Group photo of participants, taken at the end of the programme.

Countless activities were disrupted during the summer break of 2021, and the FACT (Freshmore Asian Cross-Curricular Trips) programme was no exception. Many Freshmores (including myself) had doubts, would a ‘virtual’ programme still be a fruitful one? Looking at posts from earlier virtual FACT programmes (SSW X UBD, DTI X UPM, DES X SZTU), the answer is clear. But since you are here, why not read on to find out?

Virtual FACT 2021 for Design Thinking & Innovation @ Shenzhen Technology University (DTI X SZTU) is a fully virtual programme that spanned over 4 whole days. That meant starting early at 9am and ending at 8pm. I am sure you are exclaiming at the long hours (at least I did when I first knew about it), but I felt this made the programme more like a physical one – being in the same ‘space’ as our Chinese counterparts from SZTU for a good part of the day, ideating and prototyping together, brings about a sense of connection.

On the first day, we were introduced to our problem statement: How might we design an efficient and useful device to use at home, to extract orange juice from a fresh orange? Over the next few days, we would go through each stage of the Double Diamond design innovation framework (Discover on day 1, Define on day 2, Develop on day 3, and Deliver on day 4), to produce a CAD model of our solution which we were to present on the last day.  I found this similar to our Term 2 module 3.007 Design Thinking and Innovation, only that the time frame this time was much shorter.

The Double Diamond Framework, which we used throughout the programme.

This is the structure of how each day went: We would begin with a session where Prof Arlindo Silva (SUTD) or Prof Yang Can (SZTU) explained the stage of design process we are at, along with some helpful tools and methods we could use, their purpose and how to use them effectively. Then, off we go into our breakout rooms to discuss, ideally finishing the deliverables from that session (Lunch is taken at your own time during this period). We then returned to the main room at 4pm for another session. Then, back to our breakout rooms to finish up the all the deliverables for the day, have dinner at 6pm, followed by a debrief with student facilitators where each group takes turn to share their progress.

My group consisted of one other SUTDent, Sheen, and 3 students from SZTU, Ron, Vesper, and KyoSu. Since we were all ethnic Chinese, we decided to communicate in Chinese where possible, to allow our SZTU friends to express themselves better. This meant resorting to google translate on our part as we tried to understand and articulate words we typically found so easy to say in English. It was a rather amusing and eye-opening experience as I felt myself being tongue-tied on so many occasions, wondering if I knew the correct words to convey my ideas. It was then that I wished I had not forgotten, after JC, the things I learnt in mother tongue class. I must applaud Sheen’s effort for constantly trying to translate so that everybody understands during our discussions. This experience taught me patience in communication, as well as helped me to empathise with the Chinese students, who had to use English during the presentation and debrief sessions.

Despite the slight communication barrier, our group worked well together. Everyone contributed their opinions, and we worked through the areas we did not agree on, refining our ideas to achieve the best outcome.

Starting with the Discover phase, we identified our target users and created a survey to gather information, so as to better understand their needs and concerns. After collating the data, we found out that an efficient and useful juicer is one that is clean, powerful, and requires minimal cutting of the orange.

Results of our survey question “What are some features you would like to see in a juicer?” It seems majority of our respondents (70.59%) want a powerful juicer that can squeeze juice effectively.

From there, we moved on the Define phase. Here, we were tasked to create several personas, scenarios, as well as an activity diagram of how our persona would interact with a juicer in that scenario. I remember one group created memorable personas by making a play on words – a poor man named John Chan 很惨 (hĕn cǎn, meaning very pathetic) and a rich man named Alexander who tried to woo girls by offering them his (orange) juice. All the facilitators burst into laughter during the debrief sessions when they heard the story of those personas.

That group presenting their personas to the student facilitators.

Next, for the Develop phase, my group researched on existing juicers in the market, and analysed their usefulness based on our user needs. We then identified good features and tried to incorporate them into our c-sketch ideas. We conducted the c-sketch activity on Miro as it allows everyone to access each other’s drawing in real time.

It is possible to c-sketch virtually!

On to the Deliver stage, we used the Real-Win-Worth table to access the best idea from our sketches. The winner was the Duo Juicer, the most feasible idea that fit our user needs – being self-cleaning and juicing efficiently. With the end in sight, we decided to split up the remaining tasks. Our friends from SZTU focused on designing the CAD model; I did the storyboard of our user experience; and Sheen prepared for the presentation.

CAD model of our solution – the Duo Juicer.

Fast forward to day 4, presentation time. As I listened to the other groups’ presentations, I realised how we all started with similar user needs, but developed products with different features. This shows that there is no one size fits all solution to a problem. At the end of everything, we went into the breakout rooms one last time to take a group picture and got to know more about each other outside the context of this virtual joint programme.

Photo of our group with the student facilitators.

The past 4 days has been a very tiring yet fulfilling experience. I gained a deeper appreciation of design thinking and its importance in formulating solutions that are functional and tailored towards users’ needs. Working with students from SZTU, albeit virtually, still allowed me to broaden my perspective as they provided a different point of view on things. To answer the question at the beginning of this post: Would a ‘virtual’ programme still be a fruitful one? My answer would be yes, yes it would.

Written by: Constance Chua (Class of 2024)

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