UXPA Student Design Competition - Part 2

Darian O'Reilly / Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I recently attended the UXPA 2017 International Conference where in addition to presenting a talk about data visualization, I had the opportunity to act as a judge in their annual student design competition. In a quick recap of this two round event, three student teams from University of Toronto, Pace University, and UT Austin were challenged to research and design user focussed solutions for a smart shopping assistant. You can read all about the first round of the competition in Part 1.

Final Presentations

The stakes would be much higher in the final round as teams were being scored out of 15 points by each judge with a possible total score of 60. It was still very much anyone’s game. The other three judges and I made ourselves available for office hours the next day to give the teams a chance to get more feedback before the final presentation and scoring began. Two of the three teams took advantage of this opportunity.

The teams assembled to present their final work in front of the judges and an audience of conference attendees and we used the criteria below to award a final set of points:




How well was the solution space explored - did they consider alternatives?


How well were user centered design techniques applied? (user research, iteration, user testing, etc.)


How compelling is the solution and the design rationale behind it?


How effective are the team’s communication skills?


As a CEO is this a go or no-go product?


Overall, is this a multi-disciplinary team, committed to fairness and gracious in participation and in receiving feedback?


The University of Toronto presented first. They expanded on their initial pitch by describing in-person testing conducted with conference attendees using their paper prototypes and gave a polished and professional presentation outlining their iterative design process.  Their presentation engaged the audience and made me want to download their app immediately. 

Next up was Pace University with their purely fashion-focused chat bot named Jill. They included more information about the user research and testing that they had conducted and made slight updates to their concept as a result. The solution was playful, fun, and easy to use.

The final team from UT Austin blew everyone away with their user-focused design ideas. Their presentation started off with a short video giving the audience an immediate sense of how useful the food shopping app Cache Cart might be. Details like motor load and button placement were considered in the shopping list-making process and the judges were happy to see our input from the mentoring session taken into consideration.


We had a tough job ahead of us and after much discussion, we tallied up our score cards and saw that the team in first place was only ahead by .75 points. Feeling conflicted, we headed out, planning to announce the winner before the closing keynote the next afternoon. Nothing is ever simple though and another judge realized that we had made the mistake of using the average score from the first round but the total score from the second round. When we recalculated using totals from both rounds, we had a tie between UT Austin and University of Toronto. There was nothing we could do but plan an emergency tie breaker meeting the next day. We finally arrived at a winner by isolating the first 5 judging criteria, tallying the points for each and naming the team that won the most individual criteria the overall winner.


The Envelope Please

In the end, the University of Toronto took first place over UT Austin, who finished in an incredibly close second. Both teams wowed us – these kids are going places!


Looking Back

Overall, participating as a judge for the competition was a wonderful experience. I was awed by how much the teams accomplished in such a short time, how professional their presentations were, and overall, how complete and well-rounded their design processes were. 

There are also a few fundamental things about how the competition was run that I would change next time. I would like to see the students given a design problem to solve and not a specific solution to create. This would allow them to explore many possibilities and widen the spectrum of project types they could create. Out of the box thinking is one of the freedoms that exist in the world of hypothetical work and it would be exciting to see what they could create.

 I also think that watching both rounds of the competition would be of interest to the conference attendees. This year, the first round was held privately with only the teams and judges present and the second was held in front of an audience. I think that more momentum could be built around the competition if it was a part of the morning presentations each day. UXPA is an organization that has a lot of young members and seeing what your peers are doing is both informative and inspiring.

 Finally, the students that participated spent so much of the week working on their projects that they didn’t get to experience much of the conference. It would be wonderful if they received the ‘challenge’ a week before the conference, allowing them to complete their initial presentations before arriving. Of course, feedback from round one and final polishing would still require attention during the event, but the students would at least be able to attend a seminar or two and do some networking.

Hopefully I will be involved with next year’s competition which will take place at the UXPA 2018 International Conference in Puerto Rico!