Shout-out to my creative students in HCDE 210 for making this for a reflection assignment! (note: this illustration is not my work)

Organizational teamwork: Collaborating with the next generation of design practitioners

I’m always focused on putting people first — this might seem obvious because I’m studying Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE), which is exactly what the name suggests: our department focus on creative intuitive experiences using technology and other interfaces, and everything we do is informed by the needs, values, and expectations of the people who will use our products! Now, all engineering should be human-centered, but the fact that we put it in our name is a testament to our dedication to the subject.

Now, think about what happens when you put 30 HCDE students in the room to learn about organizational teamwork: since I’m not a fan of jargon, let me break this down in terms that make the most sense to me: we’re striving to work together better and leverage the strengths of every individual.

Throughout the class, I ask myself a central question:

How do create psychological safety for individuals and ensure that everyone has a chance to thrive?

As a leader, I’m always trying to advocate for the strengths of my team, and everyone in HCDE is on the same page. We leverage each other’s strengths and ensure that everyone’s voices and perspective are included, whether we have the language to describe what they’re doing or not. I’m proud to say that HCDE is one of the most diverse engineering majors, so we all always bring diversity of perspective when solving problems, which can come through someone’s strong background in visual communication, experience living abroad, or identity as a person of color. I’m so lucky to work with such a diverse group of individuals. As one of my teachers said in class, I’m excited to see an industry where we are the leaders.

With that being said, here are my top takeaways from the class.

1. Set norms and stick to them: During one class, we had an open and honest conversation about how we wanted to create a classroom culture where everyone has the space to contribute their ideas. Our class is already pretty good at encouraging collaboration (perhaps this is the nature of the HCDE program), but I’m glad that we codified the norms for our classroom. By naming our values, we all have explicit expectations of each other that we can hold people accountable for.

2. When it comes to brainstorming, focus on being generative: As engineers in training, we can be quick to limit our thinking based on potential design constraints; however, being a course assistant for an introductory user-centered design class reminds me that it’s OK to bring a lot of ideas to the table and then identify the most promising one! I noticed that when we all shared ideas, even the wild ones, we were able to identify the parts we liked to come up with a more creative composite idea.

3. Diversity of perspective is crucial for good problem-solving: Everyone comes to the table with their own disciplinary strengths and experiences with tools, and an effective group dynamic will leverage all of these strengths when creating a quality final product. This starts with respect for other people’s ideas, so it’s always vital to create space for everyone to feel like their perspective is valued.

4. It’s important to tell a compelling story: During one of our class activities, we had a mini start-up weekend where we had to identify a problem and user group, come up with a concept, and make a low fidelity prototype in less than two hours. The most important part of this process was presenting our ideas to the “judges” who were faculty and staff in the HCDE department. As our reading on Redesigning Leadership states, “Telling a good story isn’t a quantitative skill, but it is a skill that requires intuition.” I found that the most compelling groups had a clear impact statement about who would use their product and how it would solve a current societal need.

Ultimately, I’m lucky to be in a department with norms of respect, empathy, and interdisciplinary collaboration. I’m glad that other students have supported me in my journey to self-identify and perspective and encourage me to participate because they value my experiences as a writer, tutor, and journalist. Through this class, I’ve realized that I value demonstrated diversity and inclusion efforts, genuine words and feedback, the feeling of being empowered to empower others, & doing what I love every day — and the best teams will give me the space to bring my authentic self to school and work.

Writer at Microsoft | Human Centered Design and Engineering Alumna | Lifting as I climb | www.aleenahansari.com