Essential Design’s UX Workshop for Technovation


On Saturday, March 3rd, the MassTLC Ed Foundation (MassTLC EF) hosted the third in this year’s series of workshops for participants in the Technovation Challenge. The first two focused on the ideation process and coding with App Inventor, while the most recent provided in-depth insight into the importance of a good user experience and user interface (UX/UI). Hosted by MassTLC member, Essential Design – a leading innovation strategy and design consultancy – the workshop gave the group of 25 girls (and a dozen captivated parents, mentors, and coaches) a hands-on opportunity to learn about design thinking and the design process.

Essential Design’s Leahanna Savain and Shawn Torkelson led the two-hour workshop, which kicked off with a white board exercise. The girls were asked to think about the following four questions:

  • What does UX/UI mean to you?
  • Why is it important?
  • What do you hope to learn today?
  • What are examples of apps with good UX?

Leahanna and Shawn were impressed by the great understanding of the topic that the girls already possessed. Perhaps the favorite answer to these questions was the definition that good UX “minimize[s] the distance between your brain and your task.”

After the opening exercise, our hosts walked through a presentation that highlighted various real Essential Design projects and the process that the company used to develop and refine their designs. These real-world examples brought to life the importance of researching customer needs and usage BEFORE designing a product as well as of iterating on a design.

Attendees were then able to put these lessons to use in the Smart Oven Challenge. This challenge, created by Essential Design to teach design thinking, asks participants to create application controls for a remotely managed “smart oven” for a target user. The user, along with her typical work day and home life, is presented as well.

The girls sorted themselves into teams – the parents also formed their own team and participated – and began to discuss issues that need to be considered and addressed in their design. Shawn helped guide them by encouraging them to:

  • Consider issues from the user’s perspective
  • Boil everything down to a very simple problem statement
  • Brainstorm without constraints about how screens might take shape
  • Work down to the possible
  • Keep seeking feedback to refine the design.

After the teams finished the project, several shared their designs with the entire group. Additional lessons that came to light through this discussion included:

  • Definition of a wireframe (a wireframe shows each page of an app and what the page does)
  • Importance of iteration – brainstorm, get feedback, refine design, get feedback, etc. – and how it actually ends up saving time
  • Thinking about how people interpret information, e.g., the color red means “stop” – this has to be factored in to design

To wrap up the day, Leahanna and Shawn conducted a company tour that allowed attendees to see the wide range of products, from telepresence robots to smart eyeglasses, that Essential Design has worked on for clients. One of the girls was so impressed that she decided she wants to work for Essential Design – when she graduates from college in eight years!


Next up in the series: Business Plans and Pitches webinar on March 28th.