I was able to participate in Mozilla’s ‘Spring Design Challenge‘ along with my regular schoolwork this past semester, and it was definitely worth the effort. The challenge consisted of addressing the following question: “What would a browser look like if the Web was all there was? No windows, no unnecessary trappings. Just the Web.”
Participants submitted mock-ups of their ideas, attended 11 tutoring sessions over a 3-week period, and then submitted interactive prototypes to be judged. My prototype didn’t make it through the final judging round, but I finished the experience with a working prototype/portfolio piece, direct and detailed feedback from the fellas at Mozilla, a summer internship, and a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Here are five reasons you should take part in the next design challenge Mozilla offers.
- Visual communication and prototyping practice. While taking classes it’s difficult to find the time to create visual artifacts and work on prototyping skills; but this challenge provided both a compelling purpose (create the browser of the future!) and strict deadlines (always a plus). The process of creating the mock-up and prototype helped me think about how to visually communicate my idea (who wants to read a bunch of text?). It also gave my portfolio a visual component that was previously lacking. I love practicing solving problems visually, so this project was also really satisfying and fun.
- Tutoring sessions. As part of the design challenge, participants were able to virtually attend 11 tutoring sessions on prototyping, design, creating extensions, and more. I was able to make about five sessions live, and I watched most of the others on video (you can find links to the vimeo vids at the bottom of the spring design challenge page.) These sessions were all excellent! I encourage anyone to check them out. My favorites were Open Source Design by John Slater, Mozilla’s Creative Director, and Designing for Mobile byMadhava Enros. By the way, I like to remind myself that these are all free. Free! Free advice from awesome experts.
- Feedback y sombreros. There were two main opportunities to receive feedback on our ideas during this contest; first we were able to call in to Mozilla Labs Night and discuss our idea with a few of the Labs people. I called in with my friend Maureen Hanratty from school, and we went over our ideas with the Labs guys – one of which was apparently wearing a sombrero. Then, just today I received detailed and helpful feedback on my prototype from four panelists who judged the final prototypes. I really appreciated this; they had a lot of questions about things I didn’t really have the time to work through in my prototype (such as “what happens to tabs and the URL bar under this interface?” or “the “exploding” gesture is cool, but how would you do this if you’re not on a touch screen?”). I’d love to work through these questions…maybe if someone gives me a deadline I’ll get around to it.
- Pascal. Pascal Finette is the superhuman who helped coordinate the challenge, coach and encourage participants, patiently answer questions, and generally curate the entire process. He seemed to be always online, responding to participant queries almost immediately even though he’s across the pond in London and 5 time zones away (from me, anyway). Pascal helped create a supportive and open environment and should take a lot of credit for this challenge’s success!
- Helped me land my summer internship. No lie! While I was interviewing for summer internships in Interaction Design, interviewers repeatedly asked me to talk about and show them design work that I’d produced – me, not with a team of people. Since nearly all my school projects have been group-produced, I showed my Design Challenge mock-up; at least two interviewers said they were happy I had chosen to show them this example, and one said the mock-up addressed the types of design and context problems that he deals with frequently. Being able to show off the mock-up gave me some street-cred, and it helped initiate some interesting design discussions during my interviews. Ultimately I got an Interaction Design internship at VMware in San Fran, so I’ll probably crash one of the Mozilla Labs nights while I’m out there (clad in a sombrero and/or cavewoman outfit, undoubtedly).
A final shout out to all of the other participants in the challenge. They ranged in age from high school to probably 30s and 40s, and they represented countries from all over the world. I was impressed with their high level of engagement in and excitement about the challenge; the community really solidified during the challenge.
Overall, it was a great experience and I’m glad I had the time and effort to participate! Merci, Mozilla!