Interaction 2019, Seattle

In February 2019, the Open Design team ran a second Design Jam as part of IxDA’s Interaction Week in Seattle, USA. At this event we tackled issues around the impacts of intense rain and flooding in Seattle, a school trip gone wrong, and the flooding of a nearby wastewater treatment plant.

An article about the results of the event was posted to the Ushahidi blog and the call for entries and goals for the event is available online.

The Design workshop structure

The Jam day started out with building teams, defining the OSS tool ‘TenFour’, it’s history, what it does and how to access resources and who to ask questions about the process of building prototypes and designs for the tool.

Nathanial Manning was present to give the background history on TenFour and the current product build focus and product planning.

The workshop took place while an unusual snowstorm shut down airports, public transit and individual traffic in the Seattle area. While the coincidence didn’t help conference attendees in getting from A to B that very day, and had quite some impact on Interaction Week as such, some locals and local media described the weather scenario as an actual crisis.

The attendees then went through several discovery exercises including Empathy Mapping, Defining the problems, Ideation, Story-boarding and then Prototyping and then presenting the results back to the attendees.

Briefs & Scenarios

Water Treatment Plant in Shilsholebay

West point is a Seattle based waste water treatment plant with over 121 employees that work across the various functions in the plant. 

Since the 2017 early hours flooding, the management team has increased effort on communication when heavy rains are near.

TenFour is a pre-installed app on the company phones. Employees use their own phones, but all employees know about and were trained on the app and luckily it was not needed in 2017.  

Who’s taking part: 

Maria, a 32 year old performance manager who has worked there for 4 years. She is the good soul of the team.

Stuart, a 25 year-old technician intern who just recently joined the plant. Stuart is rather shy and introverted.

Jeff, a 34-year old sampling technician, who is the company’s expert for water quality.

Eireni, a 36-year-old technical engineer who’s been at the plant for over 10 years. She knows the layout of the plant very well.

Ali, a 46-year old General Operative and pump engineer. Ali is HIV positive and has a weakened immune system.

Kurtis is a 65 year old security guard that finishes their 8 hour shift at 13.30.

What is happening: 

A typical day at the plant has started early. The plant is staffed 24 hours a day for security reasons.

Moderate rain was forecasted for today and the plant was prepared for it. Around 8am the rain began to fall heavier than forecasted and expected. The rain continues to fall increasingly heavier…

It’s early in the afternoon already. With increasing nervousness, the engineers/technicians go about their checking of machinery in pairs. Ali, who is monitoring from a central computer gets up as he sees water drops coming from the ceiling and is alarmed when he starts observing dangerous water levels in the treatment tanks. The whole team decides to check with the other colleagues in the building and to leave to arrive home safely. 

But when they open up the door to the hallway, they can see that there is already water running down the stairs and some of the lights have come down with water running over them. They can already smell electrical faults and the light start flickering. Will it be safe to step into the water with all these cables hanging down?

Maria worries about her colleague Kurtis who was doing a final patrol before finishing his shift and handing over to another staff member Pete. Is he safe? She decides to try to locate Kurtis.

Stuart and Jeff are preoccupied with containment protocols and reporting to be aware of their immediate surroundings.

They really need to get out of here, no matter what…But how can they make sure that everybody gets out safely and on time?

University of Washington: Student trip to Oso

The Geography department of UWS has taken 35 1st year university students and 4 faculty members out to the area of Oso to investigate the environment for an assignment. There is a staff member based in the central University campus as a HQ contact.

Since the mudslides of 2014 the faculty members are careful to avoid previous areas of high-danger and there route has been planned.

TenFour is installed app on the faculty’s phones but maybe not all the students. All faculty know and were trained on the app and safety protocol.

Students are less aware…as are their families back home…

Who’s taking part: 

4 faculty members including:

Ajara, who’s had family emergency texts throughout the day and is distracted.

Freya, Who lost distant relative in the 2014 Oso mudslides.

35 students including:

Ishra, who doesn’t feel comfortable to walk long distances, but is too shy to tell anyone.

