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Smart Citizens




Joining Forces with our Friends in Bangalore

At the moment of writing the whole of MediaLab is in a state of deep concentration. The final presentations will take place next week, meaning that everything that is done is oriented towards presenting the product in the most stunning way possible. In order to achieve this we decided to team up with India even more. The final movie will be an explanation of how the two teams exchanged knowledge and ideas on tackling the global problem of e-waste.

Amsterdam’s SeeThru platform puts emphasis on education and making people aware of what’s inside their phones, but also what the impact is of mining the materials. Take the polluted rivers of China as an example, this is pollution coming from the cadmium found in the battery of your smartphone. In the southern region of Guangxi (China) rivers are heavily polluted as a result of this mining process, mainly because there are no clear policies that is keeping the polluting companies responsible for their mistakes. This is the aspect of the SeeThru website that is showing these kind of stories mediated by an interactive map (see underneath).

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So SeeThru does education, whereas Bangalore is creating a technical infrastructure to actually recycle the broken e-waste. Two different approaches, but they are definitely complementing each other. This is what we’re willing to stress in the movie – the way our smartbin and the educational platform are additional to one another.

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The pieces of the puzzle are coming together. It is nice to see that the design across cultures idea is working out and that the different cultural contexts are actually bringing each other further in the design process.

Lets hope our faces after the final presentations are as happily smiling, just as they were at our recent lunch at Cisco.


Introducing: SeeThru

The 4th sprint was concluded with the presentation of our new prototype. Our current product is a website, a platform that will be a combination between raising awareness on the subject of recycling old mobile phones, and empowering people to come in action. We are developing the first part, which will be educational. This part will consist out of quizzes, infographics, facts that will provide information on the importance of emptying their drawer.

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Our brand new logo

With the second – infrastructural- aspect we will start conversations with recyclers and refurbishers from the industry, and perhaps partner up with them to give people the possibility to act on the knowledge they gained on our platform.

The website consists of different features that offer playful interactions and possibilities to gain insights on what’s inside your device:
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By seeing the complexity and the value inside the device, people can be triggered to start thinking about the importance of recycling. Besides educational the site could also function as a movement to share pictures of devices inside the drawer. It could be a fun way to illustrate the abundance of resources inside drawers worldwide.

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After seeing the other teams presenting at the Pitch at Cisco, we realized that the projects are complementing each other. Barcelona focusses their research on discovering trends, Bangalore has a technical infrastructure with the smart bins and a platform (the Internet of Bins), and the expertise in design. And SeeThru adds the educational and branding aspect to the mix.
The question remains if SeeThru and the Internet of Bins can be combined. We’re trying to figure out to what extend the two platforms can be integrated into each other, or if they should remain separate. We will keep on philosophizing about our options and, we will definitely keep the blog updated as we’re getting closer to an exciting ending of the project.

A Value Proposition

After putting our ideas out into the world, it was time to set new goals and manage our expectations for the future. This means: killing some of our ideas (R.I.P Battery Lifesaver and Spare Phone), thinking about a business case, and coming up with a concrete new prototype for this sprint. Part of this process was doing a workshop in business or in Rinke’s words: “What is your added value?” (example of added value: value of a drill is having a painting on the wall).


The workshop made us think about the added value of our concepts, and made us think about assumptions we made earlier in the process as well: are people actually waiting for a pickup service for old phones? After reconsidering the concepts and taking half a day to brainstorm we came up with a new version for a prototype. Earlier we discussed with India that it would be great to create two websites that have overlap (overlap in style, and functionalities), with this promise and our prototypes in mind we came up with a product: a combination of our different prototypes: iSeeThrough 2.0.


The website combines the awareness and educational aspect of iSeeThrough 1.0, with the donation and recycling aspect of Redrawer. The new wireframe we drew out on the board would become the basis of our new prototype. There are two parties who are willing to talk about our project and see how our ideas can fit their organization: Eeko and Sims Recycling solutions; both have an extensive recycling infrastructure, and our awareness raising service could be of value to their company.

