Adventures in Super Hero Design

Monday, April 30, 2012

Students show off their Super Hero bracelets (belts!) during Engineering Discover Days.
Future engineering students show off their Super Hero bracelets (belts!) during Engineering Discover Days.

On April 20 and 21, the UW College of Engineering held their annual Engineering Discovery Days, a spring event where students and faculty from engineering departments share their work with the community. Learning what it means to be a UW engineer, the audience included a wide variety of visitors, from elementary to high school students, teachers, and families.

This year, the HCDE Student Association (HCDESA) partnered with the Laboratory for Usability Testing and Evaluation (LUTE) to represent the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) by providing exhibits that highlight various aspects from the field. Both groups worked together to prepare for the event, collecting supplies and developing engaging activities to make the experience as fun and educational as possible.

To make things unique, the HCDE exhibits revolved around a superhero theme, where all activities had visitors assume the role of a superhero or helping one out. While the superhero theme was a fun way to engage exhibit participants, they were used as a creative way to simulate what the department does in the field.

For instance, the HCDE Student Association, located at Sylvan Grove, encouraged students to take part in a "design challenge." This challenge called for participants to assume the role of a design engineer in assisting UW's superhero, Harry the Husky, by creating a "superhero bracelet" to defeat his arch-rival Butch the Cougar. Participants sketched out different kinds of technologies that would help Harry meet his goals and eventually created the bracelet. Through this fun activity, students were able to learn about the user-centered design process, where they were able to research, design, and implement their ideas into the bracelet, iterating any ideas after testing it with the booth volunteers.

"I was really impressed by all the kids' creativity," says Jenny Acevedo-Barga, "Also, Engineering Discovery Days gave me the opportunity to practice my 'What is HCDE?' elevator pitch."

HCDESA students Brian Espinosa (left) and Chris Patterson demonstrate their Kinect skills during Engineering Discovery Days.
HCDESA students Brian Espinosa (left) and Chris Patterson demonstrate their Kinect skills during Engineering Discovery Days.

To supplement the HCDE Student Association's "design challenge," LUTE prepared two unique exhibits showcasing the human-centered design process. The first was the Tobii eye tracker exhibit focusing on the usability research phase. Students were given the task of finding the elusive Waldo in a Where's Waldo puzzle, as participants in an eye tracker study. The second was a Kinect exhibit, with a focus on the design and prototyping phase. Students created and animated avatars using iClone5 and Mocap, provided gratis by Reallusion. Students also assumed the role of superheroes in a game called I am Super, keeping with the superhero theme.

Students who visited the HCDE Student Association exhibit and the LUTE exhibits learned about the human-centered design process but the visiting students were not the only ones that learned from the event. The student volunteers also found the event to be very valuable.

"It was hard work but it was a lot of fun and I learned so much from my experience," Cam Pham said, "I was also introduced to new technologies, such as iClone5 and Mocap and made posters for the event, all of which I can include in my portfolio."

All HCDE students who participated in the event were happy to be involved, and are looking forward to next year's festivities.