| Overview


Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab


UX Researcher / Designer


The Wednesday “Dragonboard Nights” are part of Qualcomm’s larger effort in employee engagement, aiming to broaden meaningful interdisciplinary interactions and to create fun for their employees and their family. It is a two-hour session from 5-7PM where the participants can tinker with:

1.    the Dragonboard 410c, a microcontroller development board made by Qualcomm with features and capabilities similar to Raspberry Pi and Arduino platforms
2.    basic sensors, servos and electronic components that affords tinkering and hacking.
As a group of researchers and designers, we would like to address the primary needs of users in the existing space, prototype novel solutions for that design problem, and iteratively test our ideas.

| Section 1: Our Design Challenge

The user group that attends the lab sessions include Qualcomm employees, their children (ranged from 5 to 16), and students (both high school and college). By immersing ourselves as first-time users and interviewing tinkers in the space, we found the desired needs in the following areas: Visibility of help, self-motivation, inspiration from others, and collaboration. From there, we narrowed down our targeted area to self-motivation in order to address the following question:

“How can we motivate the Qualcomm employees, especially infrequent visitors, to keep coming back to get involved in projects?”

The Needfinding Process

It took us about two weeks to gather data and another week to consolidate them into affinity diagrams. We have used three different techniques to identify needs: immersing ourselves in space as a user, contextual interviews, observations and videotaping. We attended the Wednesday lab section every week from 5 to 7 PM, and all research inquiries were conducted within the natural environment at regular hours. The average attendees range from 5 to 8 users, including both adults and children.

Primary Research Methods

Immersive experience

During our first visit, we posed as first-time users and gained valuable insights regarding the organization of space and project set-ups. We first explored the physical environment by walking around and interacting with artifacts. Some of us were overwhelmed by the amount of unknown boxes and gadgets and did not know where to navigate. When we tried to follow one of the Dragonboard tool kits guide, it took us about 40 minutes to set up (one-third of the lab hour) because the board’s operating system did not match the one provided in the guide.

(Fig. 1) For a first-time comer, the lab could be hard to navigate because of its disorganization and lack of self-guidance. Users don’t have a clue about how or where to start.


We set up two cameras, one at the desktop to capture close-ups of users building with the Dragonboard, and another in the corner to capture general physical movements in space. We also observed participants in their natural tinkering environment from some distance, with as little disturbance as possible.

Here are some conclusions below with supporting data:

1.    There are very few returning faces. During the first three weeks, we have attended both Wednesday and Thursday sections. However, of all the first-time comers that we interviewed, no one showed up twice.
2.    Employees demands face-to-face professional help with specialized skills in Dragonboard, yet the environment fails to provide it regularly. On May 4th, there was an unusually high amount of attendance (15 people instead of 4-6 people), because the lab session featured an expert from the 96boards (an online development board community for the Dragonboard). This shows that users actively seek help within the lab space, and it could be their main reason for coming.
3. It often takes longer for novices to get familiar with the space and tools. Three out of five interviewees stated that they felt lost during their first-time at the lab. For example, they did not know how to set up, who to ask for help, or where to start off with.

In-person Contextual Interviews

We tried to interview a variety of participants, using a flexible set of questions based on their backgrounds and general lab experiences. Some of the questions are: Do you come to the lab alone or with your friends? If you run into a problem with the Dragonboard, how do you seek help? What projects interest you outside of work?

Here are some conclusions below with supporting data:

1.    Tools are not readily accessible to attendees. For example, a user (female, employee) was interested in the 3D printer but did not know how to use it or who to ask.
2.    Attendees seek online resources but the tool is not well documented yet. Half of the interviewees express that they need more specialized help, both online and in person. Many users still get stuck even though they have experience in Linux and raspberry pi.
3.    Employees have more incentive to work from home than at the lab because they already have the necessary tools. An employee, married with teen kids, has many other boards like Raspberry pi and Arduinos at home. He points out the less likelihood of bringing teen or older kids into the lab due to time conflicts and work-life balance. The lab space is portrayed as more work-related than fun-life.

