“Nature Calls” Attracts Media Attention

GDC student members test design thinking and make social media news

GDC student members Sarah Jensen, Janet Molchanko, Amy Pon and Morgan Smith recently found themselves answering inquiries from bloggers and design magazines the world over when they posted their class project, Nature Calls.























The Brief

The students were part of the Communication Design II class in the School of Communication Design at the Alberta College of Art + Design. In this course, students explore design history and information design through print, motion and the innovation projects. For the innovation project, students self-selected groups of three or four, and were given a 2-litre  pop bottle and the following brief: In two weeks, add social or economic value beyond its current worth; and figure out a way to objectively measure the success of your product and determine your success.

The project began with a group exercise and an instructor-led class discussion on business and design strategy, determining and understanding target audiences and expanding personal spheres of influence. This helped the students to form a base understanding of how to approach the design process in a way they had not done prior, and initiated thoughts on how to get their product “to market.” The students were shown a YouTube clip of Liter of Light before beginning the design process. Ideas were explored and discussed, refinements were made, and prototypes were built. Concurrently, quantifiable measuring systems and their relevance to the target audience were discussed.

An array of projects which included vases, dry bags, games, bird nests, and a hydroponic fish tank to name but a few were presented. Some items were monetized, but many chose to determine the success of their project using social media data, whether it be YouTube views, Facebook likes, or the number of downloads of an instruction PDF from their own Tumblr or Wordpress site. Using multiple platforms was encouraged, not only to get a greater response, but also to determine if their hypothesis about the target audience’s social media preferences were correct.

Nature Calls

The project that garnered the most attention was Nature Calls  — a container made of the top half of the pop bottle and a Ziploc bag — its purpose is to keep toilet paper dry. A team of four students, all outdoor enthusiasts, created a solution for the very relatable and uncomfortable problem of soggy bog rolls. In addition to naming and packaging, the design considered details such as the addition of a light for those after-dark “excursions”.

Once complete and photographed, the students posted their solution on their individual Facebook and Behance profiles, and tweeted out to their personal networks. Over the course of three days, they received encouraging and positive feedback from their friends and families, and even had responses from a few design firms. However, on day four, after being picked up by KNSTRCT.com via Behance, interest in the product skyrocketed. In the following days, Nature Calls was featured in, among others, gizmag.com, gizmodo.com, and trendhunter.com.

Literally overnight, the students were answering email requests for interviews from Fastcodesign.com, Mexico Design, and the Polish publication FUTU. To date, on Gizmodo alone, Nature Calls has been viewed over 24,000 times, received 700 Facebook “likes”, and over 150 Tweets.

Janet Molchanko commented: “I think the success we experienced really is a testament to the potential of group work. If I can speak for everyone, I think we all had quite a bit of fun on this project. I found that we really fed off each other's excitement and creativity. We weren't afraid to communicate something silly to the others during the ideation/creation process, because that idea could spark something actually worth pursuing.”

Innovation through Collaboration

From an educator’s perspective, we wanted to introduce our students to
1. design thinking in a collaborative environment;
2. sustainability through creating social or economical value from everyday, often discarded items;
3. introducing students to the idea of quantifiable results.

Alison Miyauchi CGD, Suzanne Lemermeyer CGD and I developed the project inspired by existing projects such as Liter of Light, Mount Royal University’s Bright Lights and the California College of the Arts IMPACT Social Entrepreneurship Awards. That students were able to experience the potential for collaborative work in such a tangible way confirms to us that these types of projects are an important addition to traditional design education.

Students never cease to amaze educators, but the response that four GDC student members in the School of Communication Design at Alberta College of Art + Design’s School of received from the twitterverse was something new and exciting. A perfect storm of a design thinking, maximizing the power of collaboration, and use of social media gave both students and educators a great lesson. It gave all the students the confidence that even as students, they can make a difference. And we, as instructors, were left with a sense of pride that our students could accomplish so much in such a short span of time.

Naoko Masuda CGD is a freelance designer and a sessional instructor at the Alberta College of Art + Design in Calgary, Alberta.