Project focus: Learning design and entrepreneurship is like learning the scientific method. You learn through practice. How could a course pack everything researchers know into a motivating obstacle course for practicing innovation?
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences
Role: Course founder, professor
2012-2016, 2018, planned for 2021
I created this multi-disciplinary entrepreneurship course for Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Graduate School of Design. It has been described as “Harvard’s real-world obstacle course for practicing innovation“. The course features a ‘front-end’ experience, in which students develop an ‘original and useful’ product from scratch using human-centered design methods. This experience is comparable to other intensive human-centered design courses, and students gain significant experience with fieldwork and product development. A unique feature of the class is its ‘back end’ experience – a custom-designed individual- and team-level intensive evaluation and feedback system based on my research on professional teams that students get increasingly exposed to throughout the course so that they can learn to design and evaluate entrepreneurial environments for themselves.
Think of it as a startup obstacle course – students experience the most common product and team challenges that early stage startups face, learn how researchers analyze these issues, discover how top companies deal with them, and apply these lessons in real time to your own project. The Innovators’ Practice is a hands-on course on idea creation & development based on a deep understanding of human and organizational behavior. The class itself is created as an organization designed to support multiple teams. Students learn to make rapid progress on their projects, as well as to contribute to the success of the broader organization.
Student teams from the first two years of the class have won awards, including the Dean’s 100K Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge and various funded fellowships to continue developing their ideas beyond the classroom.
Example student projects from the class:
You spend the first week deeply exploring themes you are passionate about, and your challenge is then: to develop a tangible project that excites you, is designed to fit into and potentially improve people’s lives, and has real world, measurable impact by the end of the term. You can pursue any topic, and are guided through a multi-disciplinary, behavior-centric design process (built on the human-centered design process used at IDEO, Continuum and the Stanford Institute of Design, and modified based on Dr. Altringer’s research on teams in these and other highly innovative organizations). You work with students who share your interests to build professional, innovative, impact-oriented projects (e.g., publications, products, services, apps, events, policy guides, videos, etc.) that are designed with a deep understanding of human behavior to integrate into and potentially improve the lives of end-users. The student-produced clip on the right describes their experience in the first half of the class.
Dr. Altringer creates an innovation culture similar to leading design firms like IDEO, and the class simulates challenges that professional innovators face (so students can learn approaches to overcoming them). In the seminar, students discuss project experiences and readings, and learn how to find ideas worth pursuing, collaborate effectively, negotiate strategy, overcome common hurdles in the team innovation process, plan and lead creative projects, and more.
Reason 1: You are excited about the class challenge to develop a tangible project that excites you, and has real world, measurable impact by the end of the term
Reason 2: Great ideas alone are not enough (and you don’t need them to take this course)
Great ideas (and highly capable entrepreneurs with great ideas) fail to have impact all the time, and for many reasons. Like anything, innovation (or creating ideas with impact, as we broadly define it in this class) benefits from practice and specific learnable skills.
Reason 3: Other people will determine whether your ideas are influential or not
Whether inside your design team as you’re building your idea, or once you’ve released it to the world, other people will determine whether your ideas are influential or not. Fields like human-computer interaction, human factors and environmental psychology have integrated insights from psychology and design for many years; however, experiential courses at the intersection of psychology and innovation are relatively rare (two notable exceptions are Stanford’s BJ Fogg and Julian Godorsky).
Reason 4: Understanding human behavior helps you become a better innovator
Successful innovators develop skills in understanding human behavior in two fundamental areas: collaborating effectively with others to bring an idea to fruition, and learning from potential users to develop solutions that people will actually want and use.
Reason 5: You can learn to design things people want to interact with
There are multiple ways to learn from potential users’ needs, struggles and behaviors. In ES21, you learn how to study user behavior, observe the challenges people encounter with existing solutions, extract patterns and identify novel innovation opportunities from these. This class goes beyond approaches that rely on users to tell you what they want or will use in the future (people tend not to be very accurate with these predictions).
