GreenShift Case Study
Help industrial design students choose more sustainable materials in the process of designing physical products to promote less waste and promote sustainability.
As large-scale ecological issues, such as global warming and overpollution, continue to ravage the world around us, there is a need for industrial designers to utilize more sustainable and environmentally-friendly materials in their designs. While this problem is very difficult to solve within the industry, educating and encouraging young designers and design students to utilize sustainable materials in their designs may help push for a more sustainability-focused industry. Our semester-long project, backed by substantial user research, tackles this problem state head-on, intending to facilitate the process of discovering new and more sustainable alternatives to unsustainable materials.
Lead UX Researcher
(Aug. - Dec., 2021)
Methods & Tools
Background research, competitive analysis, task analysis, semi-structured interviews, online survey, concept feedback sessions, discount evaluation, Qualtrics, Miro, Figma, Microsoft Teams
There are a plethora of factors that a designer must consider when choosing a material, which can ultimately confuse the designer and complicate the process. We determined that while industrial designers certainly want to consider sustainability while designing a product, it is just one of the many factors that must be considered. In practice, industrial design students often do not prioritize sustainability simply because the final products for their classes will not be manufactured. However, if industrial design students do not practice using sustainable materials in school projects, how will they be capable of promoting the use of sustainable designs in a work environment?
Target Users: Industrial Design Students
Based on our preliminary research, we determined that there are four main characteristics our users have. Our target users will be students pursuing a career path in industrial design who have an intrinsic motivation to design more sustainable products. These students will have a high technological affinity and may have limited financial resources.
Five systems exist that directly or indirectly compete within a similar problem space and user base. Strengths and weaknesses of each system were determined to inform our design and research decisions:
SOLIDWORKS sustainability module
ArchiCAD EcoDesigner STAR
MatWeb Online Materials Database
Semi-Structured Interview (ID Experts and Students)
- Better understand our problem space
- Identify the challenges that industrial designers encounter when attempting to design with sustainable materials
- Better comprehend the ID students’ thought process when choosing a material for a project
- Discover when in the design process a student typically chooses a material
- Identify which tools designers currently use when choosing materials
- Pinpoint problems that ID students may encounter when choosing sustainable materials
- Participants: (Experts) 2 industrial design professors and 1 graduate industrial design teaching assistant; (students) 3 industrial design undergraduate students
- Method: Our semi-structured interviews were all held remotely over Microsoft Teams. This allowed us for greater flexibility around professors’ and students’ busy schedules and increased efficiency in meetings, as we were able to record the sessions and take additional notes at a later time.
- Analysis: Important notes and quotes were recorded and organized in an affinity diagram to uncover relevant themes and insights from the interviews.
Findings & Insights
1. Industrial design students tend to choose materials in two distinct sections depending on the project: in the research phase or the prototype phase of the design process.
2. ID students are most familiar with two material selection tools, OpenLCA and Material ConneXion, but do not often use them.
3. Many students expressed their concerns about not having enough knowledge about sustainable materials.
4. Many factors are considered when choosing a material, but the cost of the material is often given the highest priority.
5. Many young ID students do not differentiate between the many aspects of sustainability when they are looking for sustainable materials.
- Triangulate our research methods to help develop a more comprehensive understanding of the needs, wants, and requirements of industrial design students in sustainable design
- Validate our findings from the interviews with a larger sample size
- Identify the rough proportion of students who actually use the material selection tools mentioned
- Allows us to obtain a large amount of information in a relatively short amount of time with minimal resources required
- Allows anonymity and confidentiality in people’s responses, which helps mitigate the concern of leaked information
- Participants: 59 undergraduate and graduate industrial design students
- Method: We utilized convenience sampling to gather responses from multiple sources including friends and social media. We also encouraged respondents to further disperse the survey to others, effectively utilizing snowball sampling.
- Analysis: Descriptive and inferential statistics were utilized to evaluate our survey results.
Findings & Insights
1. Most users indeed did not use any tools at all when selecting materials.
2. Ease of use and a visual representation of the material were the most important features in a materials selection tool, according to users.
3. Most users believe sustainability is an important factor in material selection, yet find it difficult to justify the use of sustainable materials in their projects.
4. Availability of materials, cost, and limited knowledge of materials are the main barriers faced by most users when selecting sustainable materials
Expert Feedback / Heuristic Evaluation
- Determine the ease of use of our solution in a relatively short amount of time
- Identify confusing elements and ways in which we can improve our interface and interactions
- Gather feedback on the overall layout and design of the product from expert users
- Participants: 4 expert users (4 MS-HCI students)
- 1. We gave the participants a brief background of our prior research, findings, and users, as well as the intended use case of Green Shift.
- 2. We then had our facilitator walk through the main task flow.
- 3. As we went through each task, we encouraged the participants to stop us at any point with comments or questions and prepared questions for the participants to assess the product.
- 4. We walked through Nielsen Norman’s 10 usability heuristics with the expert users at the end to assess the usability of our product.
- Analysis: An affinity diagram was created from the notes taken to uncover insights and themes presented in the feedback session. Each of the heuristics was given a severity score by the users, and these scores were then averaged across the four users to provide a quantitative indicator as to what usability issues we should address.
Findings & Insights
1. The Eco-Indicator score, which indicates the sustainability of a material, should be properly labeled for the users to improve comprehension.
2. The application section should include many more examples for users so that they can get a more complete understanding of a material’s use case.
3. The varying colors on the sustainability tags should be kept consistent, as to reduce confusion.
4. No material is going to be a perfect substitute for any other material. The name of the substitute category should be changed to ‘More Sustainable Alternatives’ to reflect this.
5. More information is required on the ‘My Materials’ page than just the material name and company name. This is because users may not know a material just by its name.
6. The user expects to see a footer section at the bottom section of each of the pages.
Home Screen and Search Results
Material Properties Menu
Material Comparison Tool
The challenges presented throughout this project helped me grow a great deal as a researcher. Here are some key lessons that I learned:
- Pilot testing can save a great deal of time and resources in the long run. Each of our research activities had its complications that we had to overcome on the fly during the research sessions themselves because we refrained from pilot testing them first. Ambiguous questions, confusing tasks, and unclear directions could have been sorted out before the research studies even began during pilot testing to promote higher-quality sessions.
- Diverse perspectives can be extremely beneficial throughout the human-centered design process. Our group consisted of a diverse set of perspectives, with backgrounds ranging from computer science to industrial design to business. Differing perspectives allowed us to come up with more creative questions, solutions, and design elements throughout the process, which conveys the importance of including a range of stakeholders throughout the HCD process.
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