Ideation and Brainstorming

Affinity Diagram (First Iteration)

In order to organize our data and find the trends, we used post-it notes to map out all the data points that we have collected so far (see fig.2) . We then grouped the points into categories of needs and brainstormed the design solutions. Data, Needs and Solutions are color-coded with orange, yellow and blue (user feedback are from our immersive experience, which also falls under Data). This board is sort of a dumpster of facts and ideas at the early stage, without any clear links or causal relationships. We concluded about six needs so far, which cannot all be addressed in our prototypes.

(Fig. 2) In our first iteration, our affinity diagram has no clear connections

Affinity Diagram (Second Iteration)

The new diagram is an upgrade of the old one, adding arrows that specify temporal and causal relationships and images of our prototypes (See Fig. 3) . This time, we color-coded so that the titles are different from the data points. Since there are two different groups of targeted audience based on skill and experience, the first-time comers and the intermediate users, we drew two different routes that address each group of people’s need and the corresponding solutions. We also decide to narrow down the needs and only tackle two of them: to give users motivation and creative inspiration.

(Fig. 3)The new affinity diagram draws relation among design problem, data, needs and design solutions

Summary of our design challenge

We want to address motivation and inspiration because they are the recurring themes from our primary research data. During the couple of weeks, there were very few familiar faces, which reveals the fact that many first-timers do not come back. On the other hand, intermediate users do not have a clear direction after following the initial guide. We believe that these problems are closely related to the lack of motivation schemas in the lab. In the next few sections, we will talk more about how each group of targeted audience specifically requires these needs, and how our prototypes will help solve the issue.

| Section 2: Our Target Audience

There is a diverse group of attendees based on skill levels, lab experience, age, and so on. In order to better observe the needs and find an effective solution, we narrow down our target audience to the intermediate users, who have attended the lab a couple times and are familiar with the existing tools that the lab offers. Most of these members are Qualcomm employees, their family members and high school students.

(Fig.4) The image above displays the social setting of the lab environment. Family members usually form clusters at each table. Single members tend to walk around more and check out what others are making.

Defining Features

Saura, the program coordinator, selects specific people to invite the Thinkabit lab, based on an unknown set of metrics. Majority of the attendees are predominantly male, aged 25 or older. Their ethnicities are diverse: Indians, Chinese, Germans, French, etc. Most are college educated, and have a background in computer science, programming, and engineering. The attendees are knowledgeable in general electronics and have good intuition on how technologies work. Many of them have extensive prior experience with similar technologies in their professional field. They also have the time and affordances to come to the lab on Wednesday nights, sometimes right after work.

Psychographic Variables

We collected a bunch of psychographic variables among the attendees. Many Qualcomm employees expressed their interest to learn the basic programming in Dragonboard rather than making a comprehensive project with it. There is a gap between constructing skills and making creations. More evidence will be shown in our primary research later on. The employees do express the interest of making side projects in leisure time. They either have existing ideas of what they want to make, or own several small projects at home. For entertainment, the employees enjoy watching Game of Thrones and drinking activities. However, since the Thinkabit Lab receives kids during the day-time sessions, it is hard to incorporate adult activities into a kid-friendly environment.

Primary Research

For our primary research, we have conducted a lot of in-person contextual interviews with actual lab participants as well as observations and videotaping. Please refer to Section I (Design Problems) for our data analysis.

Why intermediate users?

We initially did need finding and prototyping for two different target audience groups: the first-time attendees and the intermediate users. We divided them based on experience and skill level. The first-time attendees are unfamiliar with the lab environment or tool usage. On the other hand, the intermediate users have considerable experience in the space and have used several type of tools (such as Dragonboard or Arduino). We decided to focus on the intermediate users because:

1.    The other team, Thinkabit Thursday, is targeting the beginner/first-time visitor, and we want to diverge from them.
2.    Most of the participants at Wednesday Dragonboard night tend to be adult employees or intermediate users.We have attended both Wednesday (Dragonboard) and Thursday sessions (Tinkering), but since our original assignment is the Wednesday group, we will be paying more attention to the users for that section.
We will still be listing our solutions for both target audience groups they play an important role in our design process.
(Fig. 5) Indian parents with their two kids are playing with the Dragonboard. The host (male in the background) walks over to assist the members.

Secondary Research

The article named Learning in the Making gives us an insight into the adult maker community and how they learn from creations (8-10). The authors did extensive case studying across three makerspaces that have different type of audiences, ranging from adults, teenagers, and a mixture of both (families). Among all, Sector67 (the makerspace in Madison, Wisconsin) has the most similar condition to our research, which both targets adults. To be more specific, their audiences range from entrepreneurs to hobbyists and from experts to novices. One key finding is that the novices are more eager to attend workshops and regular classes than paying a membership. This identifies with our observation because the employees are more into learning how the Dragonboard works than making a comprehensive project. One thing that separates Sector67 from the Thinkabit Lab is that there is a strong sense of community and leadership among the audiences in the former space. In the latter, there is a lack of incentive to build team projects and thus loses an opportunity to create social bonds among the attendees. Therefore, we wish to absorb the current findings from the article and incorporate them into our design solutions.

Further Inquiries

We want to further inquire why a lot of the first-time attendees do not come back to the lab, and what their motivations are in terms of learning. Some of the questions are: What are the possible and predominate reasons why people don’t come back frequently? Why people don’t become part of the community? What are the possible motivation schemes we can employ? What are the most common complaints about the space? In order to gain better insight into their need and reaffirm some aspects with our Questboard prototype, we are in the process of distributing and gathering data with a post-participant feedback survey for the actual lab participants. With our survey, we aim to find answers to the following questions.

| Section 3: Our Prototypes

During the first phase of prototyping, we diverged a lot in order to accommodate a wide range of needs and users (both beginners and intermediate users). The recurring theme in all three of our designs is gaming. We took a lot of features from board games and their motivation schemas. Although we narrowed down our targeted audience to the intermediate users, we wanted to present our other prototypes because they represent an important milestone in our journey. In a nutshell, the first and third solutions (Thinkabit Wonderland and Passport) address the needs for the beginners and first-time attendees, while the second solution (Thinkabit Quest) targets the intermediate users.

1. Thinkabit Wonderland

(Fig. 6) “The Wonderland” intends to serves as a beginner guide to the lab’s space and tools


Targeted Audience: First-time Visitors, Beginners

This prototype aims to help newcomers get comfortable with the Thinkabit space and tools. The Thinkabit Wonderland is a poster board that has a step-by-step tutorial which results in a final product. Each step of the poster board explores a different part of the lab and uses a featured tool. The user first chooses an animal from the material bins, build a blinking LED with the Arduino, make a portion of the animal body rotate with a servo, then glue all parts together at the assembly table. The 3-D printer is optional part where the user can a name tag for the animal. The project is intended to help first-time comers explore available tools and know ‘what is where’ in a short amount of time (2 hours, equivalent to one lab section). Overall, the Thinkabit Wonderland prototype allows newcomers to become engaged with the labspace and the tools available. The steps are flexible and gives users creative freedom.

Key Elements

Exploring multiple sections/tools in the labspace.

• From our interview data and personal encounters as a first-time comer (explained in section I), disorientation and disorganization causes many users to feel lost or intimidated. The purpose of the lab is to construct a friendly environment for immediate hands-on experience. This feature hopes to help users instantly engage with the physical space and get comfortable with the tools.