Reason 6: You can learn to collaborate more effectively
Today, most innovation originates in teams, and often involves working across disciplines, cultures, locations and organizations. Although we know that people can learn to work better in teams, training in this area tends to occur after graduation, and to be limited to trial and error with limited feedback. In ES21, at each stage of your project development, we’ll be discussing readings on effective collaboration and leadership that are directly applicable to your experience.
The class challenges you to define and develop a project based on your own interests and find productive ways to manage idea development with people from diverse backgrounds. The course teaches you methods for conducting fieldwork to identify unmet user needs, turning these into entrepreneurial opportunities, and overcoming many under-represented (interpersonal and decision-making) challenges facing innovators. Other courses might be more case- or theory-based, or might require to you work on a pre-ordained topic. Past students have built on skills learned in this class in various ways: as entrepreneurs in residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab; as entrepreneurs attracting initial funding; as students or teaching fellows in other innovation courses at Harvard; and in various professional roles in technology and innovation.
Dr. Altringer brings together a diverse network of affiliated experts each year from industry and academia who are interested in some aspect of designing for human behavior at the cutting edge of their field. Students have the opportunity to share insights with affiliates who share their passions. We discuss the affiliates, and their interests, in the second week of class.
Louis Joseph, Puma, Head of Strategy & Innovation (now Founder of Alps & Meters outdoor wear)
Burak Cakmak, Swarovski, Director Corporate Social Responsibility at the time (formerly head of CSR for Gucci Group and Gap) (now Dean of Fashion at Parsons)
Prof. Jonathan Zittrain, Co-founder of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, professor at Harvard Law School, Kennedy School and SEAS
Multiple, Continuum Design
Nick Horbaczewski, Founder, Drone Racing League
Kyle Doerksen, Founder, OneWheel (electric skateboards)
Dr. Suelin Chen, Senior Analyst at PriceSpective, former Director Lab at Harvard (now Founder of Cake, which focuses on end-of-life planning)
John Gale, Regional Director, Rocky Mountain Region, National Wildlife Federation (now Conservation Director at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers)
Josh Wexler, VP Product, Splice
Neal Doyle, Manager of Operations, Harvard iLab (now PM at Fidelity Labs and Co-Founder of Tether Ties)
Rodrigo Martinez, IDEO, Head of Life Sciences (biologically-inspired design) (now Chief Marketing and Design Officer of Veritas Genetics)
Jaspar Shelbourne, J. Walter Thompson, Global Creative Director
Prof. Conor James Walsh, Harvard SEAS, Professor and serial medical device inventor
Dr. Molly Crockett, Wellcome Trust, Neuroscientist of social and economic behavior (now Professor of Neuroscience of Decision Making at Yale)
Paul S. Sennott, Stern Shapiro Weissberg & Garin LLP, Patent Lawyer
Dr. Joe Zinter, Yale University Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, Associate Director
Jose Colucci, Senior Designer and Engineer, IDEO
The class is structured to teach you two streams of content, both having to do with behavior + design. In one stream, the innovation practice, you’ll develop your projects and gain experience with human behavior-centric design methods. In the discussion seminar, you’ll learn about leading creative projects, creating a culture of creative collaboration and more.
The skills you develop in this course, though focused on specific projects, are broadly applicable to your future collaborative creative projects at Harvard and beyond.
In 2015 and 2016, student work was presented at the Harvard Innovation Lab but not also uploaded here.
MOOVU is a curated marketplace which makes buying and selling furniture easier and more convenient for students, created by Janik-Vasily Benzin, Allison Burrell, Pamela Yau, and Roger Zou. Our project started when we became interested in the problem of furniture waste at colleges. At the end of May, there is a huge rush of students moving out and trying to sell their furniture. This does not align with the huge demand we see during September when students are moving in. As a result, tons of furniture gets thrown out or wasted. We decided to focus on one big idea: How might we improve the process of buying and selling furniture to be more efficient, less wasteful, and easier for college students? We looked at existing business models such as consignments shops and online forums and found that consignment shops were generally not student focused and online forums had no quality control. We also interviewed over 30 graduate and undergraduates and found that students struggled with three main points: price, moveability, and timing. Furniture was often too expensive, too difficult to move, and the timing of supply and demand did not align. Through our research and fieldwork, we came up with a solution: Moovu. A curated marketplace which makes buying and selling furniture easier and more convenient for students. Moovu would be an easier way for a college student to sell a piece of furniture in only 3 steps: First, you would take a photo of your furniture and tag the price. Then, Moovu would pick it up and list the furniture item on its online marketplace. Then, Moovu would store the item until it sold. Our solution is unique in that it offers both convenience, quality control, and a solution to store furniture over the summer. Moovu would make profit through the consignment fees charged per piece of furniture. So far, we’ve created an online marketplace demo where people can browse listings and post available furniture. We’ve also created an online app demo where people can upload their furniture item and tag the prices. We’ve looked at potential storage options in Boston as well as moving companies that could be partners in our operation. As our next steps, we are considering setting up a small pilot program through Harvard University.
