July 24, 2019Print | PDF
Outdoor community ice rink volunteers in the City of Brantford will be better equipped to communicate ice conditions this winter thanks to six Wilfrid Laurier University User Experience Design students.
The students developed an app called Rink Report, which eliminates the need for a paper-based record keeping system and creates a more convenient process for volunteers.
As the temperature dips below freezing during the winter months, dozens of volunteers tend to 20 outdoor community ice rinks throughout Brantford. To keep city staff informed about ice conditions, volunteers fill out maintenance logs. But due to bitterly cold temperatures and the work involved to maintain the rinks, paper logs are not always kept up-to-date.
Lori-Dawn Cavin, manager of community recreation development with the City of Brantford, thought there could be an easier way. When Cavin heard that Professor Abby Goodrum, program coordinator for User Experience Design (UXD), was looking for clients with user experience problems for her second-year Design Thinking II class to tackle, Cavin jumped at the opportunity.
"When my project was selected, it was truly like I won a lottery," said Cavin. "The students’ whole philosophical approach is to solve the problem. At the end of the day I will have a product that, once brought into use, is going to remove an issue that over 100 volunteers experience every winter season."
Students Thomas Blanchette, Anna Bolger, William Bullock, Noah Lach, Bibiana Samayoa and Christina Stiller developed the Rink Report app, which allows volunteers to easily input ice conditions and other information and send it to the city in real time.
"Laurier's UXD program made me real-world ready right from day one. As a class, we’ve worked with several clients and I'm just finished my second year."
Most of Laurier’s UXD classes involve hands-on projects and working with real clients. The approach allows students to gain valuable experience, ensuring they leave Laurier with tangible examples of their work they can share with prospective employers.
"It's also a way for students to figure out what aspect of UX they really love and want to dig into when they graduate,” said Goodrum. “Plus, you learn a lot about client relationships in a professional setting."
Beyond what is taught in the classroom, students conduct business meetings, interact with community members, conduct user research and hold product launch presentations.
"Laurier's UXD program made me real-world ready right from day one,” said Bolger. “As a class, we’ve worked with several clients and I'm just finished my second year. I'm already at the point of expanding my portfolio."
"The city implementing our design was the ultimate goal and being able to accomplish that is an amazing feeling. We felt a responsibility to help these people by improving their experience."
Through the semester-long experience, students who collaborated on the City of Brantford project expressed how meaningful it was to connect with ice rink volunteers.
"Getting to immerse ourselves in Brantford's culture and meet many of the incredibly dedicated volunteers who work so hard to better their community was a very humbling and enlightening experience," said Lach. "One of the coolest learning experiences from this project was getting to witness first-hand the passion and dedication of many Brantford citizens. I knew that Brantford was Wayne Gretzky's hometown, but before this project I never realized how deep hockey culture runs here."
The team learned a lot by engaging with community members, including the challenges volunteers face with the paper method of tracking ice conditions and how often they use smartphones. Questions about the potential usability of an app and access to the Internet were also explored.
"The city implementing our design was the ultimate goal and being able to accomplish that is an amazing feeling,” said Samayoa. “We grew more and more attached to this project as time went on, so the fact that our client and end users are happy with our final product and will be using it is everything we hoped for. We felt a responsibility to help these people by improving their experience."
Through meaningful connections made during the Rink Report project, the app’s student creators say they have been inspired to make a greater difference in the world around them.
"This is the first thing I'm sharing with the world,” said Bolger. “For the city to take it and run with it, I think it really encouraged our team to get even more involved with the community."
The group presented the prototype of its Rink Report app on the last day of class in April. The city is aiming to have a working version ready for volunteers by the 2019/20 winter season.