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The first version of iSeeThrough, with the ‘transparant screen’ feature.

Besides rearranging our ideas into something new, there is some user research to be done. Joan created a survey that simulates our interactions on the website. By the end of this sprint we will know more about how people respond to donating old phones to charity, and their willingness around this feature.

The new pitches are getting closer, we’re translating our iSeeThrough version 2.0 into a new prototype and having close contact with Bangalore. By doing so we can actually start talking about how to match our two concepts in the next sprints. In the last period we’ll really put the Design Across Cultures to the test: we will do our best to make a relevant website in close collaboration with India!

Pitching our Prototypes

Last week we introduced you to our prototypes, and then it was time present them to the outside world. To show the relevance of finding a sustainable solution for the collection of old phones, we further investigated the metaphor of ‘the drawer’ as well. A metaphor used to describe the value of all the old and unused (smart)phones that are sitting in desks and drawers all around the world (a phenomenon Forbes calls ‘Gadget Obesity’). Bringing all the different sources and statistics together we made an estimation (and an infographic to illustrate). Turns out that the value in drawers around the world is rather mind blowing.

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So that’s the relevance of our mission! Lets move on to the reactions and feedback we got from our peer and partner pitches. We made concrete propositions for different apps, and because of this there were a lot of concrete questions. The peer pitch was attended by a person from the business department of the University, he talked about the potential value of our ideas as a business and proposed to make a business case for each different app idea, and after doing so to make a decision based on these insights. 


A familiar picture for a lot of households, and a symptom of ‘gadget obesity’

Other important questions were (related to Redrawer): what exactly is the drive of our user? How will we persuade users to use our app/service? And: there are already initiatives working with donating old phones, how can you improve this concept? Barcelona added a string of good questions as well: what will you do once the phones are collected? Sell to refurbishing/recycling companies? Are you going to pay the user before selling the device to the partners? These questions that made us realize the complexity of Redrawer (especially concerning the infrastructure).

In relation to iSeeThrough a suggestion by a peer was adding elements of gamification to the app. In other words: not just presenting dry facts about the components inside your phone, but sparking interest through a playful interaction with these components. The coach from team Bangalore liked iSeethrough a lot, as an educational tool, she envisioned a kind of database for (hardware) engineers to access information about the different smartphone components.

We also got a good chance to look at other projects. Bangalore introduced the concept of: Internet of Bins. E-waste bins that are connected to the internet via sensors, the sensors work together with an online platform for collectors, citizens, recyclers. Open data is generated by the bins and people can access the data to track the waste or to schedule a pickup. The other team from Barcelona was in a similar stage that we were at in the first months, they were mostly looking into trends on the topic of smart cities, also because Barcelona is perceived as one of the smartest cities in the world.

It seems that getting your prototypes out into the world is a good way to check how realistic your plans are. On top of that, you get suggestions like: donating your old phone to a food delivery service in return for a free desert… In other words: our pitches were a gold mine of good ideas and feedback.




From Ideas to Prototypes

This is what I would describe as the fun part of the design process: ideating and brainstorming. In other words: at this point we’re not just thinking in problems and frictions anymore, we’re thinking in solutions. The last sprint brought us the problem definitions (think of: people don’t know where to recycle their old phones). We already have a document wherein we dumped all the big (and smaller) ideas for solutions, now we take a look at the different problems and see how existing initiatives and our ideas address these problems. To get an overview we mapped the relations between our ideas in a visual way to be able to see overlap between the potential solutions.



After some debate 4 ideas came forward as promising. We made some simple drawings of how the interfaces would look, and the next day we discussed them with Sander Hermsen a behavioral design expert. He gave us valuable insights on the different levels of behavior we’re trying to address with our solutions, so lets give a small overview of the concepts we’ve got (and the difficulties that come with them).