PARK-N-GO is a crowd-based service that combines municipal parking information with real time availability data to provide users with a simpler way of finding and paying for on-street parking, created by Megan Cosgrove, Tamotsu Ito, Peter Sprowls, Daniel Wang, and Chuyue Zhou. Park N Go is a new mapping system of real-time parking status, crowdsourcing parked cars’ information through beacons which are attached to existing parking meters. From the driver’s point of view, Park N Go helps them to find a parking spot quickly, and to pay parking fees more comfortably, using intuitive app and credit card payment system. Also, just allowing several permits to the project team helps the city to decrease transportation problems, parking tickets, and labor cost for collecting money. This solution can make an impact to the environment, considering how much fuel is currently wasted by cruising for parking spots. The team began the project from researching the whole issue about transportation regarding cost, energy, vehicle, space, and experience, including a lot of fieldworks and an interview to Cambridge city. After figuring out the interconnections and complexity of the issue, they focused on proposing more efficient and comfortable parking system. They tried several ideas from a physical signal to an app system, then they eventually reached a cheap, simple, and impactful idea both for drivers and the city, which can be developed to the city’s parking control system or pricing system in the future.
CRANBERRY is an online dashboard that creates a virtual office experience for teams to communicate seamlessly and efficiently across timezones, created by Natalie Janzow, Lance Katigbak, Rosie Kotelova, Sharon Park, Alexander Schulze Struchtrup. For a team with backgrounds as diverse (both geographically and academically) as ours, it was quite difficult for us to arrive at a consensus as to what exactly it was that we wanted to work on. After considering social enterprises, adult playgrounds, and solutions for the newly independent, we finally agreed to focus our efforts on the question: How might we make it easier for teams to start a successful business outside a major industry hub? We believed that working outside of cities like New York or San Francisco often left teams at a disadvantage when it came to finding connections, partners, and customers. For our fieldwork, we spoke to over a dozen entrepreneurs from five continents, and were surprised by what we heard. What was probably most surprising was that these teams were not only located outside industry hubs, but they were also separated from each other. Furthermore, their businesses seemed to be doing just fine; they knew the right people to work remotely. What we did discover, however, was that they found it extremely challenging to stay in constant, effective communication with one another especially across timezones. Our first idea (which was obviously incorrect) was to come up with a dashboard that consolidated all the available tools for remote workers. We thought that the problem was that there were simply too many tools, and that it was confusing and inefficient to use them. But, after hearing feedback during draft day, we learned that this wasn’t necessarily the case. The tools worked perfectly; perhaps what was missing was a tool that did the most difficult thing, scheduling meetings across timezones, very well. So, we decided to put aside those features and focus on that, while keeping the map that allows users to visualize their teammates’ locations around the world and adding a whiteboard that brings office antics to the digital world. We believe that this tool, which we plan on developing over the next 2 months, provides a much-needed solution to a pressing problem faced not only by entrepreneurial teams, but also by anyone who’s ever tried to schedule a meeting with someone in a different timezone. As the world becomes increasingly flat, we are confident that there will be a place for a solution like Cranberry.
