(URGENT) Design idea help

Hey everyone, long time lurker just registered to post a question here!

So I’m struggling to come up with a problem area for my final year university design project and beginning to get into panic mode… (time is running out too)

Basically, we have no brief.
The idea is that we find something we are interested in and then design for a problem within that topic. The final design must be suitable enough to provide 8 months of design work, from research and development to design and manufacture. By the end of the year we should have a physical model of our product and a working prototype (so anything technologically advanced is pretty much off the table).

The problem I’m having right now is (with essentially 5 days to find a solid idea) I keep getting stuck in a rut.
My main interests are things such as surfing, snowboarding and driving (for the joy, not to and from work) but seeing as I’m struggling finding a problem I am open to ANYTHING right now.

What I’d like to know from anyone here is, in any of your hobbies and interests (literally ANY interest) is there something that annoys or bothers you, something that you feel could be designed better, or something that hinders your experience of said activity?

For example (as I’m not the best at explaining things) here is one idea I’ve had that I may use, but it relies on a certain sensor module giving data output that I, personally, need to be able to program to do what I want. If i find out that I cannot program the module… I’ll need a backup option.

The only problem area I’ve decided on is “to enhance the safety and experience of snowboarding”. Pretty broad right?

My project idea is an array of doppler radar modules and vibration engines to pickup motion and speed of said motion and relay it to the user via haptic feedback. This would essentially give the user a “6th sense”, improving the awareness of any thing/person behind the user. Snowboarders tend to have a large blind spot behind them and have been known to cause accidents due to not fully checking behind them (guilty!).

So. Any advice? Interests and hobbies to design for? Ways to go about finding a problem to design for?

It might help to phrase a design problem in a larger way from then you can start your research. For instance “I want to increase the safety of a school crossing guard.” From here you can start conducting secondary and primary research and your initial brief may morph a little bit ( I think that’s OK for a student project as long as the original direction is still somewhat present) once you discover more and realize problems you were not aware of, that’s when you start getting to the good stuff. Also, don’t even think of end product ideas, just start with a large scale problem and if you do your research correctly it will narrow its self down.

Hope this helps.

Have you tried talking to other people in your sport? I’ve had some really fun conversations with friends where I’ll mention one vague idea for a piece of gear I want to improve, and then all of a sudden they’re listing a million complaints about their gear that they’ve apparently been waiting to unload on someone for the last six years. (I didn’t mean for the ‘fun’ to sound sarcastic - the eighteen minute rants about their least favorite backpacks really do make my nerd heart go pitter-patter.)

If you can get in touch with 3-4 snowboarding/surfing/etc. friends and just ask them, like, what would you want, what are you upgrading this year, what was wrong with the old gear, what did you look for, what’s the price range, are you not buying safety stuff because of the price? Can it be cheaper/simpler/sturdier? Write down a bunch of products or categories they mention and pull up some reviews - is everyone complaining about the same thing? If you look a snowboarding message board or something, what’re the gear threads that people really get into talking about? Are there new materials in another industry you could find a use for? Are people “hacking” things to make them work - could you build those features into something?

If you can’t find obvious ideas for improvements to their stuff, just start asking everything - what’s craziest fall you’ve seen or been in? What’s the silliest fall, the one that was like man, that could’ve been avoided for sure? If you yard sale, how long does it take to get all your stuff together and get out of the way? Last time you got stuck on a chairlift, what did you want with you? Did you have it? Could you have carried it? Do you have friends who’re doing smaller niche stuff - para skiing, working as a liftie or for rescue, going out of bounds all the time? What are they up to? Is there something they want but can’t find?

I guess my thought is that it sounds like you’re working on “world peace and greater prosperity” kind of problem - “increased safety in snowboarding” covers such a wide range of issues that you’ll basically just be wandering around for years if you try to research the whole thing at once. I think you have to break it down further, until you get one little chunk where you can start to tell and story and say “here’s a specific thing that can happen, this is a safety risk because , but if I we have a product that has [Y and Z] now users can…”

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Maybe this is why you’re stuck, in the professional world it may be very likely to end up designing problems for things which you are not interested.

I think the problem with assignments that allow students to design for things that interest them is that they may falsely believe they are more knowledgeable about their interest than they might be. If you must design within one of your interests I would suggest you research that interest from the perspective of a different type of user than yourself, whether that’s for someone of another gender, someone with disabilities, or someone in another part of the world. Maybe you can find a way to combine your interests to frame a new problem that hasn’t been addressed.

Otherwise, maybe pick something that interests you, but that you know very little about. Sometimes ignorance in a given topic leads to different approaches to research and problem framing.

Good luck!

It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you are interested in in the traditional sense. It could be something you are interested in learning about. Or something you are interested in diversifying your portfolio with. As an example, my final project was sponsored by Nissan. We could design any vehicle we wanted. I decided to do a small minivan for 1 child families and my roommate did a cargo vehicle. Both were highly differentiated because everyone else in trans at the time (and still now) was designing sports cars even though they represent a very small percentage of vehicles sold and used. So my interest there was to do something that set me apart.

I once worked with a designer who did a toilet for his final project. When I asked him why he said because no one else would dare to do it, it had problems he could solve, and everyone who reviewed his portfolio would remember him. All good answers.

Choose your topic like you do anything else. The choosing of a topic is a design project in itself. White board out the options, seek inputs, create a large list and then create some criteria by witch to judge them and narrow it down. By the end you will have hopefully a handful of good ideas and one will stand out. Most importantly though, don’t let anyone else do this work for you. Don’t shrink from it, run toward it.

Toilets are great projects. I worked on putting one into production a few years ago. When I did a little market analysis after the fact, I found there are very few new toilet designs per year. It’s an industry that is ripe for some fresh ideas.