Identifying Solutions to Everyday Problems

Problem Recognition

Our attention for the week shifted from acclimating ourselves to the design software to analyzing problems encountered in everyday life. In order to do this, we analyzed problems from the perspective of proximity, scope, and practicality. Problems we looked at were local, narrow and specific in scope, and able to be resolved using realistic means. Once we chose our respective issues, we diagnosed responses through the lens of, “How can we…” or “How may we…”. These questions came in the form of improving an already existing product, removing the bad in something, changing the status quo, questioning assumptions, and so forth. After enduring the process, our team came up with three individual problems that we hope to resolve as part of our semester project. The first problem is one that many college students can relate to: struggling to tie a tie. The second also deals with active students, as objects can easily fall out of pants and coat pockets. Finally, our last problem was a lack of portable music optionality. Our ideating poster is shown below.

In addition, Mike Bohlman, the Assistant Dean of Technology at the College of Media, spoke to us about the various maker projects he has embarked on in order to solve everyday problems that he encounters. He touched on three projects in particular: first, there was the airplane radio he designed, then the litter box that notified him when it needed to be cleaned, and finally a smart board game that allowed for reusability while still keeping the consistency in tact. His presentation, along with the two articles “Ten Ways to Evaluate a New Business Idea” and “Creative Sparks”, gave us great inspiration for the rest of the semester, and I look forward to improving on the ideas we have already generated.

Food for Thought

One outside article I found to be particularly interesting was one titled “Dubai: DEWA Innovation Center to Offer Education in 3D Printing & More for the Disabled”, in which a radical initiative by the Dubai government aims to encourage 3D printing. Already, 150 students are enrolled in a program to teach them advanced technologies, such as robotics and 3D printing. This program specifically targets disable students, as learning these technologies, where manual labor is at a minimum, will propel them ahead in the job market.

Another article, titled “3D Food-Printing Developed in Cambridge”, is one that strongly resonated with me. As a self-proclaimed “foodie”, I enjoy food, but not the hassle of going to the grocery store. This Cambridge-based company, Dovetail, developed a 3D printer that utilizes pre-packaged liquids and certain forms of raw ingredients to produce food, and can print food on demand from a smartphone. While I would enjoy this for selfish reasons, scientists also believe it could be one avenue in which to curb the global food problem. Very exciting!

“3D Food-printing Developed in Cambridge.” BBC News. BBC, 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

Millsaps, Bridget Butler. “Dubai: DEWA Innovation Center to Offer Education in 3D Printing & More for the Disabled.” N.p., 24 Feb. 2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Old Problems, New Perspectives

Thus far, our coursework has introduced us to the various technologies and processes at our disposal as we begin our journeys as 3D makers. This week’s content encouraged us to engage all we have learned about the ideating process, as we began developing potential ideas for our final projects. Our brainstorming session was entirely focused upon identifying a need (or a problem to solve), and then developing a solution; we were to avoid immediately deciding upon a product, as this would streamline our thinking at too early of a stage. This concept of total freedom and creativity was introduced in “Creative Sparks”, which discussed the infrastructure necessary to effectively brainstorm.  It also ensures that the product or service at hand will fulfill a real need or provide a solution to a problem existing in the real world, as discussed in “Ten Ways to Evaluate a New Business Idea.” These articles provide an excellent framework to consider when pursuing a given idea, and serve as excellent guidelines for developing a product that will translate to real world success.

This approach is crucial when partaking in any sort of creative brainstorming process. In Mary Barbour’s “Better Content Ideation Through Lateral Thinking”, she discusses the importance of being able to approach age-old problems from a new perspective. It is this ability that distinguishes innovators from the rest of the population; one does not need to be presented with a new problem in order to develop a unique solution. One of my favorite takeaways from this article was the point that sometimes the most effective way to brainstorm is to identify the most obvious ways to proceed when faced with an issue, and then ask oneself how to proceed if those options were not viable. This helps structure the ideating process. Dorie Clark’s “How to Think Like An Innovator” brings these ideas into context on a more personal level, urging you to assess your own strengths and weaknesses when developing a concept (this idea was prominent in our assigned readings for the week.) Finally, Clark encourages assessing from both an industry perspective (perhaps through a SWOT analysis) as well as considering the opinions of specialists far removed from the industry; this provides an accurate depiction of the product’s role from both an internal and external perspective.

I now have a much stronger understanding of what questions I should be asking myself as my group and I being to refine our ideas, and define exactly how our product will function. These articles brought up issues that we did not consider in our initial brainstorming sessions, and therefore will overturn some of our previous assumptions. For example, Clark highlights “What trend is most threatening to your industry right now?” as crucial question to consider. When developing our idea of a contraption that can be attached to trash cans in order to compact and push down trash; in doing so, a household can reduce the number of trash bags they go through in a given amount of time. While this has financial incentive for students such as ourselves, one of the largest threats to the plastic goods industry is the environmental impacts – therefore, we can market this product as an environmentally friendly option, and tap into a large demographic of customers that may previously have been less interested in our product. In summary, these lessons have been formative in how I approach product development and creative thinking.