TRIPPOCAMPUS is a mentor-mentee network ecosystem for high school students looking for suitable colleges, created by Rad, You, Brittany, and Maria. We wanted to work in the field of education, and our initial idea was a personalized college touring service. From our fieldwork, we found that while selecting colleges collegebound high school students look to know the what is it really like to study at the school and that it’s not easy to do that currently for some students as they do not have the connections or resources. We’ve also found that people like to talk about themselves and their experiences, talk to people from a similar background and learn from their experience. Creating a mock up was quite fun; we learned the concepts of rapid prototyping and creative destruction. We are solving a people problem; as a service, we are connecting people with similar interests and backgrounds and facilitating genuine conversations. Other solutions that are available are online forums like CollegeConfidential and Quora. High school students don’t know or rarely use Quora. CollegeConfidential is anonymous and might be shady (how do you know what that user’s saying is not lies?). There’s no relevance ranking of posts and replies. It’s not easy to connect with people on there. We may be able to make money from ads and sponsor deals. We’ve done fieldwork and prototyping the website and the forum so far. We will focusing on getting more fieldwork, user feedback, and building the minimum viable product in the next two months. WAVE, conceived by Belinda Zeng, Stefan Stanojevic, Justin Jiang, and Luciano Arango, is redesigning breaks. Our team was focused on addressing an issue important to contemporary society. We observed the historical patterns of human behavior and noted the problem of the modern day person who is bombarded with seemingly infinite amounts of information. While researching the topic, we learned about cognitive downtime and the necessity to dedicate some amount of time for our biological information processing system to analyze and file the data received during it’s conscious state. From the prototyping process, we learned that there’s a lot of details that go into app design. For instance, when we first used Prototype on paper, even though we were able to incorporate all the pages and information, the prototype didn’t look real. Upon closer inspection of actual apps, we realized there’s a lot of nuances that go into app design, from transition, animation, to gesture. Not only did we have to think about the basic information, we also had to consider how these information can be presented in a way that doesn’t seem overwhelming. Initially we had the questions in our app as a list that the user can scroll through. However, after analyzing the layout, we realize that it might be better if the questions are presented one by one in a format that resembles text messaging so the user won’t be intimidated by the amount of questions he or she has to answer. We learned that a big part of app design is giving the user options of navigation without making them lost in the amount of choices. Our solution was to create an application that allowed for users to reflect on things that happened throughout their day. Inspired by journals, we created an app that would sync with your calendar and photos so that you could stop taking in new information and simply reflect on prior thoughts. Unlike apps like Pomodoro which simply serve as timers for when to take breaks, Wave provided you with a break , reflecting on prior events, and also rewarded you once you ‘Waved’ with snippets or analysis of previous waves. Reminders were seamlessly integrated, for example as you walked out of a meeting Wave would ask “How was your meeting?.” Wave provided a new experience for users, they could now easily take cognitive downtime breaks that they enjoyed.
JOURNITURE, created by Mircea Eni, Daria Evdokimova, Tafari John-King, Miguel Paz, Stephanie Torres, connects furniture made by students in design schools with communities who need it. The idea behind Journiture began with our realization that low income households and formerly homeless families don’t have access to quality loveable furniture. They have to settle for furniture that is affordable rather than furniture that is comfortable, durable, and fit. As we were thinking of a solution for this problem we perceived that many design students create furniture as an assignment for a class. However once the student’s creation has been graded, it’s journey ends and often the piece of furniture is discarded. We also realized that there are non-governmental organizations that collect donated furniture and sell it at an affordable range for low income households. Therefore, Journiture’s role is to create a platform for student created furniture to continue on to a household that needs it through an NGO. The initial version of the platform was a website through which designers would be able to connect with low income families. Low income families would be able to access the website through an access code provided by an NGO. Once on the website, each family would be able to post the type of furniture they need and designers would have the option to pick and choose which furniture to make based on the location of the family and the type of furniture they requested. After a couple of iterations however, the platform has evolved to be a course offered by a university. Through the furniture making course, the students would receive the family’s requests at the beginning of each semester thus making the family’s request the principal project in the course. Over time, the website could open up to include designers who would like to contribute on their own.
