A few weeks ago, EchoUser teamed up with Oracle to host its very first design jam, which focused on the future of wearables in the workplace. It was my first jam, as well!

I started the day not quite knowing what to expect. I had read about intensive multi-day hackathons where competitors code, eat pizza and guzzle caffeine into the wee hours of the night. The design jam would have a much narrower time frame and focus (user experience design) than a typical hackathon, so I was curious to see how much we’d be able to accomplish in a day. Turns out, quite a bit.

Putting a bunch of designers from different industries in the same room made for a uniquely accelerated get-to-know-you session and learning environment. Since design is all about process, one of the best parts of the design jam was seeing how others think and work, in action. One of my teammates was a mechanical engineer at Studio Fathom, a 3D rapid prototyping agency. During our brainstorm, my first thought was to map out a user’s workday and generate ideas from there. My teammate offered up ideas on a more macro level, such as a set of wearables that could be used to optimally distribute people within a space – doctors in a hospital, agents in a retail store, teachers in a school. I liked his overall systematic way of thinking. Not to mention, as a mechanical engineer he was naturally skilled at shaping Play-Doh and pipe cleaners — a very useful teammate to have when you need to build a prototype in two minutes.

I also found the design jam to be the perfect environment for me to practice and stress-test my design methods. Inevitably, the two hours my team was given to design a wearable went by incredibly fast, and forced us to make every step count. Together we came up with a systematic approach for brainstorming, incorporating and eliminating ideas, which helps us focus and conceptualize an effective wearable for a workplace environment within the given timeframe. Design is all about constraints, and time makes for a useful one. Designers also learn by doing, so the design jam’s hands-on, compressed format helped us quickly put ideas into practice.

I especially enjoyed the fact that the design jam allowed me to step outside of my day-to-day routine and broaden my exposure to important topics in the industry. For creatives, it’s crucial to get outside of your head once in awhile. It might have been the basketball net hats, but the design jam seemed to really help shake things up.

All in all, I found the design jam to be a fun and valuable tool for helping people dive into an important industry topic, while both broadening and sharpening their design skills — one that other companies and design teams could similarly utilize to their benefit. More than anything, I now have a much stronger framework for thinking about wearables, which I’ll be able to apply to any number of future projects involving contextual experiences. If you’re looking to similarly influence your design team’s perspective and skillset, I’d recommend participating in or running a design jam of your own!

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