During my time as Head of Industrial Design & Strategy at Shake Your Power, I was tasked to design products that would combine clean energy generation technologies with music. The first of such solutions was the SPARK shaker.
During the user testing stage for SPARK, it was clear that educating around the technology of generating energy was crucial. We realised that so far, the SPARK shaker was a closed product, and the task of demystifying the technology inside could only be achieved by creating DIY versions. We had to create an open, hackable product.
As soon as the team returned from the beta testing in Kenya, we partnered up with UCL Academy in London and began a 13 week pilot program with some of their students. The objective was to understand how to design an educational version of the shaker and communicate basic electronics and clean energy information to potential users.
During this time we worked with 20 students between 11-14 years old. We called them our Bright Sparks. We wanted to design with the students, so we trained them up in design basic skills such as the design process, CAD, 3D printing technologies, electronics, model making and UI design.
The aim for us was to get as much insight into what they connected with and how they were engaging in the learning process, but also to find a way in which we could really get the attention of the girls to get inspired to become inventors.
This program allowed us to understand what are the elements of the original SPARK that we should keep and which elements were important to open up and educate on. Even though the technology behind the generation of energy is simple and wide spread, we felt it needed to be made fun and engaging and emphasize the impact of these kind of technologies in the real world.
The music element and the story of how the product came to life was engaging a lot of people. Music is a force that connects us all, it brings people together, often people that would never be otherwise in the same room. Music creates a space for people to let go of the societal borders and share an experience together. It’s an incredible force for human connection and I think that it is the element that has given us such an open welcoming in diverse sectors. Its a democratic language that everyone can understand. Music is universal. The power that music has to create change.
Some of the things we took away were, how students loved to put circuits together and the satisfaction they get when they can see that it works, and there is an interaction at the end of the process, such as a light going on. Once students understand how something works it ceases to be difficult and they know they can have a go at it. This is incredibly empowering.
Other insights we got were the craft element. Students loved putting things together with their hands and the mechanical- spatial challenges of toys like lego, really helped students develop patience to go past the initial frustration threshold of putting something together.
And lastly, the power of good stories. We found that kids really loved to learn through storytelling and through imagining themselves as being the direct players in challenging situations. This allowed them to develop a visualization technique to imagine potential solutions for situations they were removed from, like for example having no access to electricity.
At the end of the pilot program, we then started the development of our new product, which is the low cost, diy version of what we did for Kenya, but this time, we stripped down all the high tech elements, and only focused on exploring 4 areas that we felt were the most crucial:
First, How to connect the dots: essentially, we created SPARK because we joined two areas that hadn’t been joined. So, encouraging students to look for their own idea to develop. We wanted our students to feel like they can do what we did and do something that can have a real impact in the real world. So we spent time with them showing them how SPARK is changing lives in Kenya and what the benefits are for people.
Making it real was very important.
Secondly, to explain in an easy way the basic electronics that go into generating electricity through magnetic induction.
Thirdly, to give them a making challenge so they can have the satisfaction of putting something together. So we created an origami like case for the kit that forces them to think three-dimensionally.
Through this making emphasis we want students to pause and step away from the digital world, the world of touch screens, apps and video games and engage with the material world, because we feel this will give them the confidence to become real world problem observers and solvers.
To accompany the kits we designed a comic book style story that will inspire students and especially girls to get into tech and become inventors, scientists and engineers and help solve real world challenges that will help make the world better. So we developed the Amazing Adventures of Gaia: the earth tech warrior and this story lays out the relationship between a very harmonic society that uses nature with respect, harvesting natural processes, and then on the opposite side a society very much like ours where we transform nature to fit our purposes without understanding or respecting the harmony of the ecosystem. So this story was really a nice way to introduce the idea of sustainable living and a harmonious way of living with nature.
The comic is about culture and values and the kits are about STEM, practical skills and the arts. Again, the references to an internal empowerment and also, an external one.
The Spark Educational Version won Gold at the 2015 London Design Awards for Best Educational Product.
At Shake Your Power (SYP) we felt that there must be more emphasis on the making side of design and innovation. SYP is very aligned with the maker movement and want to encourage this specifically to have an impact on social good. We believe that the only way we can serve our purpose as citizens of the world is through doing good with our work and through our actions. This has never been more important than now, when there is so much wealth, and yet so many people die of hunger, where almost 2 billion people have no access to electricity, there is a huge drinking water scarcity, gender inequality, food insecurity, etc. Not to mention all the challenges we are experiencing through climate change.
So there is plenty for us to do to help alleviate this problems. Hence our emphasis on real world design.