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Design Thinking Challenge teams produce innovative, useful ideas

April 13, 2018
Design Thinking Challenge winning team HEC Montréal

The results are in from the first annual Royal Roads Design Thinking Challenge, with four teams taking home top honours, but all participants winning a valuable experience in the design thinking process.

The challenge, sponsored by the Eric C. Douglass Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies, asked teams of students to use design thinking and behavioural insights to solve the problem of too many cars on the road.

Design thinking solves problems by empathizing with the people who use the products or services being explored. It also emphasizes the need to rework and retest ideas through prototyping them and receiving feedback. Behavioural insights, or nudging, draws on ideas from behavioural science to encourage people to make better choices for themselves and society.

First place went to the team from HEC Montréal for its idea to integrate on-bus screen displays and intelligent bus shelters into the public transit system to reduce uncertainty for seniors and thereby encourage more transit trips. HEC Montréal also won the Design Collective Insight Award, awarded by participants themselves to the team who provided others with the most insight into the challenge.

Okanagan College snagged second place overall and won the Victoria portion of the challenge for its “Take a Trike” idea. Through interviewing seniors in downtown Victoria, the team found many resent bike lanes because they do not use them. The Take a Trike program would lend senior-friendly tricycles, with the goal of making them a normal sight in bike lanes and a regular part of senior transportation.

McMaster University placed third for its idea to create a social volunteer program where high school and post-secondary students provide car rides to seniors in their community.

The Design Thinking Expertise Award was awarded to the University of Guelph-Humber team for demonstrating the most development with design thinking over the entire challenge. 

The City of Victoria is reviewing many of the ideas created during the challenge as possible ways to decrease car use.

“Cities in the 21st century require innovative solutions. The City of Victoria was thrilled to be a part of this inaugural design competition to tap into innovative ideas generated by students across Canada,” says Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Heidi Hayes, a member of the Okanagan College team, says the challenge’s focus on collaboration molded her team’s work and eventual success.

“We learned very quickly from the judges’ feedback that all of our recommendations were not feasible or viable,” she says. “As a team we didn’t think about cost or the implications of implementing all the suggestions. We quickly realized we had to scale down and pick something specific in order to truly prototype it.”

The Okanagan team connected with their counterparts on Royal Roads’ Bachelor of Commerce team.

“Our team really embraced the collaborative aspect of the challenge,” says Royal Roads team member C.J. Scott. “I felt a great sense of pride and camaraderie knowing they were putting forth a fantastic idea supported by research that we helped them with. Winning is great, but solving a big problem for people based on empathy is even better.”

Royal Roads team member Scott Marrs (centre) collaborates with students from visiting teams

Challenge co-organizer Assist. Prof. Amy Zidulka of the School of Business says that cooperative subversion of the typical business case competition culture was one of the event’s most important outcomes.

“I am proud of how these teams recognized that, to solve a tough problem in a short time, they needed to collaborate to gather research. This replicates the real world, where no one solves tough problems alone,” Zidulka says. “Many teams also completely revamped their ideas at the last minute, often because they had realized they were not sufficiently empathizing with the people using the system.

“All of this displayed a real commitment to solving the problem over just winning a competition. That’s exactly what design thinking is about.”

The challenge inspired educators as well, says Okanagan team coach and instructor Robert Ryan.

“I have now seen it in action as opposed to it being a concept in a book,” Ryan says. “It’s now easier to see how design thinking may be applied in my classrooms here at Okanagan College.”