SWEET SPOT is an online resource connecting independent workers with free workspaces and skill sharing opportunities in their city. The Sweet Spot team is interested in the future of work and how it applies to the rapidly growing independent worker population. This multi-disciplinary team is composed of three Harvard students: Rachel Moranis (Graduate, Design), Sara Li (Undergraduate, Economics), and Kevin Garcia (Undergraduate, Psychology). Their initial interests were rooted in curiosity about the benefits and pitfalls of a very flexible work environment. How do freelancers, entrepreneurs, and artisans stay productive? Through our research, we found that there are even more important issues this population faces and they are: loneliness, a need for feedback, and the burden of administrative work. Sweet Spot is about designing an impactful resource and community for the growing needs of America’s freelancers. The team is continuing development in 2014 at the Harvard Innovation Lab.
PIVOT is a convertible chair attachment that provides employees working in an open plan office a way to tailor the degree of privacy at their individual work spaces, maximizing productivity in an office environment that can often times prove distracting. The original team (Diane Choih, Jeffrey Holland, Teis Jorgensen, and Starr Wen) began their project researching student stress, quickly honing in on stresses that surround studying. They found that the greatest source of stress was not time management or the intensity of study required, but balancing the competing desires for social interaction and individual focus during study. They later identified a similar tension in the workplace, and pivoted to exploring how we could help professionals thrive in the open plan office. This idea is continuing development in 2014. Contact us if you’re interested in learning more.
I VS. PHONE is an app to increase consciousness of cell phone use. The I vs Phone team is comprised of two undergraduates from Harvard College, an architecture student from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a Harvard Law School student. In their initial brainstorming session they quickly bonded over a shared desire to spend less time on their cellphones and more time with the people they cared about, and the building blocks for the I vs. Phone app were in place. They refined the idea after performing fieldwork and discovering individuals were often engaging with their phones in unconscious ways. Their app in its current form gamifies cell phone use to make people more aware of the relationship they have with their phone. Adding in competitive elements and location-aware filtering services differentiates the app from other offerings on the market, and the in-app reward system provides several monetization opportunities beyond traditional in-app advertising. This idea is continuing development in 2014.
LIFE GUIDE is a self-service website and mobile app that enables and empowers people to navigate personal and professional crossroads. At the beginning of the research process, they were interested in exploring the topic of mentorship. They assumed that mentors can provide guidance to people at personal and professional crossroads, but that there are many unsuccessful mentoring relationships and many potential matches to be made. Our fieldwork research revealed that while most people seek guidance at crossroads, appropriate and objective guidance can be hard to find; mentors may not consider all aspects of a person’s life; and no single person has all of the answers. Their solution is LifeGuide, a self-service website and mobile app that empowers users to make decisions that incorporate all aspects of their lives and align with their values. LifeGuide integrates many existing services, including a self-assessment, goal and moment tracking capabilities, and inspirational resources. The platform allows users to reflect upon their past choices and to advise themselves on future decisions. This team is actively seeking partnerships in 2014.
TIMELINE is a new breed of clock that not only tells what time it is, but how that time is being used. The Time Line team is made up of Connor Cook, a Freshman at Harvard college from San Francisco interested in architecture and design; Wendy Engler, a visiting professional architect originally from Venezuela who is currently living in Miami; Wenting Guo, a Masters in Design candidate at the GSD, originally from Beijing; and Miles Hyman, a Freshman from Springfield, Massachusetts studying engineering and computer science. They created Time Line to tell users not only what time it is, but how their time is being used. Time Line is a wall clock and timer that interacts with a phone application to create an artistic visual representation of one’s time usage. This team is actively seeking partnerships in 2014.
POSTWORK makes making progress on your side creative projects easy and fun. – Ling Fan, Jennifer Ly and Mia Scharphie—This group was really interested throughout the term in exploring how people can participate more in the design and production of products. Traditionally, all you could do is ‘buy’ or ‘not buy’, but increasingly, technology opens up other avenues. They realized during fieldwork that a lot of people are ‘frustrated makers.’ They have creative goals and aspirations, but the daily grind does not support them. Their app makes it easy and fun to find other people and events that support your creative goals.