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Creates an incentive. It’s a service with a responsive website that enables you to donate your old (smart)phones to a charity of your choice. For people who don’t want to donate the whole value of the device there is a build-in slider that makes it possible for you to decide what percentage of the value of the phone you would like to donate. After you make your decision you’ll be able to request a pickup service, and we’ll send a messenger that will come and pickup your device.

Difficulties: New smartphones that are bought below 100 eu are worth very little when they are a few years old. In this case the pickup service could not be cost efficient. 


Addresses the problem that there is a lack of knowledge amongst smartphone users where to recycle their old devices, simply put: where do I bring my old phones? Not everyone is aware of the places surrounding us that take in old phones. If these places could be made insightful with an application or website (integrated with Google Maps), people would be better informed and –  at least – they would know where to go with their old and broken devices.

Difficulties: The idea is not rich enough on its own, it doesn’t create an incentive outside informing the user, maybe it could integrated as a feature of an other app.


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(Battery) Lifesaver

A solution focussed on the technical shortcomings of your smartphone, after a year or two of using your phone the battery might run out more quickly, this is a big reason for people to change their device. How can we extend the life of the smartphone battery, and with doing so extend the life of the smartphone itself? The answer is Lifesaver, an app that brings all the features on your phone together that contribute to saving battery.

Difficulties: are the battery saving features we propose (like turning down the screen light during the day or putting on airplane mode from the app) possible to access from a third party app? (Ian from team Bangalore for example already explained that accessing the airplane mode from an app is not possible.)


This concept aims to educate people about what’s inside their smartphone. The app wil take you on a tour through your own phone. It will seem as if your smartphone screen will turn transparant, and it will give you the option to interact with the components laying underneath the screen (such as: the battery, processor, circuitboard etc.). Tapping on a component will enlarge it and give you information about how its produced.

Difficulties: It provides information, but doesn’t give the user the chance to act on this information. Therefore it could also be a feature of an other app.

We’re a few days away from the peer/partner pitches, and at this point we’re working on turning all prototypes into clickable interfaces, by doing so we can already show our partners and peers some stuff they can interact with. So let’s get to it!



Fresh, Out of Office, Air

It was the day of our partner pitch. We all needed to get up around 6 to catch the train to the design week in Eindhoven, but before we got the chance to extend our knowledge with the workshops and exhibitions, we needed to stop by our product owner’s house in Tilburg. We could take a seat on the couch in his living room, and we connected with Barcelona and Bangalore to present our findings from the last 3 weeks.



We got a short moment to present our new problem formulations, too bad we were bound to a tight schedule because of the workshops we wanted to attend at the design week. We gave the dog a quick pet and hopped in the car to Eindhoven. In retrospect this day could be seen as an important day for the team. Interesting lectures about: design for behavior change, product design for the circular economy, and most important: the consumer perception of refurbished smartphones.


The woman talking about this had just graduated from TU Delft, and explained how consumers generally perceive refurbished smartphones, and especially what their reasons are to buy these devices. According to her research, the consumers accept the product because of the price, not because they are aware it is beneficial for the environment. Incentivizing people through good bargains seemed more important, than sketching the sustainable picture.

An other design scholar – Sander Hermsen – talked about the ways design can influence people’s behavior for the better. Some behavior is related to being uninformed or creating your own stories about your behavior (related to our subject: people keep their smartphone in a drawer without recycling, and – for example – make up a story like “one day I might need it”). Hermsen concluded that there are many factors influencing people’s behavior so all of them need to be taken in account when products or strategies are designed to change behavior.

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The last session was all about brainstorming; here we provided Phillips with some insights and ideas for the potential products. The subject revolved around the sharing economy, and we tried finding new things that could be shared. Sporting equipment? One alarm system for the whole neighborhood? Refurbishing your old pots and pans and reselling them? Not sure if it these ideas were the start of a disruptive future, but we carefully observed their brainstorming methods and we used the same method with our peers at the MediaLab.

