IDEO Chicago Make-A-Thon

Hacking and building new ways for Chicagoans to eat, move, and learn.

October 25, 2012
Reading Time
8 minutes

Inspired by the IDEO Make-a-thon prototyped in the London studio, our Chicago studio launched the first IDEO Make-a-thon in the US as part of Chicago Ideas Week—a city-wide celebration of “sharing ideas, inspiring action, and igniting change to positively impact our world.”

Our goal: use design thinking and rapid prototyping to hack and build solutions to some of the big gnarly problems that Chicago faces around healthy food, urban cycling, and public education. In partnership with Feeding America, Alta Bicycle Share, and Chicago Public Schools, we chose three themes for our day-long maker fest: “Eat,” “Move,” and “Learn.” Together we created three multi-disciplinary Make teams, composed of IDEO designers, outside experts, and special guests.

By October 11, we were ready to go. Bring on the Make-a-thon!

Design Challenge #1: Fit 90+ People into IDEO’s Chicago Studio
The day began at 9am sharp for 60 Chicago Ideas Week Lab participants and more than 30 IDEOers and guests. We split into teams and brainstormed a veritable Post-it Note blizzard of ideas in response to the three “How Might We” questions:
+ How Might We Refresh the Urban Food Pantry? for Feeding America
+ How Might We Enable Safer Urban Cycling? for Alta Bicycle Share, and
+ How Might We Redesign Recess? for Chicago Public Schools’ new longer school day.

Brainstorm teams then voted on their favorite ideas and shared them with other teams. The morning ended with the three Make Teams announcing which ideas they were going to take forward and prototype for the rest of the day.

Ready. Set. Make!
As soon as our Chicago Ideas Week Lab brainstorming guests left, three Make Teams ran to their project spaces and began crafting action plans for the day. To get everyone in the making mood, we wheeled around specially designed “Maker Swag”—hacked Home Depot tool belts hand-screen printed with our Hack/Make logo and filled with Post-Its, Sharpies, and Make-A-Thon buttons. We also used Twitterfall and a hashtag to keep real-time Twitter feedback projected onto several screens around the studio.

From noon until 8pm, it was all hands on deck as the teams prototyped, got rapid user feedback, and refined their ideas several more times. At 8pm, the teams “dropped tools” and shared their final prototypes with each other over dinner and drinks. The result was a memorable and highly productive day that rapidly produced unique, tangible solutions in response to our partners’ design briefs.

Read on for more details about the IDEO Chicago Make-a-thon design briefs:

EAT Brief: “Refreshing the Urban Pantry” for Feeding America

EAT Make Team:
Jenny Comiskey,  Doris Feurstein, Breanne Heath from Growing Home, Rebecca Hornbuckle, Todd Jones from Every Last Morsel, Jin Ko, Justin Massa from Food Genius, Iain Roberts, Ryan Sievert, Neil Stevenson, Wally Verdooren from Feeding America

Obesity is often linked to areas and populations struggling with food insecurity. According to the USDA, 23 million Americans live in “food deserts”—areas without ready access to fresh, affordable, and healthy food. One Chicago-focused study found that residents who lived within range of fast food options while lacking grocery stores were more likely to die, or suffer from diabetes, cancer, and/or heart disease.

Design Challenge:
Organizations like Feeding America and their network of food banks are already doing amazing work battling food insecurity and raising access to fresh produce as part of that. How might we create an engaging local community presence that provides convenient access to fresh produce for low-income residents living in food deserts?

Design Solution:
“Square Meal”: A new system for providing fresh, healthy foods to the food insecure

Square Meal is a concept that transforms the current model of food donations from providing “calories”—a random assortment of surplus foodstuffs—into balanced, healthy “meals” that feed a family of four for one meal (or feed an individual four meals).

A local and connected food-banking system, Square Meal includes a new donation model, new distribution model, and enhanced user feedback loops to make giving and receiving food a universally desirable, positive, and simple experience that meets donors and recipients where they are, on equal terms. While visiting their local grocery store, shoppers can pick up a Square Meal box and recipe cards and pack a fresh, healthy meal box for a food-insecure family. Feeding America or its clients can source and track boxes directly from donating supermarkets via SMS, rather than going through a central food-banking system (thereby piggybacking on existing infrastructure and underutilized assets). Donors, on the other hand, can scan their Square Meal boxes with their smart phones and see when and where their boxes were delivered as well as share the experience through social media.

P.S. The Eat Make team is working with Feeding America on ways to take these ideas forward.

