Designing for Humans — A CDM Project

The Centre for Digital Media (CDM) was created by a collective of four academic institutions found in BC: University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia Institute of Technology and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. CDM, located in East Vancouver, offers up a graduate program, game studios, art galleries and start-up spaces. Thinkingbox’s tie to CDM? Our very own Christine Clark, Managing Director in Toronto, is a CDM alumni!

A big portion of a CDM student’s curriculum is project-based. One of these projects is assigned during two of their three working semesters, accounts for 75% of their workload (wow) and gives them the opportunity to work for a real client. This year, Thinkingbox applied and was accepted as a client for this project. We couldn’t wait to start working with the students on research and development.

The Project

We set out to challenge the students and also wanted them to have as true to life of an experience as possible. This meant taking them through what would typically be an entire project lifecycle at Thinkingbox — from ideation to pitch to execution. This would give them insight into how things typically work in our shop and our industry, but also give us a chance to reflect on the process and our methods.

The Brief

We wanted to present a brief that was broad enough so the students wouldn’t be held back, but specific enough so the thinking would be relevant to our field. In the end, the brief looked something like this:

“Create an interactive installation for the automotive, entertainment or industry of your choice. The installation must include new technology or new use of existing technology.”

The Pitch

After we briefed the students, it was time for them to embark on the creative process of ideation. We wanted them to throw everything at the wall with a “there’s no right or wrong idea” attitude. This process took place over four weeks as the students researched and worked together to come up with a whopping 60 ideas. To say we were impressed is an understatement.

From those 60 ideas, they narrowed the field to 14, which they presented to us. All of their ideas were very fresh and professional. It was not an easy feat, but we managed to narrow it down further to three concepts. Once that was communicated, the students moved forwards and worked out an execution plan for each option. From there, we chose the strongest idea for their project. This option stood out from the rest because of the intricate technology needed, but also because we hadn’t seen or heard of anything like it before.

The Prototype

The winning pitch, found below, was what we chose for the students to bring to life.

Create an experience for people to play with building blocks and build their own city, but also make a virtual version and link it up to what’s happening in real time.

The students’ first goal was to discover the perfect technology that would transfer block building in reality to a virtual space. Their initial thought was to use AR software for this, but unfortunately the top two systems were only capable of tracking five objects at a time. Needless to say, they weren’t enthused about creating a five-building city, so they kept looking for alternatives. After further research, they settled on using touchscreens and touchpoints, which allowed players to place blocks on a screen and have a 3D model of a building appear on-screen.

They soon found that there was another hurdle to overcome. The students realized that when people were in front of a screen, they somehow stopped interacting with the blocks. To target where people weren’t connecting with the task, they had to test where participants started to hesitate and look for further instructions. The students were able to find where people were getting hung up and in the process learned that designing for humans always needs to be top of mind.

The Results

As with any project, you don’t realize how many elements need to align for a successful result and can’t predict the twists and turns until you’re fully immersed in it.

The CDM students explained that the project “required a lot of testing, a lot of prototypes and a lot of pivots. In essence, it was the perfect project to apply what we had learned through the program. But, more than that, it taught us about the human experience. It gave us a peek behind the curtain into how people think and how technology can so fundamentally affect us. It taught us how to build for humans instead of searching for the next big technical achievement.”

The students were able to navigate through challenges and reach a final product that they should be incredibly proud of. The way they went about building this project was innovative and their thinking can certainly be used in the future through multiple avenues. We learned a lot from them during this process and hope to be involved with CDM in the future.

We’d like to acknowledge all of the hardworking students of Team Spark and their faculty advisor.

Annie Shen
Basel Alnashashibi
Emma Konrad
Mika Chang
Pranay Jain
Silver Xu
Stephanie Wu
Yangos Hadijiyannis (faculty advisor)

To read more about their project, visit Building Human Experience.

To find out more about CDM, visit



Thinkingbox is a global creative collective shaping the future of brands through craft and curiosity.

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Thinkingbox is a global creative collective shaping the future of brands through craft and curiosity.