CULTURE CLASH fuses “high culture” with mainstream entertainment, making art less intimidating. – Hena Haines, Jennifer Jeffrey and Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya. This group was interested in expanding access to the arts, and particularly the type of arts considered ‘high culture,’ such as ballet, opera and fine art. In their fieldwork, they learned that patrons are literally dying off and younger generations are not particularly interested in traditional cultural offerings. Young people are, however, engaging in ‘culture’ but they are consuming media design for shorter attention spans and immediate interaction. Instead of trying to change behavior, their idea fits into it, and finds ways to link ‘high culture’ to current media, entertainment and news.
MOMENTS makes sharing photos easier than ever before. – Akua Abu, Judy Sue, Chenglin Yuan and Hansley Yunez. This team was interested in exploring ways to harness the benefits of virtual and proximal social networks. Based on their behavioral research, they created a privacy-focused, easy-to-use photo-sharing app. This group learned during fieldwork that many people on a trip or at an event, though they fully intend to share photos afterward, often do not. This is partially because of privacy concerns (e.g. not wanting the photos to appear on Facebook), and partially due to ease-of-use once people return to their busy lives. This app uses geo-location information from photos to figure out when people are together and automatically upload photos taken to prompt the user to very easily share with others. Unlike existing products, it is deeply privacy focused, and does not track users.
WEARHOUSE makes it easy, convenient, fun, and low-cost to experiment with your wardrobe. This group (Jeff Fischer, Parsa Kamali, Kara Kubarych and Josh Shih) spent much of the semester exploring ‘how to design the awkwardness out of group payment situations’ and looked a lot at whether technology can facilitate value exchange in ways that money cannot do well. They became interested in fashion, in particular, and how to help women capture and share value out of the 80 percent of their closet that they don’t tend to wear regularly. Their idea creates size- and taste-based groups who can effectively share their closets, checking items out from one another’s closet sort of like a library.
SMX – Judy Fulton and Hokan Wong—This group grew out of another group (Moments) and their idea allows users to map songs onto physical space and make them overlap however much they want—which makes them blend the songs together and allows you to play ‘urban deejay.’ It’s pretty awesome and you could, for example, follow Beyonce’s walking playlist in NYC or find jogging playlists that allow you to listen to cool music, but also play with your relation to space.
PIXEL PARK – Reid Bergsund, Ryn Burns and Cassie Zhang. This group wanted to explore ways to improve the human-environment interface in urban settings, and spent their fieldwork exploring people’s relation to green space. They found that green space projects tend to be expensive, politically difficult to create and maintain, and concentrated in ways that benefit a privileged few who live close to them. They wanted to think of urban space as distributed ‘pixels’ and integrate it in small ways into the urban environment. The tiny planters fit into almost any space. They have air quality sensors in them that speak to an app that allows cities to map air quality throughout, to visualize trends in air quality, warn citizens with health problems to avoid problem areas and encourage joggers to find clean air routes.
MOTIVATING FITNESS – Imagine wearing headphones that could sense your heart rate and body temperature while you’re working out and adjust your playlist accordingly. – Anne Liu, Elizabeth Lenczowski, Micah Stone and Alyx Daly. This team was initially interested in understanding the diverse ways people are motivated to stay fit. They ended up creating playful workout headphones that sense your heart rate and body temperature and adjust your music playlist accordingly. If your heart rate gets low, their demo plays ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to pump you up, and if it gets high, it plays ‘Enya’.
POLITOSCAPE makes it easy and convenient to explore the spectrum of political views by helping people identify and diversify their media ‘echo chamber’.
This team united around the issue that, in a world where we increasingly consume information that corresponds to what we already find interesting, people are getting narrower in their views. This is likely to have broader educational, social and political ramifications that we do not yet fully understand. This group is building an algorithm that helps people identify and diversify their info/media consumption ‘echo chamber’. They are working on an algorithm and associated applications that can suggest alternative, quality viewpoints and information to users, and focusing their product on the upcoming 2012 election year. Politoscape actively continued to develop beyond the classroom. They were accepted for residence in the Harvard Innovation Lab in early 2012, went on to win the Institute of Politics Gov 2.0 competition for the “most innovative idea to reshape American civic life”. Read more in this article on Politoscape.
