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Design Thinking : From an Air Car to a Great Wash!

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

At Sunnyside, we are biased towards real experiences. So, when it comes to science, it is more of ‘Hands on Science’. Children design and build stuff, experiment with concepts, observe and question the concepts behind it thereby developing a sense of intuition towards scientific fundamentals before drilling down into theories.

What started as a challenge to launch balloon rockets to reach a high ceiling, bloomed into series of activities that we named as the ‘Design and Build’ series. Seriously, we had no clue that balloon rockets were going to lead us into a series of activities. Kids were simply trying to get their balloons go straight up and hit the ceiling. Sounds easy right? But as they began pumping air and launching the balloon, they realised that there are quite a few things at play. The small balloons were going up but not all the way up – they said more air is needed to propel. But the big fat balloon had lot more air but it seems to be going in all directions. They could not direct it towards the ceiling. Finally, a thin long balloon did the magic. It not only hit the ceiling, but brought Newton and his laws to Sunnyside.

The next few weeks, kids began building many things that would take them into the world of physics. An Air Car – simple car that they were trying to propel with a balloon, a Marble Run with a twist – Building a marble run that takes the longest time to reach the destination, a catapult using a spoon, marker, and rubber band and a Newton’s Cradle using marbles. Building stuff is fun and kids were super excited and jumped right into building them. After all, these are all kids stuff and they were confident that it would be a child’s play. Of course, it was, but for the failures they encountered. Few Air Cars did not run and one went sideways. Marbles were flying rather than running. Newton’s Cradles were more of Newton’s Swings. But that didn’t stop them. After many trials and errors, one team got it. And the next and the next. In the process, kids become teachers and collaborators. They went through a roller-coaster of emotions before having their Eureka moment.

With all these activities, concepts like inertia, momentum, acceleration, force, friction and Newton’s Laws entered into their lingo. Kinetic energy and Potential energy is something they keep seeing everywhere. All through these activities, we were trying to scaffold them on design and build processes. But the excitement of building any day overtakes the design. All the challenges, failures, and frustrations taught them the importance of design but it hasn’t become important in their minds yet. So, when an opportunity showed up to interact with a designer who is currently working on designing a washing machine for India, we latched on it. Vaishnavi, who is the industrial designer working on the product was equally enthusiastic to engage and share her work.

After brief chit chat on how they do their laundry at home and more importantly why do they do laundry in first place, the conversation went into what the kids would expect from a good washing machine. When Vaishnavi shared that she started her work actually by speaking to people and finding about how they use their machines and the problems they face, kids got curious and shared the problems they faced at home as well. Vaishnavi then proceeded to explain that design starts with clearly identified problems and a kid shot back saying that when she was designing the Marble Run, there was no real problem!

Vaishnavi explained different aspects of design – utility, ease of use, safety, efficiency etc. By now kids had wrapped their head around design much more than aesthetics and the questions changed. They started talking about vibration and shaking, top load vs front load and which one is better (front load it seems), right way to load and habitual overloading in Indian households – ideas to prevent overloading etc. From the design considerations, kids took a deep dive into the washing process and what determines wash quality. When Vaishnavi explained the role of drum design, they all related to all designs in their own machines. They understood it is not designed for good looks but for a good wash. Of course, the role of friction caught their attention. Vishnavi explained the role of centrifugal force and we had small demo to see in action.

Numerous questions on drum, motor, water usage and materials used etc, made Vishnavi decide it is better to show them the product prototype and got the engineers involved. When kids saw the drum being suspended with couple of springs, it opened up discussion around spring design, damping vibration, etc. They were curious that what would happen if the weight increased due to overload. Would the spring snap? Would it elongate? Mustafa, an Engineer working in the team explained about Factor of Safety and how many products around us are designed to withstand overload. MTC buses and two wheeler carrying more than two people etc got analysed. Another engineer on the team, Avahan, also showed how they use CAD to design and simulate loading conditions, how they identify Point of Failures and incorporate changes to minimise the failure points.

Every part of the machine from concrete weights to motors, soap dispenser to controllers, insulation to body panels lead to a very lively conversation. Plastic vs steel, material selection and the role of cost and environmental impact etc were discussed. Not to forget the discussion around motor, direct drive vs gears, cost vs efficiency, it was really fun and engaging.

In the end, the designer and young engineers kept highlighting one vital point- design is also about tradeoffs. You can get what you want as long as you know what is the tradeoff!

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