Course Phase 0


Key Dates

Course start: Wednesday, 13th January 2016
Team formation: Wednesday, 20th January 2016


In this phase, you will be introduced to the main ideas and goals of the DDS course. It will explain our intended ways of working, and why we might want to do something that looks so different to a typical university course. Overall, we are using a “hack methodology” in conjunction with tools and techniques from design, the social sciences, and informatics.

What is a Hack?

A hack event (or hackathon) sometimes refers to a team of programmers, designers, and other technology experts engaging in a short period of intensive development (e.g., “build a phone app in a weekend!”). Now the term is often used more broadly, to refer to any period of focused, intensive collaboration between experts and stakeholders. Hacks may be about solving a particular problem (e.g. making dementia-friendly bathrooms), or more generally exploring a topic (e.g., what can you make with available open data sets?). For example, the recent Walk Hack (October 2015) brought together researchers, designers, technologists, City of Edinburgh Council representatives, local organisations and interested residents in order to work together on ideas for promoting walking in the Edinburgh city centre. How could it be made safer, more interesting, more appealing, “better”?

We also take inspiration from the notion of a Jam, as described in the Global Sustainability Jam:

You’ll be working with people you might never have met before, bouncing ideas off one another and building on what bounces back. And it’s not just talking—you are here to turn your ideas into a concrete design or plan of action which you or somebody else might want to make real. Perhaps it will be a service, a physical device, an initiative, a network, or something no-one has thought of yet—can you describe and plan it in a way that someone could go out and make it real, knowing what resources they would need, what they should do, and who they should talk to? That’s the challenge of the Jam.

As part of the DDS hack method, you will work in small interdisciplinary teams, and are required to involve community stakeholders in your project at several points during the course. All teams will be presenting to one another and giving each other feedback throughout the course. Part of the point of a hack is to exchange expertise, viewpoints and ideas, to make mistakes, and to try new things.

There will be two separate hacks as a part of DDS: a Fast Hack (Phase 1) intended to explore our theme (below), identify specific problems and generate ideas, and a Slow Hack (Phase 3) intended to develop a single design in more depth, over a longer period of time.

As described in Project Overview, DDS will have a Food and Sustainability theme, focused on the University of Edinburgh community. In Phase 0, several speakers will present on food and sustainability issues, and we will also look at University and EUSA policy on this issue.

Orientation to Skills and Content

We do not expect you to start DDS with all the skills you will need to carry out your projects successfully. Between lecture content, activities, and homework, we will introduce four key topics in preparation for the Fast Hack phase:

  • food and sustainability issues;
  • introduction to design thinking;
  • introduction to data and information;
  • introduction to observation, ethnography, and ethics.

We will revisit these topics in Digging Deeper (Phase 2). It is very important to attend class and keep up with homework in the first weeks, as these cover information essential to participating in the next phases of the course. You will find it very difficult to catch up on this information later.

Starting in Phase 0 and continuing throughout the course, we will also work on writing, presentation, and teamwork skills. Individuals and teams will be pushed to explain and justify their work. We see these as central to course success, and as major transferable skills that students can take away from DDS.

By the End of this Phase

You should have a clear idea of what the DDS course will be about and what you will do for the rest of term. You should have participated in class and homework activities to orient yourself to the four key topics. You should have signed the DDS ethics agreement.

Your team should have formed, chosen one of the four sub-themes, and discussed different team members’ interests within that sub-theme as a preparation for the Fast Hack.