VACCINE TEAM is designing a cheap, reliable way to detect the freezing of vaccines during transport, which renders them ineffective. As they learned more about why their initial designs, which were largely focused on issues surrounding syringe technology, this team discovered important issues in stabilizing the vaccine cold chain, particularly when vaccines travel to developing regions, where control over the cold chain can be difficult. Existing technologies can show whether a vaccine has been overheated, often rendering it ineffective, though technologies for showing whether vaccines have been frozen are less reliable. This team is creating a simple solution that shows when a vaccine has been frozen, and where exactly in the cold chain freezing occurred.
DUO is a device allows loved ones to send simple, direct, tactile messages to each other through the intimacy of touch. A simple squeeze sends a pulse of warmth to your partner, child, or friend letting them know you are thinking of them, cutting through the noise of our increasingly plugged in lives. Many messages between intimate partnerships (close friends, family or partners) are relatively simple, and repetitive (e.g., ‘Thinking of you’… ‘Running 5-minutes late’…’good luck with your talk’… etc.). This team is creating a simple device allowing communication with close others through more visual and tactile means (e.g. non-text-based, non-verbal) that feel more natural to our brain’s way of organizing and processing information. For example, you might be able to ‘squeeze’ a message to your friend, that they would experience as a gentle squeeze through their device, or you could send a warming, cooling, or glowing sensation just to say hello.
GOMANGO is a novel mango transportation device for Haitian farmers that uses a suspension system to minimize bruising currently caused by burlap sacks in transporting mangoes, one of Haiti’s top agricultural exports. In September, this team framed their project challenge: How might we improve food storage solutions to improve the lives of Haitian farmers? Their project centers around the issue of mangos in Haiti (mango is the main agricultural product, and over 50% of the fruit gets damaged in transit from tree to town (Port au Prince), resulting in significant economic loss. The team is creating a low-cost container and components that can be used with existing sacks and crates to minimize bruising in transit, as well as exploring ways to productively use fruit that does get bruised to generate small-scale entrepreneurship.
WALKNTALK is a solution to combat loneliness for the elderly (and the rest of us!). It is for use in those down moments throughout an otherwise busy day, such as walking between meetings or classes, the mobile app called Walk N’ Talk automatically updates the availability status of each of a user’s close contacts based on variable such as time, location and Google calendar so that he/she knows whether or not it’s a good time to call. This team set out to work on solutions that would improve the lives of the elderly, and focused on specific tech-based solutions to help seniors stay more connected with their families. In their fieldwork in local senior care facilities, they learned that many seniors have huge amounts of free time, and are often plagued by issues of loneliness and independence, as well as chronic and acute health problems. Though loneliness is pervasive, they often worry about being a burden on their families, who are comparatively much busier, if they try to connect at inconvenient times. As their work progressed, this team realized that their idea of connecting people with too much (or too little) time in unobtrusive ways was relevant far beyond senior to family relations. The team is now building the tool for a broader target market.
NICELET is a living experiment in pro-social behavior change. It is a flexible, collaborative pro-social challenge platform that encourages people to develop positive habits. We take the big, aspirational goals that we all have and break them down into small, manageable daily tasks. We celebrate the completion of these tasks with contributions to local, social initiatives on behalf of our users, creating a multiplier effect for good. Nicelet: doing good made easy. This team was initially focused on how to improve the lives of marginalized populations, and soon realized that they were ultimately interested in helping people improve their own lives, and particularly in encouraging prosocial behavior in ways that also benefit the local community. Their product is a tech-enabled system that connects people around prosocial challenges and helps them make progress on goals that are important to them. In the process, they accumulate credits that get turned into tangible benefit for their local communities through an innovative public-private partnership funding model.
FONDU is a social productivity app that aims to fight procrastination by turning “getting things done” into a competition between friends. This team was inspired by the concept of ‘designing for better human decision-making’ and particularly wanted to help with a frequent human decision-making flaw: favoring short term impulse over long term gain. They initially were exploring ways to make budgeting easy and fun, and in the process discovered that they were more interested in working on helping people ‘budget’ time in ways that leverage what we know about human behavior. Their project focuses on leveraging social behavior – collaboration and competition – to help people combat procrastination in fun, productive ways that link to tangible intrinsic (getting work they care about done) and extrinsic rewards (social and other rewards).