Step-by-step tutorial

• We assume that the ‘beginner’ group contains first-time comers who are new to the lab setting. Almost every user we interviewed mentioned that they want some sort of guidance during the first visit. We choose a list of tools and materials (plushies, Arduino, 3D printer, glue gun) that are iconic to the Thinkabit lab as components to this project.

• By allowing users to create their own parts (e.g. where on the animal to place the LED or which part to rotate with the servo), we leave them considerable room for imagination and experimentation.


Many newcomers addressed that they felt overwhelmed by the Thinkabit space. There is a lot of material scattered around the room and they have a hard time navigating or finding the materials that they want. Saura, the head of the Thinkabit lab, also hopes to create a friendly environment for people to adapt to right away. Many first-time users get bored because of getting lost at where to start. This prototype gives people a reason to dive into the space and helps them get comfortable with the lab while creating something.

2. Thinkabit Quest

(Fig. 7) Project pool and tracking system for intermediate users


Targeted Audience: Intermediate Users, Frequent Lab Visitors

The Thinkabit Quest prototype is targeted for intermediate users. Ideally, the user will build basic skills by completing the beginner guides for Dragonboard/Arduino and possibly the Thinkabit Wonderland Board. Projects will be printed on A-4 papers that are color-coded to indicate level of difficulty: easy, intermediate, and difficult. To create a sense of community and competition, participants can create personalized pins to track their progress. Users can identify each other according to the pins and race to complete as many projects as possible.

Key features

Tracking system offers motivation

• This comes from our intuition. We get inspiration from board games such as Monopoly, where collecting tokens offer a sense of accomplishment to the players. We want to gamify our quest board to make the process of doing projects more fun and interactive for the users.

Personalized pins create competitiveness and community

• Making a unique pin to track progress preserves anonymity yet grants personalization. This allows users to recognize each other’s position and race to finish as many projects as possible. We are inspired by the ranking system of arcade machines where they display player name and their corresponding scores.

• By competing and getting to know other users on the quest board, the users can gain a sense of community. We envision that users will start to know each other and seek help from the ones who are ahead on the quest board.


The focus of the Thinkabit Quest prototype is to bring people back to the Thinkabit Lab. We observe that different types of users are comfortable with different work styles. Some dive right into their project with instant idea, while others prefer to learn from doing given projects. For example, when a little boy was asked what his next plan was after finishing the beginner’s guide, he responded that he had no idea what to do. We suspect that the lack of immediate projects available for tinkers can be a reason why they don’t come back to the lab often. We hope that the Thinkabit Quest board acts a medium to offer a number of different projects that the newcomers can work on and get inspired from.

3. Passport

(Fig. 8) Progress tracking booklet


Targeted Audience: First-time Visitors, Children

The Passport is a prototype that aims to keep track of individual progress. After completing a project, the user would be rewarded with a sticker to put in the passport. It serves as a collection of accomplishments and a ‘personal diary’ for creative ideas. This prototype is for users who are “achievers” and “collectors”, for example, the younger aged attendees. We want to attract the parents (who are Qualcomm employees) to come back by engaging their children in the lab activities.

Key Features

Collecting stamps serves as an incentive and motivation

• In the next section (Data Informed Development), we gave a secondary source where one of the lab attendees, who is a makerspace manager, shared with us her experience with passports at lab. The activity was incredibly successful, where both the parents and children were actively engaging in the lab space to collect as much stamps as possible. Therefore, we believe that passport will be an effective way to motivate children to tinker with purpose.


The Passport prototype is important because it can appeals to two different kinds of people: achievers and competitors. Some people become motivated to do work because they like the sense of achievement. Others are motivated by competition and want to win. This prototype will keep bringing back the users  because they are attracted to the physical gain through collection of stamps.

