To design a future of greater diversity in technology and design, we must keep today’s girls on the path toward those fields. In the face of a growing gender gap, we asked: What part can design play?
We partnered with Girls Who Code to lead a group of high schoolers through Think by Making, putting design thinking and rapid prototyping to work. In the day-long workshop, the girls used physical computing, storytelling, and digital art to create four interactive Art.Bots to showcase at Maker Faire Austin. Then, we challenged Austin’s creative community to get involved, and together raised $10,000 to support Girls Who Code in their mission.
Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology by providing free education and resources for girls to embrace careers in computer science.
Maker Faire is a global festival of invention and DIY creativity, showcasing exhibits at the intersection of science, art, technology, and design.
In the spirit of Maker Faire, we asked participants to use a sensory microcontroller, foam core, and ingenuity to bring a creature to life through physical computing. With physical computing -- a blend of digital and physical modes in which the technology can hear, touch and sense the physical environment -- participants went beyond typical computer science classes to craft an interactive experience that brings programming to life in a sensory way.
Approaching computer science from a design perspective requires empathy and intuition. The girls tapped into these talents to build design briefs documenting what they would build, why, and for whom. Each team delivered different results, and participants discovered that many approaches can lead to “right” answers.
We geeked out on numbers together: how computers handle numbers, how to translate a desired outcome into logical instructions, converting binary to decimal data for a more flexible interaction. The girls combined design thinking with algorithmic thinking to program their Art.Bots to respond to touch, and they experienced the process of making an imagined innovation real through code and design.
The girls dove into the art of storytelling to give their Art.Bots history and personality, expressed through design decisions like voice, accent, texture, and color.
Through logic mapping, whiteboarding, sketching diagrams, and testing the interaction experience using a designer’s best friend, sticky notes, the girls scripted their creatures’ behaviors.. After a series of trials and reconfigurations, the Art.Bots were ready to be fabricated.
Wielding soldering irons, drills, scissors, and glue, our girls made their designs real. They recorded sounds with text-to-speech apps, found sounds, and their own voices. Then they assembled, tested, and adorned the Art.Bots, learning all about the product fabrication and manufacturing process along the way. Finally it was time for their big debut at Maker Faire Austin, where hundreds of festival attendees would interact with them.
We packed up the Art.Bots and headed to Maker Faire Austin where we showcased the girls’ work and saw the young women confidently explain the form and functionality of their Art.Bots to the public. They joined hundreds of makers on the showroom floor and met like-minded peers with interests ranging from drone racing to stop-motion animation to mixing homemade nail polish.
At our annual Maker Faire after-hours soiree, we showed off the Art.Bots and highlighted the cause of closing the gender gap in technology. Working together, Austin’s creative community raised $10,000 to aid Girls Who Code in expanding the program to new communities, training instructors, providing students with educational robots, and more.