Brainstorms and other weather phenomena

In the second session, we brainstormed about projects ideas trying to solve a problem for students through an app. We then shortly presented our top ideas to the other teams to gather feedback and other insights. We settled with the idea for a “social fridge” app to match your fridge contents with other students in an attempt to find a cooking partner for the evening.

Brainstorm: come up with ideas

Every project starts with an idea, so we needed to find a good idea for an app. Therefore, we held a brainstorm. This is a creativity technique where team members try to come up with as many ideas as possible – no matter how weird they might be – without being criticized. The purpose is to come up with a lot of ideas which can be evaluated after (but most certainly not during) the brainstorm.

Before we started the actual brainstorm, we practised with a test brainstorm about solving traffic problems in Flanders. This was great fun and led to many good ideas (carpooling, promoting public transport and working at home) and crazy ideas (more tunnels, flying cars, vacuum tube transportation,…).

After we warmed up, we were ready for the actual brainstorm. The project must be about an app targeting KU Leuven students to assist them with their complicated life at our university. We started out by finding some key themes in the life of a student such as studying, courses, student dormitories (in Belgian Dutch known as “koten”), sports, partying, finances,… We then tried to find problems in these themes which we could solve. We ended up with these ideas:

  • Sports: It’s hard to get motivated to do sports. An app could help find a sporting partner with similar sport preferences who is free at the same times as the user.
  • Studying: Many students prefer studying in group. An app could help them find other students with whom to team up.
  • Group projects: Students often have greatly varying course schedules, making it hard to plan group meetings. An app could automatically find meeting dates based on the schedules of all members.
  • Personal assistant: Students often eat unhealthy or sleep at irregular hours. A “personal assistant” app (dubbed “de kotmadam”) could keep track of a student’s habits, summarize them and make appropriate suggestions.
  • Grocery shopping: Students in the same dormitory do their grocery shopping mostly individually and often need to go shopping for only a few items. An app could group the smaller shopping lists of multiple students into a bigger shopping list to make fewer trips to the grocery store.
  • Writing papers: Students often struggle with spelling and grammar when writing reports. An app could let them submit their draft report for other students to review. The reviewers could then be rewarded with reputation points or badges, similarly to StackExchange sites.
  • Transportation: Buses from and to the campus are often full. An app could allow students to indicate their need for a bus and help a bus company organize their schedules. Possibly, they could even decide to install a special bus when a lot of students suddenly need a bus.
  • Asking questions: Students are often too shy or embarrassed to ask questions in class. As a consequence, professors often don’t know whether the students actually understand the matter. An app could allow students to (possibly anonymously) submit questions which the professor can receive and answer instantly (either by posting an answer or explaining in class). Similarly, professors could pose a question which all students can receive and respond to instantly, allowing for much more interaction in class. Additionally, these questions and answers could be stored and attached to the relevant parts of the course text for easy future reference.
  • Cooking: Students don’t always have a full fridge filled with everything they need to cook in the evening. Instead of resorting to fastfood, an app could allow them to match their fridge’s contents with those of other students in their neighborhood. When a good match is found, the students can then meet up to cook together.

Brainstorm

Compared to other teams, we didn’t have that many ideas. Many other teams had around 30 ideas, we were far below that. We believe our brainstorm strategy wasn’t that good:

  • We probably should have skipped writing down themes. Instead of trying to organize our ideas, we should have just written them down and deal with the chaos after the brainstorm. The abundance of themes also filled up our whiteboard, leaving less space for actual ideas.
  • Attempting to add new ideas in some places meant wiping out something and rewriting it somewhere else. Other teams were using post-its instead, which can more easily be moved around.
  • We were often quickly considering the details of some ideas, instead of trying to come up with new ones. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, we lost some creativity by focusing on one idea.

Pitch: presenting our top ideas

After the brainstorm, we evaluated our ideas and eliminated quite a few:

  • We found the bus idea too difficult to achieve, having to rely on a third-party bus company is not really in the scope of this course.
  • We found planning and scheduling applications for sporting or teamwork interesting but technically difficult (planning is still a tough AI problem).
  • The personal assistant – although it sounds awesome – is simply too much work and too difficult, almost on the same level as Google Now‘s intelligent tracking and suggestions.
  • The reviewing app seems to rely a lot on a few benevolent reviewers, we’re unsure whether many students would want to spend time reviewing the work of others.

