Design For a Change

First Blog

I never in a million years thought that I would know random facts about Duct tape. For example: Duct tape is made of three layers of material: the top layer is a plastic substance; the middle layer is a mesh made of fabric; the bottom layer is a rubber-based adhesive. But due to the amount of research I’ve done in my new elective Design for Change, I know loads about tape dispensers and design thinking.  


Welcome to my first ever blog! (I know, exciting!) My name is Romi Topf, and I attend the Frankfurt International School. The reason I am making this blog is to share the experiences I’ve had during the new course offered at my school, called Design for Change.

Now, I would like to explain to you how I have tackled the five steps of the design cycle when problem-solving the tape dispenser challenge.

You might ask yourself, what in the world is “the tape dispenser challenge?” Well, here is the problem statement: Mr.Neal (the user) plastic tape-dispensers keep breaking. The solution must be eco-friendly, mobile, stable, and incorporate a purpose for the broken models. So let me take you through the steps that my group and I have faced to solve Mr. Neal’s problem.

Firstly, some background. After getting into groups of three, we picked our group names, (My group chose pRoJectS. I love this name. I think it is super creative and just sounds fancy; when you hear a company called Projects, so many questions pop up. Like what projects, and why are the letters capitalised? The capitalised letters stand for our first names’ initials – Romi, Jesper and Simon. So for obvious reasons, one can understand why I love this name.) Sorry, I just get really excited when explaining our group name.

Once the groups got together we got to interview our user.

After we interviewed Mr. Neal, we came up with the previously stated problem statement and here are some notes I took when interviewing Mr.Neal:

So as you can tell, through the interview I got a pretty in depth understanding of Mr. Neal’s brain. Ignore the information about the price, these do not concern us.

So after interviewing Mr.Neal and really understanding his needs, my team and I went further in the design thinking process. We talked and consulted with each other after finally coming up with a problem statement.

PRoJectS spent very little time in the defining stage of their design cycle. This is part of the reason for our first problem which we will encounter in the later stage of Prototyping. We had our problem statement which we were working off of and started Ideating.

Yay, we came to my favorite stage! Ideating. The three of us sat down at a table, each with a pen in their hand and 50 billion sticky notes next to them. We then just started jotting down ideas. Once you get in the flow of it, the ideas don’t stop. There is no limit to your ideas, and you can be as crazy as you want. I remember both of my Co-Workers struggling with the drawing part of this stage, which lead to a lot of giggles. After having chosen our favorite idea, which was building a mechanism that was hanging of the ceiling. The idea is very complex and hard to explain and doesn’t quite make sense. – SPOILER ALERT – we did not follow through with that idea, but that’s okay! (more to that later…).     

Even though Mr.Neal rejected our original idea, we still entered the prototyping stage with a designer mindset. We were optimistic to solve the problem and were excited to tackle this problem .

Yay, now we get to do some physical designing and start prototyping! First, we did a so called mock prototype. After prototyping our idea with a piece of string, we reintroduced it to the user. This is where the problem starts. Mr.Neal really disliked out idea. He didn’t like the way it had to be connected to the ceiling and how complex it was. So we went with our second idea – recreating a heavier model and make a new flywheel out of recycled laser-cut material. Mr.Neal loved this idea, so we started prototyping towards a solution. It took us three steps to get the final product.

1.Make the design heavier: In order to make the tape dispenser heavier, we wanted to put sand in the bottom of the dispenser. So we used a saw to cut of the bottom. After cutting the bottom of, we collected sand from the playground and inserted it. We glued the tape dispenser shut, and it was definitely heavier! However not heavy enough that it would hold it self, when tearing a piece of tape.

2.Creating friction on the bottom of the tape dispenser so that it could be used

with only one hand. Sadly, we didn’t get the chance to get an old yoga mat in time, so we used neoprene and glued that to the bottom. A problem we encountered here was that when using hot glued it got really messy which our user really disliked.


3.Lastly we had to get a new flywheel. We decided to laser cut 6 circles, 

glue them together and stick a dowel through them. And it worked!




So after assembling all of it together we were ready to step into the TESTING stage, and present it to our user.  

So finally, Mr Neal and PROJECTS got together to talk about the design. Oh boy… Let’s just put it this way, Mr.Neal was not the biggest fan of our design. Don’t get me wrong, he loved the new flywheel, but the rest of the design was too messy and unfinished for our user.

This was the final design:   

Overall, this project really gave me a good understanding of what it is like to be a designer. It showed me how important the design cycle really is.

When I researched Es Devlin in a previous assignment, she talked about how important it is to talk to your user when prototyping so you don’t follow through with an idea they would hate. A designer has to acknowledge the fact that not everyone thinks like her. And I agree with Es Devlin, I think having a close and good relationship with your user is fundamental if you want to achieve the best design.

I hope me writing about one of the projects we have been covering in the class, helps you to get a better appreciation of the class.

I honestly love this class – and I am not just saying this because my teacher is going to read this! The class lets me develop skills for the future that are fundamental. It lets me be creative and lets me learn by doing.  


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *