In the three years I’ve run NOVA Lab, it has evolved, slowly but surely, into a class that is evermore like what I hoped it would be: A class that uses human-centered design to engage students in self-determined, purposeful learning that is meaningful for the students as individuals and consequential for larger communities as well. However, of the almost 100 projects that have grown out of our experiences in class, only a handful were ever focused on product design, and of those, only one has been an entirely original, self-created prototype has ever made it past the initial iteration phase: The NOVA Nubs Brush Cleaner.
NOVA Nubs was born directly out of NOVA Lab’s central focus on human-centered design. Two friends, Maya and Kylie, did some needs finding and identified that cleaning paint brushes in our art rooms was not only time consuming, it was inefficient and, because it involved pressing the brushes into the sink bottom and sides, it was damaging the brushes.
Recognizing an opportunity, Maya and Kylie worked quickly to develop sketches and background information for their design. Creating a low-fi, working prototype out of wood, spar-urethane, strips of pressed steel, and silicon bristles, the NOVA Nubs team was able to test their design over the course of one week in our art classes.
The results were almost unanimous. The bristles side of the prototype was far more useful than the red nubs. As well, the results of their interviews, post-use, revealed that the bristles were easier to use, less messy, and worked better than slapping the brush around in a small container of water, beating it on the sink floor, or otherwise trying to get the paint out of the bristles.
Moving forward, the team has taken their lessons from the user interviews and are currently working on a second prototype. This prototype will be covered in the clear / white bristles and will have a more advanced/sturdier support system.
On April 11, the team had the opportunity to present their latest version to a panel of designers, professors, and classmates at fluxspace.io. NOVA Nubs garnered excellent feedback from the 6 judges, even finding support for taking the project a bit further and marketing it.
For two young women to run their own design project, from problem finding, empathy building, researching, iterating, prototyping, and testing, to gathering user feedback, budgeting, and developing manufacturing plans…? That’s amazing. And for them to do this while graduating, managing jobs, and applying to college? Well…I think that’s why this class exists.
But then, it’s not really about the product. It’s about the process. Whether NOVA Nubs sees a birth in the future or whether it stays here to help our own artists and art teachers is really immaterial. What matters is that these students entered a “space for inspiration, aspiration, respiration, and creation” and used their time to guide a product from inception to realization creating an experience that will have a lasting impact on them.
This team, these students, these classes . . . they’ve all proven the concept of the class in a way I’d waited for these past two truncated years. That I can be part of the space to which these students bring their light, their heart, and their energy is a privilege–one I hope to experience for the rest of my career.