Engineering For Humanity:
The Digital Wall Calendar
Engineering for Humanity (E4H) is a class that pairs student groups with older adults from the nearby community (community partners) to engage in a codesign process that directly benefits these older adults. The class began by encouraging the students to go interact with the stakeholders in their own homes or environments to get to know them on a personal level. We then formed teams of three to four students and began to meet with our community partners regularly to become aware of potential project areas.
Throughout the semester, I worked on a team with another Olin student and a Babson student to design a product for and with our community partner, Judy (pseudonym used for anonymity). Early on, we learned that Judy was passionate about remaining engaged in her community, but she sometimes struggled to keep track of all of her events. She kept a physical calendar on the side of her fridge that was particularly special to her, as it featured her daughter's artwork. However, this calendar was often at odds with her iPhone's calendar, which she updated more frequently while away from home.
The main goal for our project quickly became finding a way to make it easier for Judy to keep track of her appointments. We realized that there had to be a way to combine the aesthetics of her daughter's physical calendar with the technology she was trying so eagerly to adopt.
Judy made it clear to us that she was very open to trying out new technologies and wanted to try a digital solution. Our first prototype was a simple computer monitor powered by a Raspberry Pi computer that could display her Google Calendar as it automatically synced with her iPhone calendar. Her daughter's artwork would serve as the screensaver. Judy quickly told us that while it was a good thought, she liked to be able to view the art while she was looking at her appointments. She also didn't like the idea of having to load in new pictures each time she got a new calendar. We also realized the importance of the calendar remaining in the same location as the old one—on the side of her refrigerator.
We realized that we could build a large frame for the monitor that could also accommodate her daughter's physical calendar. We added industrial fabric straps that would allow the calendar to reach over the top of her fridge and hang the calendar from the side. Judy mentioned that she was a big fan of functionality and aesthetics combining, and when we noticed that she had lots of wooden furniture in her home, cork board became an obvious choice. The cork would allow her to post notes and reminders on the side of the calendar as well. For one final personal touch, we made the calendar's screensaver a slideshow of Judy's favorite photos that could always be running in the background.
Our final product was very well-received, and Judy continues to use it in her home. This class was one of my favorites that I have taken at Olin, because it made me feel like I was actually making a positive difference in someone's life. Engineering for Humanity reinforced in me that I wanted my future engineering career to be about making a difference in the world by working with and for the users.