 Ways to Evaluate a New Business Idea” states, people spend money on things that can fulfill their needs. If a business idea doesn’t address a solution to a specific issue, or in other words, help solve a certain problem, it is hardly sustainable and is likely bound to fail. Something else we noticed during our group discussion was that a lot of the solutions we thought of for our problem already exists in some shape or form. That exactly resonates with another point the article makes in that there’s really nothing new under the sun. New business ideas mostly form as a combination of existing products.

During the second half of class, we had guest speaker, Mike Bohlmann share his experience as a Maker. Currently the Assistant Dean of Technology in the College of Media at UIUC, he started out as an independent Maker before discovering Makerspace Urbana where he was able to connect with many others who enjoy creating in areas of art, humanities, and science. An inspiring project Bohlmann shared with us was a smart map for a board game Star Wars Armada Corellian Sector (currently on display at Titan Games in Champaign, IL). With the use of 3D printing and arduino, he was able to transform the traditional game using stickers that weren’t reusable into programmable LED neo pixels. Bohlmann convinced us that making can be a great hobby outside of work and family obligations.

Finally, this is a 3D print of our team logo. 🙂17015195_1519060218112296_819772687_o

Searching For Needs

Businesses are created by an individual or multiple people because of an idea, an idea they believe in strongly because of the strengths they each hold as stated in the article, “10 Ways To Evaluate A New Business Idea”. These ideas are developed through sparks, which we learned from the second article, “Creative Sparks”, that there is a controversial thought on the nature of the creative process. The creation ideas that businesses have are through watching people’s struggles or their own personal struggles to realize what consumers will need. In the 60 minute video watched during class it was clear that being empathetic was the best way to understand what consumers truly value. These products or services are produced for consumers; therefore, we obviously need to understand these individuals in order to have them purchase these products or services.

During class we worked on an activity as a group to brainstorm needs that people have on the daily, we weren’t trying to create solutions yet because we didn’t want to narrow our brainstorming results. My group had come up with three ideas through the “How Can We” statements learned from the class that Design for America had spoken in. Our first idea was generated because we realized that many of our phones and laptops were being overcharged especially overnight as it was the best time to have them be charged but we wanted to figure out a way to time the charging so the product didn’t end up losing battery life. Thus, we came up with the statement, “How can we find a more efficient way to charge phones or laptops?” After discussing this first idea with an individual from another group we had changed the statement to, “How can we reserve battery life of an object to find a more efficient way to charge phones or laptops?” We agreed that the changed statement was still broad enough to solve the need in the future, yet had the specific details about the issue. The second idea was in regards to the need of better and cheaper public storage alternatives. Our last idea was to create a more efficient way to manage the PSI of objects. I believe our group did a good job on finding needs of individuals, but we do hope to continue thinking up of more needs in order to find a good product or service to solve for our final project.

After our class activity I wanted to find ways to come up with ideas for our final project. I had looked through various links and found two useful ones. The first one, “How to Find New Invention Ideas in Six Easy Steps” (http://www.inventions-handbook.com/new-invention-ideas.html) was helpful because it provided a list of steps to follow in order to create that spark of creativity. With this in mind, I plan on observing the niche I am and finding needs within the college sector. The second article, “5 Steps for Turning Your Invention Ideas Into a Product” (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/77962) would be more useful once my group has found a need within the niche we are in. The one aspect that the article mentioned and I found particularly important was documenting the process. I like how Vishal had created a documentation process for each group on “Instructure Canvas”, I believe that it will be incredibly beneficial for every group to look forward and think back on future creations.