Lesson 3: User-Centered Design Micro Activity



This lesson guides students through an abbreviated version of the design process they will be seeing throughout this unit. Students first brainstorm a list of potential users of smart clothing. As a class, they then group these ideas into broad categories and each group will choose one category of user. Groups repeat this process to brainstorm needs or concerns of their user, eventually categorizing these needs and choosing one to focus on. Finally, students design a piece of smart clothing, using the specific needs and concerns they brainstormed to guide their decision making. At the end of the class students quickly share their decision-making process and get feedback on how well their product addresses the user need they selected.


This micro activity is the first of three design projects in this unit. It is a fast-paced introduction to the user-centered design process, intended to give students an experience with user-centered design that they can build on in later projects. Certain shortcuts like speculating as to their user's needs rather than confirming them directly will be corrected as they complete more developed versions of this design process. In this lesson the primary goal is to establish that design decisions will be made with the user's needs in mind. The practice of categorizing lots of disparate ideas to help make decisions will also reappear later in the unit.

The activity in this lesson is an adaptation of the Design Charrette from the University of Washington.


Warm Up (5 min)

Activity (50 min)

Wrap Up (20 min)

View on Code Studio


Students will be able to:

  • Empathize with a user's needs to design an object
  • Create meaningful categories from a collection of ideas, specifically in the context of a brainstorm


  • Ensure you have plenty of sticky notes, pens and large poster paper for students to work on
  • Set up groups with preferably 3 students each


Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Students

Teaching Guide

Warm Up (5 min)

Discussion Goal

Goal: This should be a very quick introduction to the lesson. You are looking to call out that designing for other people requires you to consider their needs instead of your own, which can often be challenging. You may wish to point back to the Design Process graphic an re-emphasize the importance of empathy when desiging for others. In eithe case use this as a quick hook for the lesson and then move to the main activity.

Designing for Others

Prompt: In the last two lessons we've seen that products are designed with a purpose and that different designs are more useful or pleasing to different people. Since different people have different needs, interests, etc. what might be some of the challenges if you're trying to design a product for someone else?

Discuss: Allow students a minute to think silently before having them share with their tables and then the class as a whole.


Designing for other people can be challenging for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important is that it challenges us to consider what another person values, likes, or is concerned about. In other words we need to have empathy for someone else. Today we're going to do a mini design activity to help us practice the entire process ourselves.

Activity (50 min)

Teaching Tip

Reducing Printed Materials

Online Option: The Activity Guide can be completed online. For the drawing, students can either draw their product online or submit a paper version of their product separately.

Journal Option: This activity can be completed as a journal entry. Students can use a digital version of the Activity Guide as a prompt, copying the headers or prompts into their journals.

Introduce the Activity

Group: Students should be in teams of 3 to 5.

Distribute: User Centered Design - Activity Guide to each student as well as markers, sticky notes, and poster paper for each group.

Teaching Tip

Why Smart Clothes?: This activity can easily be run with a different target product. This type of product was chosen because these are broad applications for combining computing technology with clothing that could benefit many types of users. An additional benefit is that the field is not yet well-defined and so it provides students more leeway to develop ideas of their own for how to solve people's problems rather than rely on more established solutions. Regardless of what product you use, the point is less that the product is feasible and more that students are thinking creatively about how to meet other people's needs rather than their own.

Overview: As a class read through the "Overview" section to make sure groups understand the goal of the activity.


Teaching Tip

Brainstorm - Categorize - Choose: In this activity students will use this process twice, first to identify a user, then to identify a user's need. The first time through you should model this process more carefully. During the brainstorm emphasize the fact that there are no right or wrong ideas. When creating categories emphasize that again there are no "right" categories. Remind students that the goal here is to Define the problem they will try to solve today and this process is a useful way to focus in on a specific problem.

Brainstorm Users: Ask students to list on their activity guides as many different potential users of smart clothing as they can think of. Give students a couple of minutes to brainstorm independently.

Give students a minute to brainstorm as many different people as they can. Once they're done ask them to create a post-it for the two or three user types they think are most interesting.

Categorize Users: Invite students to discuss with their table at least one bigger category of users they see on the board. Eventually bubble up their ideas to a full class discussion. You should aim to create broad categories for every user on the board.

Choose Specific User: Ask groups to pick one of the categories you've created to design for. Do your best to ensure a good mix of users in the classroom but it's not a problem if some groups choose the same user.

Brainstorm Needs: Students will repeat the brainstorming process to identify a list of potential concerns, interests, and needs of the user they picked. Encourage students to think carefully about what might be important to those people.

Teaching Tip

Knowing User Needs: The best way to empathize with someone else is to talk to them. In this activity students are brainstorming potential needs of a user, but in subsequent projects they will want to hear directly from users so they don't make assumptions about their needs. For this lesson the goal is to develop a plausibly realistic set of needs and then think through how to design an object for those needs, rather than your own.

Categorize Needs: Students should repeat the same process of creating scraps of paper for each need, interest, or concern of their user and then grouping them. Students can use the markers and poster paper to do this step if you have provided those materials.

Choose Specific Need: Ask groups to pick the specific need for their user that they want to address. They should try to pick a need they think could be addressed by smart clothing so in some cases they may need to be a little creative in thinking about these needs.


Brainstorm Solutions: Ask students to brainstorm potential ways smart clothing could be used to address the problem they've decided to solve.

Teaching Tip

Empathizing with User's Needs: Reinforce the need to empathize with the user categories students chose. When weighing pros and cons here it should be from the standpoint of the user needs and concerns they identified.

Discuss Pros and Cons: Once students have brainstormed solutions invite groups to discuss pros and cons of the proposed solutions. Reinforce that they should be having this conversation from the standpoint of their user. Either the specific needs they chose or the broader needs they've brainstormed should guide how they value each idea.


Describe Your Product: Students should write a description of what their product is and how it addresses their user's need on their activity guide.

Draw Your Product: Students should draw and label a picture of their product. Specifically any "smart" features should be labeled with short descriptions. Students can also use poster paper and markers for this portion of the lesson.

Wrap Up (20 min)


Present Your Product: Groups should be given a couple of minutes to share what they created. You can structure presentations around the following steps

  • Who your user is and what specific need you identified.
  • The features of the product designed
  • How the features addressed the need they chose
  • At least one feature of their product they might not personally have included but have to meet the needs of their user.

Journal: Based on today's activity what challenges do you foresee in designing software for others?

Standards Alignment

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CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

CS - Computing Systems
  • 2-CS-02 - Design projects that combine hardware and software components to collect and exchange data.
IC - Impacts of Computing
  • 2-IC-20 - Compare tradeoffs associated with computing technologies that affect people's everyday activities and career options.
  • 2-IC-21 - Discuss issues of bias and accessibility in the design of existing technologies.