This is an important time for the project; we are going to develop prototypes for possible solutions. We got some of our own ‘big ideas’, but also input of our peers, and we visualized other initiatives that are already existing. With this knowledge we’re making a good chance of creating a relevant prototype to present for the next sprint.


Existing initiatives and their relation to different categories



Receiving Love Letters

Unfortunately the love letters we were receiving weren’t for us personally, but for the 27 different smartphones of our respondents. We received letters from different continents and countries (Bangalore, Barcelona, Amsterdam) and we used these letters as a research method to – literally – discover more about people’s feelings towards their devices. We were helped a lot by a group of students from the Media College, whom visited the Lab, and got an introductory assignment while visiting. They wrote some very honest and entertaining letters for us.

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word cloud from all the love letters

But this method wasn’t the only method in our planning. We did a good amount of literature research about product attachment (the theory around people’s relationship with objects), and we learned things about insustainabilities in the behavior of the users in general. For instance: this table categorizes different types of users and their (in)sustainable behavior:

While reading all about the theory, time passed, and we still hadn’t performed one of our more important methods: the focus group. This was the moment we could really ask people specific questions about their attitudes towards recycling their phone, or about why they got rid of the device in the first place. We managed to speak to 10 different people and asked them some around 10 in-depth questions about their smartphone use. One session took place with the team from Barcelona whom are also working on our project.


After this session the time for data collection was over. We had to bring all the data together and start making sense. Finding patterns to extract problems or inefficiencies in the attitudes of consumers, our main challenge for this sprint. Our method for defining these frictions: all team members gathered around the data and individually wrote down the different frictions they detected. In the end this would lead to a cloud of post-its that we would group, and discuss.


After about an hour and a half of discussing we were able to formulate 3 frictions that we saw as the most evident. Also we tried to choose the frictions that carried the possibility for us to really make an impact with later solutions (for example: we can’t pretend to solve the insustainable fact that people drop and break their phone sometimes). Ultimately we came to these 3 main problems, problems we extracted from 3 weeks of research:

1. People don’t know where to bring their old smartphones for recycling.

2. People aren’t motivated to put an effort into recycling their old smartphones.

3. The most common reasons for people to change their device is because of speed and unreliable battery life.

Finding frictions

Our second sprint, off course, requires a new sprint goal. While discussing this at first, we were already talking about different media we could start developing. The idea to make an interactive map or website about the life cycle, maybe seemed like a good way to present our findings, but the downside to this is that the development might take up a large part of our time. Precious time that we’d much rather use for doing research. With some user research we might be able to define a few problems concerning (in)sustainable behavior of the smartphone user. So our main focus for this sprint will still be towards research, and as a goal we formulated the following: “Uncover three or more frictions/problems related to the behavior of smartphone, that make the cycle of the smartphone less sustainable.”

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A different way to incentivize people to recycle their device

Before being able to really start thinking in solutions, we need a clear defined problem to solve (that doesn’t mean there aren’t already some ideas and solutions floating around though). To analyze behavior, feelings and attitudes of our users we need to start talking to them. This is exactly what we’re going to do via qualitative research methods like a focus group, and at the moment we’re collecting love and breakup letters from people to their smartphone. The last method is meant to make people think about their relationship (literally) with their beloved, or hated, device. Oh, and don’t forget our game, the research tool that is going to help us with mapping our user’s knowledge about the life cycle of the smartphone.

Besides researching we’re doing our best to keep contact with the different teams from Barcelona and Bangalore. We recently spoke to the Barcelona team for the first time. Their way of working is oriented towards finding trends, quite important as well: during our period they will solely focus on researching these trends. This means that they will not deliver a prototype like we will, they will start the development in 2016, when our MediaLab project has already finished. This brings us on a slightly different level, but hopefully we’ll be able to benefit from each others research and prototypes. We also had an extensive chat with Bangalore, and exchanged our sprint goals. This sprint we will both start defining some core problems, since our goals are more aligned it should be interesting to compare our results during the next presentation.


