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,
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
"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".