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.

Ideating without Boundaries

Limitless. This word accurately depicts the nature of our class session this week, where we participated in a lab led by the UIUC chapter of Design for America. Through a series of exercises, we were exposed to the processes and mindset behind ideation from a designer’s perspective. Our primary learning tools were, to say the least, unconventional, ranging from Play-Doh to markers to card games. In each exercise, we were presented with a broad scenario, goal, and set of constraints, and asked to invent a solution. We were not confined to products that could be plausibly produced and implemented today, which is a key piece of initial ideated, as referenced in Professor Sachdev’s video, “An Introduction to Design Thinking.” One must not limit oneself to what is seen as “possible” in the eyes of the public. The result of such an environment was a series of products that expanded upon current solutions with innovative and creative new ideas. Many defined what may be considered technologically plausible in today’s world, yet set a new precedent for the complexity of solutions we can work towards as makers.

This activity challenged the mindset that I have entered the course with. Up until this point, I have explored the cutting edge developments going on in 3D making around the world, and used those as the boundaries within which I can create. I have defined them, to some extent, as the resource pool at my disposal. This mindset entirely contradicts the process of ideation, and the mindset of designers as a whole. As discussed in Brown’s “Design Thinking”, designers are no longer restricted to downstream activities in product development; they have become increasingly instrumental in end-to-end development of products, starting with the earliest steps.  This mentality will be formative in my career as a digital consultant; solutions are not limited to those that have previously been tested and implemented. They do not even need to be a slight adjustment to a previous solution. Sometimes, the best course of action is to start with a blank slate and create a new, boundary-breaking solution that is a unique fit for the problem at hand.

Moving forward, I will carry this mindset with me in many capacities. As an amateur designer, I will begin to create based on real-world needs and desires that I identify, and produce products that are unique solutions to said issues. I already had the opportunity to put this new approach into practice when designing my team’s logo in Tinkercad. Instead of opting for a simple design, or a minor adjustment to a pre-made design, we designed a relatively complex 3D dice, complete with imprinting on five of the six sides. While this was a bold decision, as we were just learning the technology, our finished project turned out wonderfully. In pushing the limits, we also expanded our own capabilities, and built skills for future creations. While this approach easily could have backfired, I learned that there is a valuable balance between complacency and pushing one’s limits – if struck, creating at this level immensely benefits the learning curve.

Brown, Tim. 2015. “Design Thinking.” Harvard Business Review. Accessed February 12.

Professor Sachdev’s videos. Click here.

Pushing the Boundaries of Creative Thought: Design Thinking and Ideating

Design for America’s presentation on design thinking and ideating drastically changed my perception of the product creation process. In accordance with Tim Brown’s article titled “Design Thinking” (, we learned the three steps in the design thinking: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Many times, it can be easy to perhaps identify a problem that is encountered in everyday life (i.e. the product’s inspiration), however developing an idea to resolve the problem can take a significant amount of effort. The problem itself, in addition, cannot be too broad or impractical. This part of the process is so impactful, Brown believes, that companies are now hiring thinkers to not only implement an idea, but also to originate them.

One particularly interesting exercise the presenter’s guided us through was the design thinking card game. Each team was given three cards: one card had the hypothetical patrons of the product, the other had the purpose of the product, and the third outlined some type of constraint that the creators would encounter. This game definitely forced us to think outside the box, as well as demonstrated from a high-level the thought process that designers experience. In addition, our team used the design thinking process described by the presenters in order to develop our team logo. The logo (which can be found here), incorporated the initials of our last names in an overlapping and visually appealing fashion.

An intriguing real-world example of design thinking that was recently publicized was the German engineering firm Siemens use of 3D printing to create gas turbine blades. The article, which can be found here, details the problem faced by Siemens and their solution. The problem, that the cost to produce these blades were immense and the time needed to produce them was lengthy, was resolved by using metal-based 3D printing. As a result, the time needed to produce this part was shaved from two years to just two months.

Further examples of the impact of design thinking can be found in this article, “3 Great Examples of Design Thinking in Action”, found on the website Medium. One in particular great example of the utilization of design thinking was in creating a foot activated car door, in which ideators realized the challenge of opening a car door when the user’s hands are occupied, such as when they are leaving a grocery store. The foot activated car door allows users to still open the door without needing to free their hands.

In conclusion, I believe that learning about the design thinking process will prove to be crucial as we continue to explore the world of making, and this knowledge will serve as a strong foundation on which we can start to build our own innovative ideas.