Green Tagging – Sustainability for Small Business Owners

Back in April, I had the opportunity to judge an in-class user interface design competition at UofT. The projects presented at the competition all based on this year's Imagine Cup theme: imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment. It was very interesting to see the various software and physical interfaces created to solve an environmental problem, help people save more energy, or raise environmental awareness. More importantly, it was a unique learning experience for computer science students who have never taken interaction design or usability training before.  It changed the way they think about users in the whole software development process. I invited the winning team to talk about their project and learning.

Project: Green Tagging (poster)

Designers:  Mike Conley, Isaac Ezer, Sean McIntyre, Lin Zhou
The Department of Computer Science at The University of Toronto

"The Design of Interactive Computational Media, taught by Professor Ilona Posner, challenged students to "imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment." Large and wealthy businesses often invest in professional counselling in order to discover methods of increasing the sustainability of their business practices. Our response to the above challenge consisted of a way to cheaply and practically bring the benefits of this counselling to small business owners.

Initial research into this problem space suggested the existence of two distinct groups:  small businesses which were experienced in improving the sustainability of their practices and those which were interested in accomplishing this.  Using the user-centered design process detailed in our course, we created a social networking website known as 'Green Tagging' to provide these groups with a place to share their questions, ideas, information and experience.  By encouraging this collaborative production of knowledge, we hoped that 'Green Tagging' would accumulate practical sustainability solutions conceived of and tested by small businesses owners, for small business owners.

This opportunity to engage in user-centered design and user testing proved to be a deeply educational experience.  We found ourselves consistently surprised by those things which were and were not intuitive to our diverse group of potential users.  Though challenging, attempting to satisfy their varying needs and requirements by employing the design principles learned in our course was both enlightening and enjoyable."

Below is a photo of the winning team with me and Mark Relph (VP, Developer & Platform Evangelism, Microsoft Canada)


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