Throughout February, Engineers Without Borders UK collaborated with AzuKo to deliver the Designathon, our first extra-curricular national multidisciplinary challenge, producing solutions for real-world problems. Over 150 students from our university Chapters around the country participated and were supported by professionals from our community who volunteered their time to provide invaluable feedback and guidance.

The brief asked students to consider how to make the engineering sector more globally responsible. The final submissions were fascinating and uniquely creative and we encourage you to explore those ideas here. During the final event on Saturday 27 February, Team D21-09 was awarded The Gold Design Award with their idea, Stimulating Responsible Engineering Through Play, a guided play model offered to schools and NGOs in less economically developed countries to stimulate children’s imagination around concepts of responsible engineering, which will be co-designed by children, educators and experts. The judges thought it was a fun and novel idea, and that the group thought through the background and real-world implications very effectively. They especially appreciated the co-design aspect of this project and that the group recognised that they did not have all the answers as to how their project would be implemented, but that they must go and speak to their target audience for their input. This demonstrated humility and open-mindedness, both vital in designing products for a group of people that the designer is not a part of.

We caught up with Mairéad, Matt and Julia of D21-09, to learn more about their experience of this inaugural design challenge.

What have you learnt from participating in the Designathon?

Mairéad: This Designathon was a fantastic opportunity for me to work outside of my comfort zone and work collaboratively with people from different disciplines and backgrounds. I have learnt the value of working creatively with people who can tackle problems with a different mindset, and I will incorporate this creative energy into my work going forwards.
Matt: I’ve learned a lot about what it means to work professionally as a team as well as getting on interpersonally, given that before February, Mairéad, Julia and I were total strangers! The Designathon encourages learning in these areas in a really fun way. Mini challenges I remember include: learning how to reduce a pool of 20+ ideas to just three each before making our choice, collaborating through Prezi presentations, and brainstorming how to make our guided play model more usable for young children.
Julia: This challenge forced me to think critically about the state of the engineering sector and brought a new dimension to the way I think of myself as an engineer. The workshops and mentor feedback also equipped me with a new set of tools I am looking forward to applying in the future.

What surprised you about the Designathon?

Mairéad: I was surprised by how little I knew about ethics within engineering as an engineering student! The Designathon has proven that there is a real need to foster globally responsible engineering from a young age.
Matt: I found the workshops run by Engineers Without Borders UK, AzuKo and Electrocomponents really informative – in particular, I was surprised at the level of complexity behind writing and ‘performing’ a presentation! I now understand how audience engagement throughout a presentation weighs heavily on a presentation’s success and what the participants can take away from it.

How would you suggest improving the challenge?

Our ideas and thought processes really began to take off after we had our first meeting with our mentor, Anthony. He provided some excellent insights into understanding the root of the problem through industry-approved methods, as well as how we could ground the idea in reality. He also gave us some valuable advice on presentation features skills which we took on board, with the aim of making our animations, information and narration as clear as possible. To improve the Designathon challenge, we think that it would be beneficial to introduce mentors to teams via video call at a slightly earlier stage, such as within the first week. This could help steer the idea- making process or spark new ideas. However, we understand that a balance must be struck where mentors can provide guidance but without stifling ideas too much!

What advice would you give to someone taking part in the Designathon next year?

We would recommend future students taking part in the Designathon, engage with all the resources provided, workshops scheduled, mentor exchange opportunities and embrace the challenge. If students feel a little intimidated by the brief, they should not worry, as were we! The brief is designed to challenge and force participants to think laterally. Explore different problems and solutions before developing your chosen solution and crucially, look for ways to communicate it effectively. Finally, enjoy meeting other students, rethinking and rediscovering the engineering sector!

Has your experience of the Designathon shaped your understanding of the engineering sector?

Our experience at the Designathon has demonstrated that the engineering sector still has a long way to go to meet the needs of all in society. It has also shone the light on the organisations that are leading the way in this fight for equality and fairness to all; Engineers Without Borders UK and AzuKo demonstrate that it is possible to lead with new ideas and an ethos of empowerment.