Summary of our prototypes

We are aware that many features from our prototypes are based on intuitions and wild guesses. Therefore, user testing and even second round of need finding are important for us to be open-minded and critical about our design process. In the next section, we will show results from surveying and user feedback on interacting with the prototypes, and propose new design solutions.

| Section 4: Our Data Driven Development

In order to gain better insight into the usability of our prototypes, we conducted user testing that include second round of interviews and surveying. We had different types of targeted audience (first-time comers and intermediate users) walk us through the prototypes. By asking them to think out loud, we were able to catch design flaws and reject some of our intuitions. We believe that our final prototype is well-supported by the existing data and feedback and have high potentials in the actual lab setting.

Survey Data On Motivation Schemas

We surveyed 14 people within the lab space during one session. The participants include 12 Qualcomm employees and 2 high school students. Our questions focused majorly on different types of motivation schemes, including competitiveness, trophies (collectibles), collaboration, self achievement and inspiration from others. Here are some statistics:


According to the data, 59.3% of the users chose 4 and 5, which represents that more than half of the users have a preference to competitiveness. 28.6% of the users choose 3, which means that they are not passion about the competitiveness, but they are OK with it. In a word, few users object the competitiveness on Thinkabit Quest.


In this table, 71.5% of the user(those who choose 4&5) prefer to work on project as a team. We also have 21.4% of the users choose level 3, which means they accept both work alone and work in teams. Base on this data, we came up with the team finding section on the quest board prototype as an alternative option. And for those who like to work alone, they can still work on regular project.

Inspiration from Others

Most users have great curiosity to see other users’ work to get inspiration and appreciate the robotic items they’ve made. We want to take this result into consideration, for example, by making space to show their physical work or displaying progress pictures on the TV screen.

Collecting Trophies

Although 57.2% of the people (8 out of 14) express the disinterest in a trophy collection schema (which applies to the passport), the majority of respondents are adults who may think that the passport is too childish. The passport is designed to appeal to the younger audience. Our question could also be biased because there are many other types of trophies besides stamps that people could be interested in.

In-person User Testing

We presented the Wonderland poster to the first-time comers and the Quest to the intermediate users, where they can interact with the prototype in person. We asked them to walk us through the process and identify each parts by thinking out loud. The user testings provide us valuable data in terms of what work out and what does not. From there, we were able to learn from our failures and revise the prototype features to address main needs.

Feedback on “The Wonderland”

Four kids interacted with our Wonderland prototype. Two of them are first-time visitors while the others are frequent visitors. Three of them were NOT able to recognize the ‘Servo’ logo, but they could identify all others and roughly point out where the tools are located. One kid was able to tell every step with details, because he has enough experience with engineering and the lab space. This result shows considerable success with the prototype because both the beginners and intermediate users were able to recognize the components of the poster (except for Servo). All of them were interested in completing the project if given the opportunity.

Feedback on “Thinkabit Quest”

One main debate is to keep the quest board physical or make it digital. The opinion is pretty diverse. A little girl said that the physical form is not interactive enough and that she is much more comfortable with electronic devices (iPad). Three employees would like to have both, because digital form allows cross-office interactions and can get more people to participate. Yet another employee thinks that we should begin with a whiteboard, then make it digital when there are more participants.

Some officials (such as the host) and employees are concerned with management responsibilities for the board. Who will keep track of the credibility of pin movements (some people may cheat or intentionally mess up the pins)? Who will maintain the board and update projects when they are obsolete? There are many problems that we have not think of before, and ideally we want to keep the board as self-sufficient as possible.

Interpreted Results

Our prototype should incorporate the following design principles, derived from our interpretation of gathered data. 

Design Principles
Visibility of help and guidance

We want to provide visual and clear guidance for our users to explore a varieties of tinkering affordances within the lab. By informing our users of the identified potentials and what users can make with existing resources, we hope to help bridge the gap between innovative ideas and realization, through tinkering, of such ideas.

With iterations of data collection, we further observe that there is also a lack of availability of specialized help that are present in space or online.

Encourage physical interactions

In real world, technologies often abstract physical and in-person interactions (ex.Online forums). For our purpose, instead of creating abstractions, we want to leverage existing technologies to engage meaningful users interaction within the lab.