Tom, who’s long-term boyfriend is currently on a one week business-trip in Rome.

Cleo, who is trained in first aid and emergency response who does regular recreational climbing.

Jason, who is bold and a little fool hardy. Wants to explore the area more than is safe.

What is happening: 

The faculty and students are together in a safe but remote location in Oso on the edge of the warning zone from 2014. They are preparing for a day of collecting samples and recoding data and have heavy backpacks, waterproofs and boots on.

Around 09.30 Ajara receives the first middle severe weather alert by text, where the region would only mildly get influenced by the outer skirts of a thunderstorm hitting the region during late afternoon. They’re prepared with water proofed equipment and have a pre-approved route. But two hours later it a cloudburst arrives and Ajara receives another alert stating that the severity of the heavy rainfall unexpectedly changed so they might end up closer to the center of the event than expected.

They’re preparing to find a way to end their study trip, while it starts raining more and more severely. The water starts collecting rapidly in basins. Half an hour and suddenly Cleo states that they are losing visibility in the storm downpour and suggests signalling for help.

One can sense the tension in the group, although everybody tries to remain calm. But suddenly Tom notices that Jason, along with 3 of their fellow students are not in the larger group. They start calling out and panicking trying to use their devices but the signal has become patchy in the location.

What are the key challenges and questions they’re facing? In addition the team in the main campus in central Seattle want to know if the field trip is safe.

They all have their smartphones with them and the TenFour-App installed. What would you do and how could the app help in order to get out out of that situation and make sure everyone gets back to safety?

Seattle Software AG: Roads of Seattle

Seattle Software AG is a Seattle based software company with 400 employees that develops IT solutions for a mobile and interconnected world. As communication is crucial for their business, all employees receive a smart phone when entering  the company.

Some of the staff members live outside of central Seattle in the areas of Duvall, Snoqualmie and nearby areas. The company is not sure how many are in those areas and staff regularly visit clients outside central Seattle.

TenFour is a pre-installed app on the company phones but not on their personal phones. The reception has been mixed to use the app…

Who’s taking part: 

Hector, a 36-year-old designer who used to work as a voluntary firefighter in his twenties.

Ben, a 24-year-old trainee who has just started at the company. Ben is rather shy and introvert.

Eden, a 40-year old project manager, who likes to always have an overview about things going on.

Max, a 16-year-old, who is just visiting Seattle Software AG as High school intern. He has no company phone. Travelling with Eden.

Jean is a 78 year old woman who lives in a retirement home in Duvall and just finished an interview with Hector, Eden and Max.

Clint is the office manager and arrived in the main central office before 6am. An early bird.

What is happening: 

Hector, Eden and Max are on their way back from a user interview with a community in Duvall looking at improving government services with the Elderly and have just started driving back to the central office. 

It has been raining quite heavily, so they’re trying to get back as fast as possible. After 10 mins of driving in low visibility they start driving through larger pools of water. 

But travel time should be a 1/2 hour only, anyway – so they keep going with their review about the specific client situation when they suddenly notice that there are cars stopped by the side of the roads. There’s no information available, so they just carry on driving for a bit.

Max is using his phone in the backseat and nobody checked whether he has a seatbelt on.

Eden and Hector are starting to worry about the retirement home and also whether they will get back home let alone the central office! Who is going to notify Max’s parents?

Eden tries to check the situation, but they can’t find any advice online. 

Clint is noticing that the team are close to arriving but haven’t heard from them since this morning and is worried about the weather.

What are the key challenges and questions they’re facing?

All of the team members have the App Tenfour installed, but barely use it. 

How could the App help them get out of the situation safely? 

What about the retirement home?


All the information and scenarios included in these slides have been complied and inspired from research and resources online. 

We can not vouch for the accuracy and factual information of the sources. They offer us, as non-native Seattle folk, a guide of how the infrastructure of Seattle operates in heavy rain, storm and mudslide events.

We ask that the attendees offer up additional information and facts around these scenarios to inform their work.

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