Green Shift

Promoting the use of sustainable materials amongst Industrial Design Students and Professionals

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Project Overview

The world is facing the most critical environmental issues in history with the increase in pollution and global warming, leaving future generations at risk. There is a dire need for industrial designers to utilize more sustainable materials when designing products. When the process starts from the very beginning of the design process, there can be a push for a more sustainability-focused industry. 

 

Project Type

  • Team Project

  • 1Semester (4 months)

  • Aug 2021- Dec 2021

My Role 

  • UX Research and analysis, Ideation

  • Contributing to low and high fidelity prototype designs 

  • Testing and Evaluation

Team

  • Joseph Gaggiano

  • Xiangyi Yang

  • Han Wang

Methods

  • Exploratory Research

  • Competitive Analysis

  • Surveys & Semi-structured Interviews 

  • Affinity Diagramming

  • Storyboarding

  • Discount evaluations

Tools

  • Qualtrics

  • Miro

  • Figma

  • Microsoft Teams

  • Slack 

  • Google Docs

 

Problem Statement

Educate and encourage industrial design students choose more sustainable materials in the process of designing physical products to promote less waste and promote sustainability. 

Background

There are a plethora of factors that a designer must consider when choosing materials, which can complicate the process. While designers want to consider sustainability, it is just one of the many factors that must be considered. Likewise, in practice, design students don't prioritize sustainability because final products will not be manufactured in a cost-effective manner. However, if students don't practice using sustainable materials in projects, how will they be capable of promoting the use of sustainability in a work environment? 

Target Users

User Goals

Industrial Design Students and Early Designers

who have an intrinsic motivation to design more sustainable products, with high technological affinity 

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 We conducted exploratory research by reading scholarly articles, and spoke with multiple design students and staff at the prototyping studio at Georgia Tech.  During these conversations, we were introduced to several softwares that students use in the material selection process, and conducted evaluations to explore the problem space.

We found three main issues that industrial designers face when choosing materials for their projects. Thus the following are the desired goals our users would like to accomplish based on the problems identified:

 

 

Education on the choice of materials for projects​

 

Identifying Sustainable Materials/Substitutions

 

Seamless Organization of All Factors Involved in Design

Solution Overview

1. Finding Materials - Search Feature

Users can search for materials for projects using the search bar or the search filters, & refine the shown materials by type, property, or by application. When a user searches for a material by the filters, a model appears that allows the user to select all of the material types they want their results to populate. Additionally, the Nav Bar has sign-in/ register options, and tabs fo Material Library, Resources, and tutorials.

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2. Adding materials to 'My Materials' List and Acquiring Samples

After the user completes searching for desired material, they can see a list of materials on the page. Under each material, there is an option to ‘Add to My Materials', which allows them to store the selected materials in a separate section so that they can keep track of the materials they like. Once materials are added to the page, users can request samples from vendors who sell those materials. This allows the users to get an idea of the texture and feel of the material, and helps vendors introduce their materials to the market and potentially sell more units of the material.  

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3. Viewing Sustainable Substitutes for Materials

Once a user clicks on the material, he/she is directed to a page where the name and description of the material can be seen next to the image of the material. Below this, the user can get more information about the materials based on properties, application and processing, sustainability, and an option to download this information.  The user is also provided with additional sustainable substitutes that are comparable to their selected material. The user can use filters and ‘sort by’ options to customize the  substitutions they would like to see.

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4. Compare Properties of Two or More Materials

The compare & visualize screens allow users to compare properties of two or more materials, which will assist them in selecting suitable materials. When materials are selected for comparison, they show up in the right panel of the screen. The information consists of the material name and associated vendor(s)/company selling that material. Upon selecting the number of materials to compare, and clicking the ‘compare materials’ button,  the panel expands to a bigger screen with additional details about how the materials compare. 

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Exploratory  Research

Competitive Analysis

We identified 5  systems 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:

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ArchiCAD EcoDesigner STAR

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SOLIDWORKS sustainability module

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MatWeb Online Materials Database

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OpenLCA

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Material ConneXion

 

Understanding Our Users' Needs
 

Semi-structured Interviews - ID Expert Users and Students

Method Details

  • Participants:

    • Expert Users:  2 industrial design professors and 1 graduate industrial design teaching assistant

    • Novice Users: 3 industrial design undergraduate students

  • Method: The interviews were held over Microsoft Teams, which allowed 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, feedback, and quotes were recorded and organized in an affinity diagram to uncover relevant themes and insights from the interviews.

Goals

  • To gain a better understanding of current usage of existing systems  and users' problems

  • To identify any challenges that designers encounter when attempting to design with sustainable materials

  • To discover when in the design process a designer usually chooses a material

  • To better comprehend the ID students’ thought process when choosing a material for a project

  • To Identify which tools designers currently use when choosing materials

  • Pinpoint problems that ID students may encounter when choosing sustainable materials

Affinity Diagram

Expert User Interviews 

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Novice User Interviews 

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Key Findings

Choice of Materials to Use 

ID students tend to change their choice of materials as they conduct more research about different materials available. They choose materials usually in the research or prototyping phase of the design process.

