Learning Design, For Real This Time

This project was part of a 10-week Design Thinking Studio class at UW’s Global Innovation Exchange (GIX). We were grouped into teams of 3 and given the task of identifying a target problem in the broader space of single-use-plastics and, through research, generating requirements, prototyping, and user testing, arriving at a proposed solution. My team consisted of me (coming from a computer science undergrad and self-taught in UX), a person with CS and business experience, and a person with manufacturing experience.

Secondary Research

Primary Research

We were running on a tight schedule and needed observational data (field notes and a survey). Tracking down a contact with local recycling plants was just not going to fit in with our schedules. Because we could infer, via King County’s guidelines, that our local facilities could not process contaminated or bagged plastics, we decided to conduct field observations where we lived and gauge resident adherence to these preparatory steps. We all found similar issues: people throwing trash into recycling bins, unwashed and food-contaminated plastics, and bagged plastics.


We weren’t sure whether residents were just unaware of local guidelines, were unable to meet them, or if there was some hidden variable at play. Most of our survey was about awareness of what can and can’t be recycled and personal investment, but the questions that proved most useful were regarding washing and bagging habits. We saw that portions of our survey respondents didn’t wash their plastics consistently (or, some, at all). Though most washed, this smaller portion risked spoiling the batch, counteracting the washing of the others. In retrospect, we should have more fully committed to this specified problem space and asked more questions to understand why they don’t usually wash their recycling.


Sketching, Ideation

A sketch of a person cleaning a bottle with a tube mounted to a sink

As it was with scenarios, we had difficulties finding time to meet in person during the sketching phase of our project. We each sketched out a proposed solution and compared. Two of our solutions were basically iterations on the dishwasher but simplified and adapted to easily clean plastic bottles and containers. The third was more mechanical and integrated an automated sorting system. For the sake of time, we combined the three into a tweaked bin/washer device. It seemed impossible to get all three of us together at once to go over our ideas, so there were misunderstandings and disagreements at this stage. We weren’t all on the same page and our combined solution didn’t have a unified vision behind it. Given more time, it would have been helpful to all meet together and discuss our ideas, exploring any new ideas that arose and clarifying core features we needed to include.

a sketch of our final design before prototyping


A cardboard prototype of a washer/bin combo

When it came time to prototype our bin, things got tricky. Because our previous step was hindered by opposing schedules, I was left in the middle of disparate one-on-one hallway conversations with limited time to crank out something tangible. I was able to allocate a few elements to my teammates, but most of the assembly and measurements were on me. Our struggle to coordinate in previous steps shot us in the foot here. Once again, getting everyone together and on the same page would have made things go much more smoothly.

Useability Testing

A demonstration of how our prototype works

On user evaluation day, I was still the one who had been in the middle of making our prototype. I, having become the moderator of the group between busy schedules, had the best grasp on what our prototype was and how to guide users through it. On the day of testing, we had a team member running late and another who had missed the discussions about testing. We were not as organized as I’d want to be, but we got some consistent feedback. Understanding the cleaning nozzle was hit-or-miss and our users often thought the filter was disposable. In a future iteration, we would add a guiding illustration to explain the nozzle and print the filter on the 3D printer (and rename it). In future testing, we’d need to sit down and more thoroughly script our tasks, printing the tasks for the tester to read out.




(they/he) I'm a designer-developer with special interests in operating systems, ethics, and the intersection of technology and social justice.

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Jacob Estep

(they/he) I'm a designer-developer with special interests in operating systems, ethics, and the intersection of technology and social justice.