A few months ago the Workstation team approached me with an opportunity to speak to some girls at Camp H in Berkley, California. Camp H was started by Emily Pilloton to offer girls, ages 9-12 the chance to develop their hands-on problem solving skills by building meaningful projects for themselves and the community. It’s an opportunity for them to build confidence and learn a range of skills about different power tools in a non-academic setting. This was something that would’ve interested me at their age and still gets me excited, so I accepted knowing it would be a good fit.
The crazy thing was, I actually already knew Emily, and in fact I was a huge fan! When I was in school at NC State, Emily came to speak to our design studio about Project H. I immediately read her book, Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People, and it changed my world. I was so excited, and nervous, to have the opportunity to spend time with someone that inspired me and my work; and also thrilled at the chance to hopefully repay the favor.
The first moment I met the girls, as one voice they all said "Good morning Ali, we're so glad you're here!" If that doesn't start your day off right, I don't know what does...
My goal was to share what it means to be an industrial designer; what it's like thinking about every aspect of a product: how people will use it, how it will affect their daily life, how it would be manufactured and what it really means to be intuitive. So, I shared with them some past projects that I had done in my career, and the mistakes I made in focusing more on what the product looks like and not how it would affect the user or how it would be manufactured. I think they appreciated seeing that not everything turns out right the first time. I mean, we all make mistakes, even as grownups.
The highlight of the day was sharing stories and lessons learned on the ThinkStation P900. Since I worked on that design for over 2 years, there were plenty of stories to share. I started by showing them pictures of the previous generation workstation interior; one of the girls commented and said, "It looks like a bomb! How do you know what wires to cut?" Many of them had seen the interior of a computer before but judging by their comments it seemed that it was not at all approachable…little did they know, that's true for a lot of us.
Next, I showed them the design process: we started with research, models and sketches to make sure that every part would be intuitive and easy to remove, and then I explained more about why it's important for these parts could be removed quickly and easily. For a group of girls that are taught to use all different kinds of tools they seemed pretty intrigued that all of these components could be removed without the use of tools.
Something really cool about these girls is they had already been using our systems; I saw a ThinkStation P500 in the corner of the room running their laser cutter. They had been so close to this modular design and didn’t even know it! When I told them I brought their system's big sister, in the form of the ThinkStation P900, they all seemed so excited. And when I asked if they wanted to take it apart I got a big "YES" from the entire group.
We put the ThinkStation P900 up on a big worktable in the middle of the workshop and immediately the girls started climbing up to get a closer look. Normally when I present a workstation I'll take it apart for people and show them the different components, but this was completely different. I asked, “Who wants to take the door off?”, and they all raised their hands. When I picked a girl to remove the cover she reached for the handle, pushed the touch point and lifted it like she had done before; I was so proud!
As the girls intuitively started touching and removing parts I explained what each piece did, they were so excited to know why their piece was important. There was no guessing, no struggling about what can be removed and how. At that moment, I realized that children are extremely intuitive, and it was obvious this design made sense to them. As a designer, this was the biggest confirmation for me that we designed the P Series in the right way.
Next, we started to put the system back together, everyone easily replacing the part they had removed. By the time it was all back together and the door was secured Emily said "Alright everybody it's your turn to take it apart and put it back together by yourselves, I'll time you!" The girls swarmed around the ThinkStation and started taking turns removing components, each one talking about what it is and how they needed to remove it. I felt like I could hear their brains working, remembering which parts went in first and working as a team. By the time they had the cover in place, they all jumped back with their hands up and said "DONE". They had put it back together in one and a half minutes; this was by far my favorite part.
“ At that moment, I realized that children are extremely intuitive, and it was obvious that this design made sense to them.” Ali Ent
As a designer, it's easy to get wrapped up in your own project...of course I love it, I worked on it for two years, but when you get to hear children, who can't help but be entirely honest, saying great things about your project and praise me for the design, it's a pretty good feeling. I'll never forget when one of them turned to me and said "that's the best computer ever!"
A special thank you to the Workstation Marketing team for sending me to Camp H and to Emily and the campers for having me! This has definitely been one of the highlights of my career so far and something I’ll never forget.