The Seattle Interactive Conference partnered with Mary’s Place, a shelter and resource center for women, to debut a unique “swarm” design format to tackle the pressing social issue of the day–homelessness in Seattle. Mayor Ed Murray had just declared a “state of emergency” after One Night Count found 3,772 people without shelter in King County last winter, including more than 2,800 in Seattle — a 21 percent increase over 2014. His announcement came a day before the start of the SIC Design Swarm, so the topic of the challenge couldn’t have been more timely.
The Design Swarming approach is a collaborative innovation technique that brings together the empathy of design thinking and agility of hackathons to create disruptive solutions to social and business problems.
“Design Swarms are a way to take on wicked problems by bringing a group together of people who have complimentary skills in design, in technology, in business and to be able to move them through a series of sprints in order to solve this problem using their super-powers,” said Surya Vanka, former Microsoft executive and the creator of design swarms. Representatives from Mary’s Place, including administrators and formerly homeless women, worked alongside the design teams to develop possible solutions. “This represents a shift in what’s [happening] in design, where we go from design for, to design with, to design by people,” added Vanka.
The Swarm featured nine agencies/brands who were invited to participate as three-person teams. The groups had a day to design and present their solutions to a panel of judges. After narrowing down the competitors after the initial presentations, the finalists had one more day to refine their pitch and give a second, more polished proposal. Representatives from the POP agency won the challenge. Communication Leadership students Raven Kelly Smith, Drew Stone and Beijuan Miao participated in the challenge and finished runner-up in the design competition. With support from the event organizers, the winners will have their concept prepared for a crowd funding campaign and will also be assigned advisors from multiple disciplines to help them with business support post-conference.