In January 2017, I participated in Design to Win, a national UX design competition organized by Communitech in Kitchener, Ontario. In late 2016 I had succeeded at the preliminary round for my university and had moved forward to the finals. The finals brought participants from 12 Canadian universities, and I was competing with 25 students for the design challenge.
We were not given details of the challenge prior to starting. We had two hours to ideate on our solutions and were only given pen and paper – no digital tools allowed. The submission had to be within a six-panel storyboard with additional notes on the side. The task was simple: design an app to help parents find a lost child within a busy theme park, such as Canada’s Wonderland. A bonus point was awarded for creating a solution that did not involve the child carrying or wearing any device.
In the section below I will outline how I came to my solution within the two hours provided.
When thinking about the challenge, I started with considering the bonus point. I figured that even if the child can’t have any device on them, most of the adults in the park probably do. At this point I started thinking about a crowdsource-type approach to the problem. If all the adults have devices on them, why not leverage that to help find the child?
I started to imagine an easy way for parents to send information about their child out to other people in the park. Since smartphones and social media are so prevalent in today’s society, I knew that parents love to take photos of their children. This provided another opportunity to help identify the child. If everyone could easily recognize them, they could be found in almost no time at all.
At this point in my ideation process, I started to have concerns about privacy. If the name and photo of this child went out to all park-goers, there could be very real risks involved. To counter this, I decided that this information would only go out to the park staff. They would have their own version of the app installed and it would be easier to hold them accountable.
I started by sketching out the user flow of how the parent would submit the information about the child through the app. I realized that in this type of situation, the parent would likely be panicking and quite stressed. I decided to take them through the process one step at a time and make it clear to them why this information is needed. At the end, they would confirm that the info they’ve provided is correct and the UI text would reassure them that park staff are on the lookout.
The second part of the user flow occurs once the child has been found by the staff. The parent would immediately receive a push notification to let them know, with the option to navigate to the child’s location. The app could use geolocation and the Google Maps API in order to direct the user to exactly where the child is with the staff member.
At the end, the parent would confirm that the child has been returned to them and receive a small coupon to hopefully relieve some of the stress from this situation.
After completing the above sketches, I moved on to the park staff user flow. They would have a slightly different version of the app and I needed to outline what that would look like for my solution.
When the parents send out the signal that their child is lost, the staff would receive a push notification on their device alerting them to be on the lookout. Opening the app would show them the name and photo of that child. Once one of the staff members has found the child, they would send out their location using the app, which would be sent to the parent. The app would notify them to stay in place until the parent(s) arrive. At this point a push notification would be sent out to the rest of the staff that the child has been found, so they don’t continue searching.
At the end, after confirming the child has been returned, the app would thank the staff member for their efforts, in order to make them feel good as well.
At this point I had outlined what the app would be like for the two main userbases involved. In order to submit to the competition, however, I needed to organize all of this into a six-panel storyboard. I did this by listing out all the steps involved for both parties, but in chronological order. Then I grouped the similar steps together into six main categories (one for each panel).
I then created a rough draft of what my final submission would look like (seen below).
I was able to include the core concepts of my app design into the storyboard, but I also used the notes column on the side in order to include extra details from my thought process. For example, I explained the need for a simplistic UI and clear calls to action due to the parents’ panicked stated. I also noted that the text within the app needed to be written in a reassuring tone to help the users feel calm.
I sketched out the final copy of my work on the template provided and finished just as the two-hour time limit had ended. Thankfully, I had been able to include everything I hoped to in my submission.
After waiting throughout the afternoon, it finally came time to announce the winners of the competition. As it turned out, the judges selected my entry as the top one for the design challenge. I had won first place!
The judges noted that my solution was “efficient and simple”. I was able to clearly convey my idea in the presentation format, display empathy for all users involved, and display creativity. Ultimately I won by a narrow half-point margin(!).
I was thrilled to land first place and celebrated with my fellow students from my program, who are in the photo below.
I have decided to explore this idea further by expanding it into a side project. I am currently using this as a way to maintain and practice my skills in mobile UI design.
Check back as I will be updating this page with my progress as I develop the project further.
Participating in this competition was a great way for me to tackle a new problem and think on my feet. Since we were only given two hours, I had to strike a balance between idea generation and time spent creating the final submission. I really had to prioritize and make sure that my storyboard and notes communicated what I needed them to in a clear way.
A key realization I had in my design process was the need to consider the different kinds of people involved in an app and service. I could easily have designed just for the parents’ perspective and left it at that. However by designing specifically for the park staff as well, I was able to create a more holistic design and consider more factors that would be needed to make this service happen. Ultimately our designs do not exist in a vacuum – there is always a context and many different parts involved.
Beyond just the competition, I’m learning the value in maintaining side projects. They provide a way for me to try new software tools and gain new skills at my own pace. I also have the opportunity test out new methods or ways of working, which I can always bring with me to new projects in the future. I’d like to keep practicing my craft and skills, especially those I don’t get to use in my professional work on a regular basis.