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Student takes first prize at interaction design contest in Lyon


Malmö University student Kevin Ong was one of the nine finalists selected to compete at the annual Student Design Challenge. His team impressed the judges with their take on designing for people with disabilities.

Each year, more than a hundred students from across the world apply to take part in the Student Design Challenge, an international competition organised by the Interaction Design Association. This year, the event was held in France.

Over three days, students representing the next generation of interaction design work in teams to pitch a product that addresses a specific challenge.

“The brief we were given was to interactively create a way to teach the concept of rhythm,” says Ong, who is currently in his final year of the master’s programme in Interaction Design.

Each group was then given a disability to work with. Ong’s group chose dyscalculia.

“Since we’d never heard of it before, we thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more. Dyscalculia is a learning disability that involves difficulty with numbers and mathematical concepts. These difficulties may include not being able to tell whether a number is bigger than another, not being able to determine how much time it takes to get somewhere, or having trouble estimating the distance between yourself and an object,” he explains.

People with dyscalculia often find things like learning choreography and learning to play music challenging. After 72 hours of intensive work, research and minimal sleep, Ong’s group came up with a product to help people with dyscalculia to learn how to read music.

“We decided to use a piano. Imagine a tablet that displays sheet music, with a mini-projector attached to it. The idea was that each note on the sheet music would have a corresponding colour projecting onto the keys below. For instance, A might be red, and B might be yellow. The sheet music would also display the amount of time each note is to be played by suggesting how much space it takes up. Meaning if you’re playing A as a half note — two counts — then half the measure in common time would be highlighted red."

Ong explains that by utilising machine learning with repetitive practice, the application would, over time, remove layers of guidance until the display looks like regular sheet music.

During the challenge, the group were able to interview a young girl with similar symptoms to that of dyscalculia. It was this conversation that gave their project depth, Ong says, and impressed the judges.

“We found out that learning music had been a huge confidence boost in the girl’s life by allowing her to feel accomplished. I think the jury also appreciated how feasible the project was and that it was very human; it’s a product that educators as well as parents and kids could use at home.”

Of the experience, Ong says: “It was super exhausting but also incredibly rewarding. It was amazing to see brilliant minds come together, and know that there’s such a large community out there that are passionate about interaction design.”

Text: Maya Acharya

Last updated by Maya Acharya