Motivation and inspiration

We want our product to motivate our users to come back for more projects, and for advanced users we want them to continue to come back for more community challenges.

Social and collaborative environment

We want our product to improve the current social dynamic and collaborative environment through sharing user inspired team projects and challenges. This principle is inspired by the “pro-sumer” platform where users can gain `satisfaction from what they produce and consume.

Community based support

We want our product to allow new and old users to form a strong and lasting community of tinkerers and helpers.

Refined Prototypes

Thinkabit Wonderland


Referring to feedback in using testings, three out of four participants were not able to understand ‘Servo’. They could point out what the logo means, but the required action was not incredibly clear.

Changed Features

Intuitive Titles: Instead of nouns, we changed titles to short phrases. For example, instead of “Servo”, we change it to “Make things rotate”, because it explains the functionality of the step more clearly.

Thinkabit Quest


• Some users prefer a digitized version of the quest board. There is an issue of maintaining the projects on the board and the pins. Also, a lot of tinkers are used to the idea of going online for help and guidance.

• A regular in the lab, and an expert on Dragonboard mentioned an online community might already out-compete our board solution. People who needed guidance, project ideas and technical support can now all do that online at home, instead of coming in person. However, there are also people who like to come in, no necessarily seeking to solve the need for guidance, project ideas and/or technical support.

• The specialized pins were added to this prototype because many people enjoy competition (result from survey). However, organizing the pins and board in general also raise management problems.

Changed Features

Personalized pins

Some of the organizers were concerned about who will be held responsible of updating the board. In order to make it self-sustaining, we decide to get rid of the pins and allow users to do whatever projects they want, regardless of difficulty.

Team project section: collaboration

The survey data shows that 70% of the people would prefer working with a team. When asked if one will look for a team collaborative project to work on, 63% of the people answered yes. Therefore, we added this new section, hoping to provide a social platform for people to contribute ideas and make friends.

Wall of fame: inspiration

This is a polaroid wall where people can take a selfie with their finished projects and stick them onto the whiteboard. From the survey, taking inspirations from other people’s projects is a popular demand from the users. We want to engage people with as many different motivation schemas as possible.

Color-coded difficulty level

We took away the requirement to finish projects in order. Participants can now select any project they would like to try. The color-coded difficulty level will help the users select a matching project based on their skills. By lowering the commitment, participants will have more confidence to try various projects than the pressure to finish them all.



• We would need to trust that users actually completed the project in order to receive their stamps.

• The host cannot keep track of everyone’s completion of projects.


Project completion stamp pages

We incorporate Wonderland and Thinkabit Quest with this prototype in order to promote participants in all activities.

Diary of project ideas

This allows the users to keep track of their creative ideas instead of forgetting them. We designed this out of intuition.

Secondary Research

Joanie, an HCI Master student at Virginia Tech and manager of a makerspace at a local high school, told us about her past experience with passports. She made them for open house nights at the makerspace and the parents and kids were frantic about it. Each passport had about 4-6 stickers that were to be obtained throughout the night. To get a sticker, one had to go to the specific station and complete a short workshop type activity. Joanie organized it so that a person could not get all the stickers in one night. She did this so that people would have incentive to come back to the next open house night to finish collecting all the stickers. The passports were very engaging and that the parents and kids loved it. It showed personal achievement, created a sense of community, generated friendly competition, and became incentive to come back.

Summary of our data driven development

The survey and user testings offered us valuable insights into what the users really want and what types of motivation schema that work for them. We diverge a lot during our initial stage of prototyping, then converge to focus on the intermediate group and their respective targeted solution (Thinkabit Quest). We went through many iterations during our design process to ensure the needs were thoroughly considered. Our proposed solutions also takes advantage of existing tools and technologies within the environment, informed by with user testing data and a human-centered mindset.

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