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A Culture of Care >> Read Smith’s plans for the fall 2021 semester.

Introducing the Drone Thinking Initiative

Group designing a drone prototype

IDP 316 [Critical] Design Thinking Studio | Portfolio by Alex Widstrand | 2016


Team CAZAM – Cherry, Amanda, Zoe, Alex, and Matt – and our client, Jon Caris, set out to bring greater awareness and safety to the flying of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also known as drones) at Smith.

Many people have a knee-jerk fear of drones, largely built up by negative media coverage.  But when piloted safely, they can open up opportunities for research and art. Our Deep Dive’s goal is to increase understanding of UAVs and encourage widespread conversation, implemented with awareness and respect of the pre-existing concerns on campus.

We prototyped both physical and social solutions to the problem Jon brought to us. We proceeded from a “soft drone” covered in fake fur, to a miniature drone dome to shield propellers, to a J-term class, to finally a website serving as an online UAV information hub. Our final prototype was all the more robust for the different angles we took to address the problem.

Jon, the client, showing Matt some features of the drone

Our client, Jon, showing Matt some features of the UAV.


How did our teamwork work out?

Matt felt as if he fell into his role as the “love doctor” fairly well. Although he was not present for a large portion of the project due to sickness and being located at a distance from campus, he was able to check in with the group and dissolve tension at a few key moments. At one moment in particular, when the group was stressed over approaching deadlines, Matt was able to get Amanda to talk about how she felt individuals differed in their levels of input and availability levels. One thing that he wished that he did more was check in with everyone individually rather than as a group and talk about how they felt in general.

Zoe learned how to go with the flow in this group, something she’s previously struggled with. She would have liked to have found a better balance between facilitating others’ plans and directly contributing- she may have sometimes gotten too far away from being controlling- but, overall, she’s glad that she could be a helpful pair of hands in the execution of the team’s ideas. One moment she’s proud of: when the group was deciding between prototyping the tiny drone dome and a larger structure, everyone but Matt was pro-dome, and we almost moved ahead then. But Zoe helped the group pause and make sure that we were united in our reasoning and that Matt had something to be enthusiastic about in his second choice. In her assigned role (mildly criticizing everything), her personality helped her perform admirably. She’s very grateful for the shared level of dedication to the project and the open communication throughout the group, and for the experience of ideating and creating with her supportive teammates.

While it went against every strand of her code, by the end of the project Amanda was learning how to let others lead while still staying present in the group. Even though she wished that she learned a bit more about the components of making a movie, she felt that she improved in the listening department since Deep Dive 2. As for the group, Amanda thinks that the team grew closer each day and that they became more and more comfortable with the rapid design cycle as time went on. She also believes that the team did well with recognizing failure and moving on: instead of focusing on the technicalities of a prototype (ie. the drone dome couldn’t actually attach to the drone) the group would look at the overall main ideas of a prototype and try to incorporate them into their next design process. The group challenged Amanda to let go a little more and to think about designs in different ways. While each person in the group had an entirely different personality, the team used our different backgrounds to grow and expand our ideas rather than to divide us into cliques – something Amanda is proud to be a part of.

Cherry is proud of the progress the group has made in short amount of time, though she hoped that she could have made more contributions beyond bringing in more insights through extensive research, and taking photos and notes. Though she had the role of mediator and assistant, she learned more from her teammates: how to efficiently communicate with and interview users and clients from Amanda, how to clearly structure a story and express ideas (both verbally and visually) from Zoe, how and where to find relevant information from Alex, and how to keep the group energized from Matt. Cherry will keep following up on the topic of drone usage and perception after graduation, as this project has not only led her into the world of drone film, but also enabled her to see the swelling popularity of drones in her hometown in southeast China, where the toyification and lowered entry standard caused by DJI makes drones more accessible to the public but also creates more safety concerns.

Alex felt that, although the team initially had some difficulty building up momentum on the project, meetings were generally quite productive and successful. Making use of the timers in Capen Annex made for especially fruitful meetings, when the time was broken up into short increments with clear objectives. A few reminders here and there kept the team on track to prototype in a timely manner, while still respecting everyone’s need to get other work done at the same time. No time was wasted in getting the portfolio started; the document was created on the day the project officially began, with the team well aware of how much easier it would be to write it, bit by bit, as a joint effort along the way. And during the final crunch time for pulling the video together, the whole team did a fantastic job of “dividing and conquering” and delegating amongst ourselves to get everything done. Matt and Alex went to capture the final video footage, while Cherry, Amanda, and Zoe furthered the script, and once it was time to record the voiceover, Matt, Alex, and Cherry set out to the CMP, while Zoe and Amanda focused on pulling more of the visuals together. All things considered, we stuck to our POVs and generated a final prototype and a video that the whole team was proud of – right on time.