Poor Experiences with Material Databases

There are very few softwares available to help designers  selecting sustainable materials. The 2 most popular material databases available are openLCA and Material ConneXion, but students do not use them often.

Final products for their classes will not be manufactured

All participants said that they consider sustainability an important factor. However, in practice, they don't prioritize sustainability because the final products for their classes will not be manufactured.

Lack of knowledge about Sustainable Materials

The lack of knowledge about sustainable materials indicates an empty market for tools that present materials’ sustainability levels. The root of the problem is not that there isn’t enough data, but that none of the tools have a good user experience to have recurring users. 

Sustainability is not considered a priority over other factors

Designers, especially in industry rarely consider sustainability to be the most important factor. Rather, most designers consider costs, aesthetics and other physical properties as their priority. Thus, there is a need to incorporate all those dimensions of the material in an interface.

Lack of knowledge about the product lifecycle

Most industrial designers are aware of the concept of the life cycle of materials, but since they have little opportunity to be directly involved in the material acquisition or degradation stage, it’s hard for them to comprehend the amount of energy and work needed in this stage. 

Online User Survey

Method Details

Goals

  • Participants: 25 undergraduate and graduate industrial design students from different universities

  • Method: We used Qualtrics to create the surveys, and 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: We used Descriptive and inferential statistics to evaluate our survey results.

  • To develop a more comprehensive understanding of the needs, wants, and requirements of industrial design students in sustainable design

  • To validate our findings from the interviews with a larger sample size

  • To identify the rough proportion of students who actually use the material selection tools mentioned

Key Findings

Most Users have not used any tools (databases or any technological interface) when choosing materials 

Ease of Use. the Ability to see the material were the most important features in a materials selection tool

Feasibility, costs, &

aesthetics are the most important factors when choosing materials 

Availability, cost, & limited knowledge are the barriers faced when selecting sustainable materials

Users believe sustainability is important, but find it difficult to justify the use of sustainable materials

Recyclability & low carbon footprint are ranked as top important sustainability-related factors 

Ideation 

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Design Idea 1

Material Inspo 2.0

Material Inspo  will help Industrial Designers learn about & choose more sustainable materials when  designing a product.  The product can be used during any stage of the design process to learn about new materials in the market and learn more about specifications of various materials available. The interface will also recommend sustainable substitutes for materials that are not as environmentally friendly, and provide visualizations for the user to view the product life cycle of the materials on the material detail page. 

Storyboard

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Design Idea 2

CAD LifeSpan 2.0

 CAD LifeSpan will allows users to learn about various materials by selecting and applying them to their design work (FR#1). The program will give them real-time information on the product lifecycle and suggests more sustainable materials as an alternative for the ones they've chosen. Additionally, this program enables users to pick, compare, and evaluate the product's lifespan on one platform(FR#2 &3). 

Storyboard

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Design Requirements

Functional Requirements

1.  The future product should allow users to learn about materials 
2. The future product should allow users to compare materials
3. The future product should recommend sustainable substitutes

 

Non - Functional Requirements

1. The future product should inspire designers with new materials 
2. The future product should be easy to use
3. The future product interface should be visually appealing and calming
4. The future product should promote a sustainable mindset

Prototyping 

After the ideation phase, we considered the pros and cons of all our different design ideas, and tested our concepts with Industrial Design experts and students, and concluded to a final prototype.

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Evaluation

 

Expert Feedback / Heuristic Evaluation

Goals

  • 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

Method Details

  • Participants:  4 expert users (4 MS-HCI students)

  • Method:

    • We gave the users a background of our research, findings, and the intended use case of Green Shift.

    • We had our facilitator walk through the tasks.

    • As we went through each task, we encouraged the participants to intervene with any comments/ questions and prepared questions for the participants to assess the product.

    • We walked through Nielsen Norman’s 10 usability heuristics with the expert users at the end to determine the usability of our product.

  • Analysis: An affinity diagram was created to uncover insights presented in the feedback session. Each heuristic 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.

Key Findings

  1. The Eco-Indicator score needs an information pop-up and clearly indicate what scale it is on 

  2. More images or examples could help users learn the application of the materials, and therefore the users are more likely to switch to this material

  3. The different colored sustainability tags on the materials did not make sense to the users. Consistency in colors would be better to avoid confusion.

  4. A search icon does not make sense next to a password input box on the login screen

  5. More information may be required on the ‘My Materials’ page than just the material name and company name. This is because users may not know a material by just its name. 

  6. The wording of ‘My Library’ is confusing. An alternative name like ‘My Materials’ may be better. However, both titles can have different meanings in different contexts.

  7. The users expected to see a footer section in the bottom section of each of the pages.

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Lessons Learned

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.