Breaking Down Barriers: Shads pitch innovative design solutions to some of the living space challenges facing communities in Canada
Designing solutions for the many challenges facing Canada’s living spaces is something that might puzzle many of us; but not the Shads! In just four weeks, they produced some truly innovative and novel solutions for some of the most pressing issues affecting our communities. From bricks made of recycled plastic to transformational picnic tables to apps that help restore independence to the visually impaired, there was no challenge too big or too small for the Shads to tackle to help make Canada’s living spaces more sustainable, accessible, and community focused.
A cornerstone of the Shad program, the design project helps prepare students for a future tackling real world problems using STEAM and Entrepreneurship. The design project generally challenges the Shads to create a prototype of their product solution, develop a business plan, and then present their design through a professional pitch to a panel of judges, including industry experts, in a more formal setting. Last week, the Shads from all 21 campuses had a chance to showcase the 130 different creative solutions they’ve developed to address the community challenges they identified.
“When our group got together, I worried we might have a hard time coming up with ideas for the design challenge,” said Remi, a Shad at the University of Waterloo campus. “But we actually had so many ideas that the hard part was narrowing it down! We spent time talking with program mentors, really thinking about the issues facing communities to identify the ones we thought were important and needed solutions and narrowed down from there.”
Across all campuses, the Shads took full advantage of the expertise available to them, whether that be the industry experts they connected with to learn about the latest in research and technology, the university professors sharing their work in STEAM fields, or the local organizations they visited off campus to explore knowledge at work in the community. The Shads used these learning opportunities to inform their own project designs, which resulted in some impressive problem-solving solutions!
At ShadUWaterloo, one group took the “accessibility” aspect of the design challenge to heart by creating a navigational app that would help the visually impaired better navigate spaces in the community, like grocery stores. They called their product “Re-Vision”, an app that could be installed on a person’s phone that contains maps of local grocery stores that are used to help the visually impaired physically navigate the aisles, as well as a scanner tool that can identify common grocery items to help the individual get what they need.
“It was important for us to think of a solution that was cost effective and could help the most people,” said Darshan , a Re-Vision group member. “Most of the tools available today, like animal and human supports, require a lot of training and have limited availability. Our app can be downloaded on any device and can be used easily by anyone who needs it.”
Some of the Shads at Wilfrid Laurier were inspired by their own real-world experiences, like the group “CommUnity” who designed a platform that helps newcomers to Canada connect with language and cultural supports. The concept was inspired by the experience of a group member who during their pitch recounted how their family “arrived in Vancouver from Hong Kong and had a hard time navigating their new community, even though there is a large Cantonese-speaking population in the city.” The “CommUnity” platform would make the transition easier by giving newcomers access to those who speak their language and share some of their experiences, helping to uphold Canada’s promise of being a welcoming country.
When discussing their design development, another group, Adjust-Table, who developed park tables that use gas cylinder lifts to transform and accommodate any individual regardless of needs or ability, shared how much fun it was to ideate different ways to approach solving a single problem. Designing a business plan and thinking about things like budget weren’t concepts these Shads had ever been asked to consider before and they were amazed at how they were able to build prototypes and a viable business model in such a short time.
“A key motivator for our business plan was accessibility, we didn’t want to be revenue focused. When I was sick, I faced a lot of accessibility challenges, there weren’t many places where I felt my physical needs had been considered. Being challenged to think about these kinds of problems and then have the opportunity to try to solve them was an amazing experience”, said Sepher from Adjust-Table.
At ShadAnywhere, Shad’s digital campus, the students were equally as creative, having been advised to interpret “living spaces” in a way that was meaningful to them. Some interpreted the concept by choosing to address the problem of housing accessibility and affordability, tackling the issue by developing the EcoBrick, a product that reuses plastic waste to manufacture safe and durable building bricks.
Some saw “living spaces” in broader communal terms, choosing to focus on community building projects. The group Cloud 9 inc. created P.E.A.C.E (Plant Emotion And Care Enhancer), a digital tool that works to connect youth with nature through an interactive program that monitors the plant’s health while engaging the individual in horticultural initiatives, like community gardens. They used what they had learned in their Texas Instruments (TI) workshop (and the TI Hub the Shad Anywhere students got to keep!) to develop their prototype.
“Shad really taught us the formula for how to approach problem solving, and what we learned can be applied to so many other aspects of our lives,” says Yug from ShadAnywhere. “I had set some goals coming into the program, and one of them was to improve my creativity. Working with my design team did so much to further that because everyone was so creative! I am able to now use some of the tricks my teammates used moving forward. This experience has really helped me grow.”