Learning Design, For Real This Time

Secondary Research

The three of us met up to discuss what aspect of the SUP problem we wanted to address. We all did some research on our own before coming in, and our starting assumptions were already clearly influenced by our different backgrounds (statistics and numbers, logistic concerns, and field observation). From the start, we struggled with jumping the gun. We’d end up in discussions about the viability of different decisions we’d make 6 weeks down the line instead of exploring the problem space and adjusting course as we learned more. We coalesced around a single statistic: only around 8% of single use plastics were recycled (in the US, in 2018). The rest of our secondary research was aiming to put that number into context. Were there particularly difficult to recycle plastics that could be swapped out? Was there a lack of awareness, infrastructure, business incentive? We found a particular bottleneck in SUPs submitted to recycling facilities by well-intentioned people that were unable to be recycled because they were contaminated with food waste or were left in plastic bags (which can jam sorting machines). These plastics usually get thrown out, unknown to the person who put them in the recycling bin. It was hard to get statistics on how large of an issue this was, and even where it was an issue (some facilities cut open bags and wash dirty plastics).

Primary Research



We each wrote our own scenarios, which were essentially fictional situations where our target problem is visible. We had a little bit of confusion around what to include in our scenarios. If we had more time and were trying to find data for a real product, it would have been really useful to use this step to conduct more field research following specific individuals in our target user base and asking them about their choices afterwards. We still weren’t solid on why people weren’t washing plastics, but we didn’t have the time or resources to go beyond assumptions. We used this exercise to think through the user’s journey and, like a puzzle piece, try to create a list of requirements that matched up with the problem space.

Sketching, Ideation

A sketch of a person cleaning a bottle with a tube mounted to a sink
a sketch of our final design before prototyping


A cardboard prototype of a washer/bin combo

Useability Testing

A demonstration of how our prototype works


Overall, I felt like I gained a more holistic understanding of design thinking. I came in being almost completely self-taught when it came to design, focusing most of my personal concept UI work on what I thought would be more useful. I had limited feedback from family and friends, but nothing structured or research based. I can only see my design work becoming stronger going forward, more rooted in demonstrable claims and data. My biggest takeaway from the class was this: decenter yourself from your design process. Good design is not about the designer; it’s about the target problem in its messy, multidisciplinary truth.



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Jacob Estep

Jacob Estep

🟡⚪🟣⚫ (any and all pronouns) I’m a (so far) self taught aspiring product designer interested in operating systems and the devices they run on. WVWC CS ‘21