IConference 2013 Design Jam Session


Michael Twidale, Ingbert Schmidt, Jeff Ginger, Peter Organisciak, Brittany Smith, University of Illinois

Christopher Lueg, University of Tasmania


Through a live demonstration, we will showcase a particular group of focused design techniques known collectively as a Design Jam. Activities that fit this broad definition are sometimes also called charettes, sprints, hackfests and barcamps. Design jams are about looking at a particular design challenge and thinking-by-doing. Although they often have a component of brainstorming, they involve additional activities, including paper prototyping, and storytelling with personas and scenarios.

We want to show the power of thinking-by-doing-design as a technique that we believe has great potential in an iSchool setting, even with people who are unfamiliar with it. We are building on the success of the Design Jam alternative event offered at the 2011 iConference. We have reflected on the comments and reactions of participants and propose this version, which is a slight modification of the previous one.

Intended Audience

There are 2 groups:

·       Those who teach or plan to teach design in iSchools

·       Those who are unfamiliar with the approach, curious, but perhaps find it all rather alien as a way of thinking, and are rather skeptical of what its proponents claim for it, and want to see it working in action.

Proposed activities

Invitation to Participate

We will create and publicize an invitation to participate. This will be a website describing the idea of the session, some design challenges, and giving an opportunity for people to indicate their intention to participate. New themes for this year include designing for privacy management: ways to make it easier for people to understand what they are sharing, with whom and what the consequences are..

Explanation for Observers

We will create a flyer to hand out to people arriving to the event after it has begun so they can understand what the design teams are doing, and encouraging them to observe the process.

Design Jam as Public Spectacle

For the first hour of the event, participants will be in teams working on one of a number of different design challenges. The aim is not so much to have a competition, but to playfully explore design spaces and see how far it is possible to get in a short period of time. Other attendees will be welcomed to come and watch the design activities as they unfold. A number of interpreters (see below) will be on hand to explain the design process to those unfamiliar with the idea of a design jam.

Presentation of Results

Teams will show what they produced; briefly noting what was unexpectedly easy & fast or slow & difficult. 


The rest of the event will be a plenary discussion of Design Jams and similar approaches in iSchool settings, with a focus on teaching design skills and design thinking. Possible topics are:

·       How to get started with design jams?

·       Variants to the design jam idea?

·       What makes a good design challenge?

·       How can design jams go wrong and how can you address that?

·       How to nurture a maker culture in an iSchool?

·       How to fold iterative prototyping into community informatics / bioinformatics / IR?

·       How iterated design jam experiences can build up both skills and concepts.

We invite participants to share their experiences (positive and negative) of using various design activities in teaching.  We find that having had an experience of participating in a design jam prior to a discussion, all participants have a ready to hand set of examples to explore issues of pedagogy, approach, relevance and concern. It means that those who are unfamiliar with the idea of design jams can participate actively, by sharing their first impressions.


We will add to the pre-conference website to share readings, design challenges, pedagogies and resources.

Facilitation and Interpretation

We have a number of co-organizers and colleagues who plan to attend and will serve as facilitators to design teams. The organizer will explain what is going on to observers, people arriving late and those unused to design jams, design thinking or design at all.

Relevance to the Conference/Significance to the Field

We believe that user centred design involving different kinds of participatory inclusion have a natural home in iSchools, in research, teaching and service.

Although there is some design work in iSchools, we believe that there is a potential to be much more.

The multidisciplinary setting of iSchools, and the focus on the interactions between people, information and technology create a great opportunity to design better information systems that people can use more effectively to meet their needs. Drawing on the webpage description of the purpose of the iConference, we think that this is a classic case of an opportunity to advance the boundaries of information studies.

Design Jams also have the potential to help multidisciplinary teams to share ideas and insights. A more technological focus on using computational tools can limit the comfort of those who do not think of themselves as techy, while a more analytic conceptual analysis of a problem can alienate those who lack familiarity with the frameworks and terminology deployed. Both of these approaches can lose people through the various layers of abstraction they necessarily deploy. However many people feel comfortable grabbing a crayon and drawing ideas of what they would like the application to do, and then sharing that with others to work towards an interesting set of iterations.