Added by Jennifer Anderson, last edited by Michael Twidale on Aug 25, 2009  (view change)


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This is an archive of a class taught in 2008

Entrepreneurial IT Design

Developing Novel Information Technologies: the entrepreneurship of design
This is the home page for LIS 490 ITU & LIS 490 ITG – Entrepreneurial IT Design

Final Project


  • Instructor: Michael Twidale
  • Semester: Fall, 2008
  • Prerequisites: None. Open to Juniors and Seniors (LIS 490 ITU) and Graduate Students (LIS 490 ITG)
  • Time/Place: Tuesdays 1 to 3:50pm
  • Location: 131 LIS Building
  • Assessment: Class participation, a series of homework exercises, short assignments, and a team project involving a presentation / demo and a final paper

Course Overview

This course looks at the challenges in developing novel useful application ideas involving computational technologies: finding a need and an opportunity, exploring the design space and creating realizations and demos to assess, refine and communicate/sell the idea of the application to others. This could be in a commercial context, or be more a matter of social entrepreneurship - but still involves identifying and addressing an unmet need, or creating a better way of addressing existing needs. In both the commercial and not-for-profit contexts the same problems recur: deciding what you should build and sharing the vision with various stakeholders so that you can put together the resources to realize your vision.

For various reasons this can be especially problematic with computational technologies - even if you are clear in your mind what your hypothetical application will do, others may not be able to imagine what it will do or why that would be good until they can see it in the flesh - so how do you get the buy-in to even start? Worse, you might have a clear vision, but that vision may be wrong or incomplete: how can we speed up the learning that comes from iterative design and testing, given that many high risk development strategies typically only get one chance to make their pitch and succeed?

The course will introduce students to a range of rapid prototyping techniques and methods to analyze needs, opportunities and design spaces. Students will work in teams to develop ideas for novel computational devices or applications to meet identified needs. These ideas will be explored and demonstrated using a various prototypes, scenarios and other methods. Students will learn the interlinked entrepreneurial skills of identifying an unmet need, exploiting technological opportunities, exploring a design space to refine an idea, and communicating their vision through demonstrations with prototypes and proofs of concept. This enables developers to show how their envisaged working interactive technology will be used productively in a particular real-life context. Communicating the vision of computational devices is a challenge because dynamic use in context is hard for people other than the device's developers to imagine. The ability to produce convincing, clear, powerful demonstrations even at the early stages of a project is a highly valuable entrepreneurial skill.

Who Is This Class Intended For?

This class is offered through the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, but it is open to students from other departments. It is open to Juniors and Seniors (LIS 490 ITU) and Graduate Students (LIS 490 ITG). It is part of the GSLIS undergraduate Minor in Information Technology Studies. Students do not need to be enrolled in the minor to take the class.

The effective design of novel, useful and usable software applications often involves interdisciplinary teamwork. Likewise I hope we will have students from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds. By working together on various short projects we will learn how to select and apply efficient methods to help enable innovation and effective exploration of a design spaces and the critical aspects of designing to fit actual needs and uses.

An incomplete list of possible backgrounds:

  • Library and Information Science
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Business
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (esp. product design)
  • Fine and Applied Art (esp. computer graphics, information design or industrial design)
  • Architecture
  • Urban Planning
  • Education (esp. computers and learning)
  • Management (esp. product innovation)
  • Speech Communication (esp. technologies for social networking)
  • Sociology (esp. ethnography, ethnomethodology and workplace studies)
  • Anthropology (esp. ethnography)

Some Topics the Course Will Explore

  • rapid prototyping techniques
  • paper prototyping
  • personas
  • scenarios
  • participatory design
  • web 2.0 and mashups
  • ubiquitous computing applications
  • computing at work, at home and while moving around
  • classic barriers to technology adoption and how to address them
  • presenting design ideas verbally, in writing, in posters, with technological support and by demonstrations

A team-based design studio approach

The class will explore a range of techniques that can be used to undertake rapid iterative prototyping and evaluation. There will be a series of short design challenges involving activity in class and extended as homework exercises. These will serve as preparation for a larger team project extending over the remainder of the semester where groups will explore a novel technological solution to a clearly identified need. This will involve creating a series of demonstrable proofs of concept to explore and illustrate the idea and can be used to convince stakeholders of its potential. This will involve combinations of written work, scenarios, posters, online resources, and also working or demonstrable prototypes.

A three hour long class???

If you have never taken a class that meets once a week in a single 3-hour slot, this can sound very daunting. Don't worry - I NEVER lecture for 3 hours solid. Indeed I'll rarely lecture at all for more than 20 minutes. The 3-hour slot allows us to use class time for hands on group work, fiddling with existing technologies, brainstorming, trying out design ideas, building things, testing and discussing things. We take a 20-minute break at some suitable point roughly midway through the class, so you can go off and get a coffee if you want. It may sound odd, but the time just flies by. It does mean that you need a good clear focus so you can do the required readings, the observations and thinking and other preparation ready for the next class.

Example of the issues this course will address:

Consider this pair of all too typical problems:

Mary is a children's librarian who does truly innovative summer reading programs and after school activities, but basically uses books, posters, crayons, buildings, furniture and other physical (non-computational) resources, bringing them together in exciting new combinations to achieve her activity goals. She probably could do amazing things with technology too, but does not have the time to become a computer scientist first.

John is a computer scientist who creates a cool new wireless-enabled gizmo, which he claims is a totally generic solution, but he is incapable of giving a convincing reason why anyone would want to use this gadget for anything. The VC gives up on the rambling laundry list of the many ingenious but abstract computational things that can be done with the tool.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a way of teaming John and Mary together to generate a series of good ideas in a really short time? Wouldn't it be even greater if they could knock together some rough demo really quickly, to share their vision with colleagues and sources of funding, refining and selling their idea so it could actually be built and used?

That example is in the not-for-profit sector to serve as a reminder that entrepreneurship is equally applicable there too.

The design of this class has received support from The Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership