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Design Connected: Shaping the Future of Design-led Thinking

Justin Mariano

Experience Designer, EPAM US
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  • Business Information & Media

When you think about hackathons, the first thing that typically comes to mind is programmers huddled together over laptops and notepads to solve a specific problem and create a functional product. Inherently, hackathons involve engineering or business-based challenges and participants focus on the technical side of product development. 

As we move toward this technology-driven future, we’re finding more and more that it’s not enough for companies to simply develop innovative products. Instead, our customers are looking to technology partners to lend design-thinking expertise to really stand out. A well-developed user experience sets products and platforms apart and is no longer a “nice to have” but is required to withstand disruption. Since hackathons serve as collaborative environments and often produce inspiring results, we can leverage this framework to encourage design-led thinking especially among young designers.

On Saturday, January 20, we hosted Design Connected: An Innovation Challenge at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design in Philadelphia, PA in an effort to do just that. The ‘designathon’ was open to undergraduate students from the college and prompted them to create a concept for a digital product or service that redefines how we consume, interact, and control our favorite content within the space of media and entertainment.

In addition to mentoring the future members of Philadelphia’s design community, we were also excited to continue building our relationship with Drexel University’s Co-op program by meeting and interacting with the next generation of applicants. In fact, future Spring/Summer EPAM Co-ops Jaclyn Parry (Junior, Graphic Design) and Jacob Culp (Senior, Interactive Digital Media) both competed on teams during the event. Much like an internship, Drexel’s unique undergraduate cooperative working program allows students to gain real-world working experience in their field of study over a six-month period. Many former EPAM Co-op students have even become full-time employees.

Four teams competed in Design Connected and picked between three subcategories: TV and media, music, and home control. During the three-hour collaborative working session, teams created a branding concept and outlined how their concept would work. EPAM UX, design and media experts offered students guidance on strategy, presentation, innovation, as well as physical and digital design.   

After the working session, the teams had 15 minutes each to present their ideas to a panel of EPAM judges, whose weighted scoring criteria included visual aesthetic, level of forward thinking, functional value to the target user and conceptualization process. Here are the concepts that the four teams developed: 

  • 1st Place: SwitchTune leverages several streaming applications and AR to help users connect with others based on location and music interests. When two SwitchTune users are in range of one another, both parties are notified and their pre-selected “Top Songs” are dropped into each other’s playlists. The application also allows users to pin playlists or music to different landmarks so that users can access different songs as they travel. With its gamification features, users can earn points by sharing and unlocking different playlists and songs.
  • 2nd Place: DESy is an energy-saving home management system that runs on Blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. The system allows users to conserve energy by transferring and exchanging energy to different devices in a user’s home as they become fully charged.
  • 3rd Place: Slate, an IoT-enabled application, automates home applications. The application learns a user’s daily habits, automatically sends reminders and turns off systems and appliances in the home.
  • 4th Place: Omni employs a similar concept to the Sonos Bluetooth speaker system. However, this particular system includes motion sensors so when a user moves from room to room in a house, the music and sound travels with them.

Needless to say, we were extremely impressed with the outcome of our flagship designathon. Locally, we plan to continue partnering with colleges and universities to connect with students and pushing this concept of design-led challenges.

EPAM would like to thank the following volunteers who helped mentor the students and lend their professional expertise: Rebecca Deery, Kate Lindeen, Jon Ashley, Rob Koch, David Farkas, Bruce Criscuolo and Nick Ratush.

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