Human centred design helps girls embrace STEM

Article by Katrina Walter - Communications Manager
Lauriston Girls' School / 25 July 2018

‘Four legs are better than three. Why use a tripod when you can have a quadpod?’ That was the reaction by Lou Ellen, a photographer when presented with a custom-made quadpod, a four legged camera and phone stand to attach to her wheelchair.

The quadpod prototype was made by a group of students from Lauriston Girl’s School , Loreto Mandeville and Melbourne Girls’ College during an intensive week of learning about engineering techniques and putting them into practice.

This initiative called, ‘We have an opportunity’ is one of many human centred design projects that Lauriston has created in its ongoing push to encourage girls to engage in STEM.

Lou Ellen has an autoimmune disease known as Neuromyelitis optica which affects her mobility and eyesight.

Georgie, a Year 8 student at Lauriston explained when her group meet with Lou Ellen she advised she loved taking photographs but often the camera gets too heavy.

“We thought if we could make a stand that sits on her wheelchair, has four legs and can move up and down, we could help Lou Ellen shoot for longer and be more comfortable.” says Georgie.

The project was funded by an Australian Government Digital Literacy Grant. When Principal of Lauriston, Susan Just applied for the grant, she knew she wanted to involve other schools to boost the level of cross collaboration between the students and also work with people living with a disability in the community.

The Lauriston educators were inspired by Lillian Gilbreth, the American industrial and organisational psychologist when designing this project.

Lillian was a pioneer of combining psychology and science to develop new products and used the technique initially to reconsider how households were run. As a working mother with 12 children she was interested in finding shorter and easier ways of doing housework so women like herself could seek paid employment outside the home.

“The idea of teaching girls human centred design and highlighting engineer superstars like Lillian Gilbreth is to show the girls that there are many pathways to STEM and its’s not all about men – the girls need to see themselves in the process in some way .” says Ms Just.

The students working in seven different groups, and each team was assigned a client, or person in the community who lives with a disability.

The week started with design thinking workshops taught by Kate Bissett-Johnson, Lecturer, Industrial Design & Product Design Engineering at Swinburne University. Kate provided structure to extract information from the clients using an empathy map and then ways to consider the concept of ‘How might we create or design a new product to help make their client’s life better?’

The girls learned that innovation comes from watching people do everyday things and finding ways to do things differently. It is about what is sitting underneath and how students think about the problems they want to solve.

“Reframing a problem helps students also see it in a new light or as an opportunity. The gathering of information stage is vital. At this point, girls need to find the problem which we know is the hardest part of developing anything new,” says Susan Just.

The students brought their designs to life through digital fabrication and technology. Students used CAD software to prepare their designs and later laser cutters, 3D printers and hand tools to make their prototypes.

Other helpful products that were created for their clients include:

Unzipper – a machine to remove Frank’s compression socks which he relies on his carer to do

Helping hand – an electronic hand for Karen who has trouble getting pots from the oven

Scan tight – a stand for Stephen to place documents on so they are easy to scan and are spoken back to him

The UV sensor hat –a portable device for a hat that beeps after 25 minutes for Libby who has Oculocutaneous albinism and needs to limit her time in the sun.