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UID students selected to present at Microsoft Design Expo

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Four students from UID were chosen to present their ideas at this year's Microsoft Design Expo. The students were challenged to design a user experience prototype with the goal of promoting empathy.

The theme, "Empathy at Scale", happened to correspond with an existing course at the Master's Programme for Interaction Design called "Sustainable Mobility". The initial aim of the course was to explore new solutions for tourism and food transport in the sparsely populated parts of rural Norrland by the Vindeln river. More precisely along road 363.

Two liaisons from Microsoft were at hand to give feedback throughout the development of the projects produced by the four teams of students at UID. In the end, it was the 'Aura' project - created by Manu Revi, Nancy Valerdi, Lea Bachmann and Connie Jehu - that was picked to represent UID at the 2019 Microsoft Design Expo, taking place at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington USA.

The group's final design solution is a navigation aid for people travelling along road 363. Depending on your travel behaviour - whether you're going fast or slow, whether you're local or visiting - it gives you different kinds of contextual information. If you're travelling long distance from A to B you might get a notification of a package that someone needs transported. If you're exploring the area leisurely the application may suggest where to get a cup of coffee or let you know about a certain fishing spot. 

Connecting people through compassionate design

During the research phase of the project the students went on a five-day field trip where they lived with locals, talked to close to a hundred people and got to experience different kinds of mobility and modes of transport along route 363. It was imperative to engage with local communities, businesses, residents and other visitors to get a 360-perspective of the existing behavioural patterns in the area.

The work intensified through co-creation workshops with stakeholders, locals, visitors, tutors and students. They realised that people travelling through the area often had different motives and needs. The challenge then became to tie these diverging user realities together in order to create a closer connection between people as well as between people and nature.

This led the group to start prototyping explorative tools that helped users connect with the environment that they were moving through in different and new ways. They soon realized it would be important to create simple visuals that didn't lead to distractions and were easily noticeable while driving. Adding the feature of personal voice messages from people in the area into the application created a human connection that seemed to inspired people to engage.

Christoffel Kuenen, director for the IxD programme, believes that the group's ability to understand, through deep research, the behaviour and mobility patterns in the communities along road 363 allowed them to design organically rather than from a top-down perspective.

"What was so appreciated about their design at the conference was the thoroughness of their research and how it was then translated into design. They were not really looking to optimize anything, they were looking to understand and support these local communities and to build empathy through that process".

September 2019