Crashing the conference

How do you find willing participants for a design workshop to develop a mobile application for people who stammer? You crash their national conference, of course.

While putting the user at the centre of the design process is a great way to ensure that the end product will actually be something which interests them, this becomes a whole lot more difficult when willing participants can’t be found. Undertaking design workshops with people who stammer can be tricky if people do not want to contribute.

The nature of stammering is such that many people do not wish to disclose or discuss their stammer. Stammering is characterised by dysfluencies in speech, alongside possible secondary behaviours such as facial grimacing and social avoidance. Our attempts to find participants within Newcastle yielded only a few names. However, when the British Stammering Association (BSA) heard of our search, they offered us the opportunity to attend their national conference being held in Manchester in early September.

The BSA is the national charity for people who stammer in the UK, advocating for and raising awareness of stammering. Every two years the BSA hold their national conference, bringing the stammering community together from across the country (and beyond). While research and therapy also features, the primary attendees of these events are people who stammer themselves, ready to socialise, share their experiences and learn from their peers.

And, with a conference full of people who stammer who are willing to engage in discussions related to their stammer, what better place to find participants for our design workshop?

Working the workshop

We piloted our workshop in Newcastle with two participants and received their feedback on the activities with the view to adapting them to suit a potentially larger group in Manchester. Then we took the show on the road and secured a room for the Friday evening of the conference. Despite being a late addition to the programme, our event was added to the official schedule, advertised as the first workshop of the conference, and we were given a whole lecture theatre to run it in. We had 15 participants across three tables who were asked to complete discussion-generating tasks, before coming together as a larger group to share ideas.

In attending the conference, we were able to reach people who are open to talking about their stammer and sharing their experiences. Conversation flowed at all of the group tables and loads of great ideas came out of the workshop. Now, their input can be used to develop a mobile application which will hopefully aid an even broader range of people who stammer.

Open Lab interns

Over the summer three recent graduates joined Open Lab for three-month internships. They worked on various projects at the Lab connected with ways in which digital technology can have a positive impact on society.

Lynne Mackie

Lynne spent time at Open Lab working on an app for people who stammer. She recently completed a master’s degree in Information and Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde, and is the vice-chairperson of the Scottish Stammering Network.

“I applied for the Digital Civics internship after it was advertised through my department at University,” she explained. “It looked like an amazing opportunity to get some hands-on experience of research in a working environment.

“Additionally, the idea of thinking about new ways to use technology for civic good appealed to the librarian in me and I loved the creativity that seemed to go hand-in-hand with the research.”

Stammering workshopLynne attended stammering conferences in the US and Manchester to gather views of people who stammer, and what they would like to see from a possible app. She also researched existing technology for people who stammer, and developed her work into an academic paper.

At the end of her internship Lynne said: “During my time at Open Lab, I was able to see all of the different work that can happen simultaneously within an academic research environment and how ideas can come together to form something new. It was great to see how everyone works together to support and learn from one another.”

Jekaterina Maksimova

Jekaterina had a background in design and came to the Lab to work on three projects. One of these was the maker workshops with Janis. These workshops allowed people with disabilities to use maker technologies such as 3D printers to design and produce objects for themselves.

“I had an opportunity to work with physically impaired people, observe how they work with technologies and how they create an object for themselves,” Jekaterina explained. “Usually, disable assistive devices are developed by non-disabled designers.”

NUM website plansJekaterina also helped Angelika to design a new website for National Ugly Mugs, a network of support for sex workers, and worked with Tom Nappey and a team of Newcastle students who entered iGEM’s annual synthetic biology competition. The team’s project, ‘Culture Shock’, involved combining electrical circuits with biological components, and required the use of Open Lab’s workspaces. Jekaterina helped the team to design and make prototypes and parts for their project.

Jekaterina said: “This project gave me a great understanding how important design is for science nowadays and how interesting it is to work with people from other disciplines.”

Eirini Schoinaraki

Summer 2016 also saw the opening of Open Lab: Athens, and the third intern, Eirini, worked on a website for this.

Eirini headed to Athens after finishing the first year of her Computer Science degree, and explained: “I learnt to work under pressure in an office environment, but more importantly I noticed that although university gives you the tools to learn, these are usually provided in a safe environment and thus limit your understanding of the full scope of what a specific job entails.”

Eirini worked with Vasilis Vlachokyriakos, the leader of the lablet, to set up its website, which involved modifying templates and adapting the website to support the use of the Greek language. She also made the website mobile-friendly by introducing responsive elements to the CSS.

She also translated all of the text on the website, so that it could appear in Greek and English.

Eirini said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the programme (even though I was complaining about the Greek hot summer to Vasilis) and I wish I could have stayed longer.”