MOVE Brief: “Safer Urban Cycling” for Alta Bicycle Share

MOVE Make Team:
Jimmy Chion, Nicholas Inzucchi, Jerry O’LearyJordi Parra, Burton Rast, Dave Vondle, Kansas Waugh from Alta Bicycle Share

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has set a goal of making Chicago a world-class city for bicycling. To this end, Chicago has chosen Alta Bicycle Share to operate the city’s first large-scale bike-sharing program. An affordable complement to existing public transportation options like the CTA, Alta plans on rolling out 3,000 bikes and 300 solar-powered docking stations in 2013. The docking stations will be located about a quarter-mile apart in high-density areas of the city, including near transit stations. Users will pick up their bikes from self-service docking stations, ride to their destinations, and drop off their bikes at the nearest station. Membership and user fees will be affordable for Chicagoans and visitors alike. Members will sign up via a website, while one-time users will use a credit card at the automated kiosk.

Design Challenge:
Riding a bike in Chicago can be a harrowing experience, even for seasoned cyclists. Cyclists compete for crowded road space with vehicles. Many bike lanes are not segregated from vehicles. And some cyclists routinely flout traffic rules to the annoyance of other road users. How might we raise awareness of bike safety for first-time Alta Bicycle Share riders in order to prevent injuries and encourage widespread adoption of bike sharing? What other ways can we help support safe urban cycling?

Design Solution:
“RiDAR”: A connected navigation and safety system for cyclists

RiDAR consists of an iPhone app which hooks into both the “bicycling” travel mode of the Google Directions API, as well as a small, Bluetooth-enabled, Arduino-powered navigation dashboard mounted to the stem of the bicycle. The cyclist inputs his or her destination into the app and can then choose from one of three different ways to get to that destination: “fastest,” “safest,” or “most scenic.” The phone is then safely stowed away to avoid distraction during transit. Navigation instructions are communicated from the phone to the dashboard, which displays animated, LED arrows indicating both the direction of and distance to upcoming turns.

Additionally, the back of the bicycle is outfitted with a sonar system that detects approaching automobiles. When cars come a little too close for comfort, the sonar sends a signal to hardware within the handlebars and makes them lightly vibrate to alert the rider of a safety threat.

LEARN Brief: “Redesigning Recess” for Chicago Public Schools

LEARN Make Team: Lawrence Abrahamson, Tammy Baird, David Berthy, Andrew Burroughs, Katie Cangemi from United Way, Matt Donovan from State Farm, Claire Goff, Chris Gold, John Grimley, Erin Donoghue from Chicago Public Schools, Roxana Hadad from Chicago Teachers Center, Joe Harr from State Farm, Zach Hobbs, Mark Jones, Murphy MacDonald, Nicole Milberg from Mitchell Elementary, Giovanna Nicosia, Debbe Serota from Playworks, Elizabeth Spenko

After many years, recess is returning to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Recess gives children exercise, play time, and a much-needed break so they can re-enter the classroom better able to learn.

Design Challenge:
Many CPS elementary schools are lacking space and resources, especially in the winter, and holding indoor recess has proven to be a challenge. Many Chicago educators worry about where to hold recess in space-challenged schools and what activities to do during recess since it hasn’t been part of the school day for a long time. How might we provide Chicago Public Schools with a mobile activity center for indoor recess, keeping in mind limited resources and space?

Design Solution:
“Recess State of Mind”: A modular kit that encourages imagination and active play

Recess State of Mind is a kit of parts that helps divide any room into two separate recess zones: a Move Area that encourages intense physical exercise and an Explore Area that supports creative, imaginative activities. Writable white boards divide the Move and Explore Areas.

Inside the Move Area, double-sided Mega Game Boards (hopscotch, beanbag toss, shuffleboard, etc.) and Freak Out Circles (dance contest, balance on one foot, clown car, etc.) inspire fun, friendly competition and teamwork while keeping play contained to small areas. Inside the Explore Area, big Eames-like Building Cards allow kids to build what they want, a Drama Club stage curtain has pockets full of acting suggestions for amateur actors, and portable fabric Board Game Storage bags let kids play checkers or Legos on the floor and then quickly scoop everything up and hang games neatly on the wall when they’re done. All of the designs are three kinds of easy: easy to store, easy to clean, and easy for schools to facilitate.

A few days after the IDEO Make-A-Thon in Chicago, the Learn Make team brought the prototypes to Woodson Elementary School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Not only did the kids love playing with the designs, parents started asking if they could sign their kids up for “whatever program you’re running in there!”

P.S. The team is continuing to work with Chicago Public Schools and Playworks to further develop—and hopefully manufacture—the Make-A-Thon recess concepts.

Special Thanks:

Swag Masters: Beth Farrell, Doris Feurstein, Kyle Fletcher

Social Media Team: Colleen Wilson, Jen Leonard, Kyle Cheon

User Feedback: Kozy’s Cyclery, Mitchell Elementary School’s Student Council, Woodson Elementary School

Welcoming Committee: Leigh Cohen, Chris Draz, Marie Maloney, Ashley Ratlev, Orenthial Rowsey, Scott Sauer

For even more photos, visit our Flickr set.