Pitching and Reflecting

“What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to be in 20 weeks?” legitimate questions from our product owner at Cisco. He seemed to like the fact that we had developed an unconventional method to do user research. But he also posed some interesting questions about the future, the importance of having a long term planning became more clear.

Besides the comments Cisco made, the fact that we presented something tangible to the product owner and our peers made it easier for them to give feedback. We got a lot of useful questions because there was an actual product to be presented. We for instance got some useful comments about the actual implementation of our game based research. And the other teams in Bangalore and Barcelona can actually start helping us with the execution of the research, maybe they could even play the same game in their cities to look for differences and similarities in the results.


Focussed while presenting

Our next step is using our game to uncover people’s attitudes and behaviors towards the life cycle of the smartphone. By doing this we will be able to define a clear problem. Unveiling the attitudes of our future users is an essential step before we start designing and building an actual tool. Ideally this tool will be something that can make people aware about the e-waste problematic, but at the same time is capable of making a real impact (for example by helping people to recycle their devices).

Even though we made a nice start, like our product owner mentioned, it’s important to keep our long term goals in sight. If we really want to make an impact, we can’t start early enough with dreaming up big ideas for an end product, this is why we created a shared document to make it easier to bring our concepts for potential end-products together. Here we have the chance to think freely and creatively about the final station of our project.

To make this even more effective we will start upping our communication with the other countries on Spark (the collaboration tool from Cisco we’re using to keep each other posted). Ideate together, and use each others knowledge to move as one team instead of as separate groups presenting our findings to each other at the end of each sprint.

Okay, that was a lot of serious talk. To end with something a bit lighter, enjoy this image of our team flag:

Smart Citizens Flag.png

The Birth of Our Game

From all the personal electronic devices we researched last week, the smartphone – to us – seems the most relevant device of this time. The outcome is backed by data we collected (via a survey), and by extensive online research. The dozens of infographics, papers and statistics we came across online prove that the sales of the smartphones are exploding world wide. To illustrate this claim: in 2020 there’s expected to be 6.5 billion smartphones in the world (and 7.5 billion people). Moreover: the results from our survey revealed something about how valuable the smartphone is to people. From a set of 20 personal electronic devices, our respondents tend to attach the most to their smartphones, and with these results in mind we’ve decided to solely focus on the smartphone during our first sprint.

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Top 7 devices according to our survey results

With documents filled with statistics, the step to the actual development of a game needed to be made, but the point was that all of us have more experience as researchers than as game designers. A game expert was called to the stage to advice us, a meeting that turned out to be both interesting and confronting. We brought up some ideas and suggestions, but they didn’t hit the spot with our expert. To develop a game that can function as a research tool, “you MUST know what kind of data you want to get from it”, he justly noted. Ultimately he gave us a push into the right direction; what do people actually think they know about the product life cycle of the smartphone? The gap between what people think, and what’s the reality, could be our data. Our next step was the format of the game, some kind of Trivial game maybe? Monopoly? The answer laid in an old Dutch game, which turned out to be most easily adaptable for our cause: Pim Pam Pet.


The customized spinning wheel and the questions

At the moment of writing we’re trying to ‘hack’ the spinning wheel, and adapt it to make our own smartphone-themed version. Three days before our presentation at Cisco we’re mostly writing and testing quiz questions, every aspect of the product life cycle will play a role in the final version of the game (from mining the raw materials, to the final stage as e-waste). Lastly: are we managing to reach our first sprint goal? Which is: ” to develop a game as a research tool, to engage people to learn about the product cycle of personal electronics.” To answer that question: lets see if besides educational, the game can be fun and engaging to play as well. In the end, only our users can decide about that, and if not: at least we’ve done some very useful research for our coming sprints.