Pitch

We ended up with two ideas: a Q&A app for students and professors, and a cooking app (quickly dubbed the “social fridge” app). We presented these ideas to the other groups in a short one-minute presentation (“the pitch”). Afterwards, we received some great feedback on our ideas. Other groups found the Q&A app too broad and too complex, and many of them had also proposed a similar app idea. They liked our cooking app idea and noted that cooking together is a great way to meet new people.

We also heard some great ideas from other groups. Bavade is going for a word bingo game to play in class and motivate students to focus on the lesson. anarCHI wants to make a fridge sharing app to get rid of your leftovers. Gele Keizer is still deciding between an indoor map app for university buildings or a coupon app for students. Go check out the other blogs to learn more about their wicked app ideas!

Final result: our app idea

We decided to go with the cooking app idea. We’re going to design an app which allows users to manage their digital fridge and match it with other fridges in order to cook a specified meal. At the moment, we’re calling it the “Social Fridge”, but that’s just a working title.

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9 comments

  1. I think that it’s good that you have evaluated your brainstormsession. This can be helpful for other people (and yourselves in the future).

  2. It is good you evaluate where you guys did go wrong in the brainstorming but even while you found the brainstorming did not go that well, you came up with a great idea. I am curious how it will work out, Good luck 😉

  3. I really like that you give an honest review of your own brainstorm! Nonetheless, you had some decent ideas, some of them could be really useful. Too bad the bus app will never be possible just because of the “De Lijn” company is organized.

    We had a really good experience with using the post-its, and we already expected them to be better than the board. Seems to be you agree 🙂

    Furthermore, you mention that cooking together is a great way to meet new people. Is meeting new people going to be central to the application? Aren’t you afraid that people don’t want to invite a stranger into their kitchen? Or are you working with a sort of friends-of-friends system?

    also, thx for the mention 😉

    1. It didn’t have to be De Lijn, a smaller bus company (with smaller buses) would also have worked. Either way, we’d be very dependent on an external party, which is not very practical for this course’s project. That’s why we ditched that idea.

      I believe we were a bit excited about the whiteboard. Vital immediately “dibsed” it, and we didn’t really consider if using the whiteboard was actually a good idea. At least we now know for future projects to stick with post-its (pun intended).

      We’ve already had a brief discussion on the social aspect:

      • One idea was to limit the search to your friends circle by default, as well as limit your “fridge visibility” to your friends circle. Users would then have options to (a) extend their search to include fridges of “strangers” and (b) allow their fridge to be visible to “strangers”. That way, both parties must first agree on allowing “strangers” before being connected to such “strangers”.
      • Another idea was to use friends-of-friends, which is less flexible but perhaps easier to understand (less configuration).

      Anyhow, it’s a bit too early in the process, we still need to make a lot of important design decisions. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you guys up to date on this blog! 😉

      1. I don’t think the whiteboard was really a problem, I think it’s more like you said in your blogpost above: that you tried to create order in the chaos while brainstorming. When we grouped our post-its during the brainstorm, those were the moments that the ideas stopped coming…
        It’s nice that you reviewed your own brainstorming strategy!

        I like the ideas on the social aspect. However, I wouldn’t ditch the friends-of-friends idea too soon (like it seems above). I think the social barrier is a lot lower in this case, as opposed to immediately do the same with strangers. Maybe friends-of-friends could be integrated with the idea of the first bullet?

  4. I’m interested in seeing the app in action. I believe it could be a cumbersome task to input everything you have in your fridge.

    “… manage their digital fridge and match it with other fridges in order to cook a specified meal.”

    Would the app contain predefined recipes or does it rely on user input ?( a meal with many ingredients would be annoying to input.)

  5. You give a very true analysis of your brainstorm session. Flexibility is key indeed 🙂

    You might not have a lot of ideas, but still a few good ones. Although there seems to be a general trend here, I especially like your ‘social’ ideas. Maybe you could incorporate the ‘grocery shopping’ in your final social fridge idea? Be it as it may, I too am interested to see the implementation of the app. I think you have a lot of possibilities with this idea.

    1. We were toying with the idea of having someone go shop for the missing ingredients when you can’t make a group with all needed ingredients. We might still do that, but it would probably be a minor feature and probably won’t be in the first few iterations.

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