Students Sick of The SFO Design Challenge

By Jeffrey Bernstein

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Freshmen endure another SFO design challenge. Photo by Jeffrey Bernstein

Every year, at least one of Design Tech’s design lab classes goes to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for one of their challenges. Generally, the first year design lab classes  go to the airport as one of their first off-campus classes to “use design thinking in the real world”. Even though this trip has been done for three consecutive years, is it really the best use of the students time?

The most recent design lab trip to SFO was with the “Teach for d.tech” and “Bridging The Gap” classes, which combined first year and third year design lab classes, in an effort to redesign both the first year design lab experience and the fourth year design lab experience. Within this class there were four groups: one was the SFO Baggage Claim design challenge. According to freshman, Aya O’Malley, one of the students in the class, “[I] learned how we were able to see how people felt about the airport baggage claim, because some people liked it and others didn’t, so it was fun it iterate on it [our prototype]. O’Malley also said she felt more “empathetic” from the interviewing tasks.

Other people did not enjoy it as much. According to freshman, Anna Zigmond-Ramm, “I don’t think it would be good to do it again, because there are better ways to learn about design thinking”. According to freshman, Pachie Ackerman, “I got a little bit out of it. I would rank it a 3.5 or 4 out of 10.” However, Ackerman did say that “[I] learned how to apply design thinking to real problem instead of abstract problems” and “learned to collaborate with others.”  

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Empathy work at baggage claim. Photo by Jeffrey Bernstein

One of the main reasons this trip has been done multiple times, is because it is somewhat near the school. Somewhat, because although SFO is only about 1.5 miles away from d.tech as the crow flies, to get actually there, you must walk to the BART station, then take a train past the airport to San Bruno, then change trains at that station to take a train back to get to the airport. Once you are there, you are only in the parking garage. In order to get to the terminals, you must take the AirTrain. After you do your work at the airport you have to do the whole route again in reverse to get back to school. At the end of the day, it takes an hour and 6 trains to go to the airport and back. It also costs $8.80 round trip for each person that goes since BART cuts off the youth age limit at 12.

According to junior, Samantha Rhodes, who went to SFO with the space redesign challenge during her freshman year, “The only part I remember, is the walk to the BART station”. Is it really worth all of that work, if people forget about all of the work they do?

Junior, Lauren Smith, claims that, “I don’t think it is a useful challenge, because [the airport has] been set in its ways for so many years, it is hard to change anything”. Similarly, because of the lack of the ability to implement most prototypes, students such as freshman Chloe Duong, feel that they “don’t learning anything.” Since there is not a lasting impact from these challenges, students echo junior, Lauren Luk, when she says that they: “don’t remember anything from that challenge.” Clearly, for many, the challenge is forgettable,  and should be changed for future years.

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