Designing with Empathy

Which moment was the most important success during your team’s Fantastic/Toxic Plastic Studio work? Which moment was the most important failure? Why?

Every minute a garbage truck filled to the brim dumps plastic into the ocean. This adds up to 8 million tons at the end of the year. We, as humans, are producing more and more plastic, while recycling less and less. We produce almost 20,000 plastic bottles every second, yet only recycle 23% of all plastic bottles every year.

As plastic enters the ocean, chemicals are released into the water that in turn affect EVERY marine animal. My team and I needed to know this information in order to understand why our client, a student-run club at our high school, wanted to tackle this specific issue in our community. Through a series of meetings and researching more about the affects our actions have on our oceans, we were able to gain empathy towards our client.



How might we make recycling plastic a fun experience for FIS students while also contributing to a good cause?

This is the statement we came up with for this build. During this short amount of time, we designed our product as an arcade game machine in which one would recycle an empty plastic bottle by using it as the “token”.

Early on in the build, our team failed at coming up with the specific game we should use or whether we should create our own. We tried out basketball, Power Drop, Gravity Hill, and multiple other arcade games. After learning that the plastic bottles themselves and their caps are actually different plastics and resultantly are recycled differently, it became obvious we needed to use this in our design. But how? We needed to figure out a way for the user to not only separate the two, but actually want to and understand why. We landed on the arcade game Plinko.

Finally constructing and being able to see in person what we had worked so hard to create was such a fulfilling moment in our work. It was so much fun to actually test out our prototype in the school cafeteria and to watch people interact with it. Some edits and additions that need to be made became evident in this learning opportunity. We also received a lot of positive feedback from FIS students who were very excited to use the machine as it is satisfying doing something quick for a good cause, yet very enjoyable!

What did I learn from trying to fix a broken tape dispenser?

Scotty McTape epitomizes the tape industry. The plaid-dressed mascot for the Scotch brand was first introduced in the 1950s and truly launched tape into the everyday world. Masking tape was first invented by Richard Drew, a mechanical engineer, of the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. (3M) in 1925, and he later invented clear cellulose tape in 1930. It was invented to eliminate stripping of paint when removed off of freshly painted cars and for bakers to seal packages. This one man later on invented Micropore Surgical Tape, Pop-Up Tape Strips, and Post-it Notes as well. 3M created the Scotch brand and widened their target market to include households and schools with the help of Scotty McTape. He appeared in TV commercials and many other advertisements at the time.

Here’s an early ‘50s commercial of Scotty.

Since Scotty had first introduced tape, the industry has seen a massive rise in demand as it is now a part of everyday life. More than 90% of American households use transparent tape. Tape is used everywhere, in universities, businesses, houses, airports, everywhere. Because it is used so often by so many people, table top tape dispensers need to be just about indestructible or else we wouldn’t be able to use it so easily.  

At my high school, I recently had to work with a team to produce a solution for a broken tape dispenser. I learned quite a lot about working with others in a team and how to meet my client’s needs through this task. I was in a team with 2 other people that I was unfamiliar with and through the project, a friendship was born.

We all had different ideas for the project, but when we respected and listened to each other, we were able to compromise towards a solution. I also learned to trust and rely on my team members. For instance when divvying up tasks, I relied on them to complete their task to the best of their ability and on time, just as they relied on me to do the same. Active and equal participation from everyone is vital in teamwork. You must express your own ideas, build on others’ ideas, and never put any ideas down.

Our client clearly vocalized his needs and wants for the solution of a broken tape dispenser. The most important were that it had to be eco-friendly, stable, and incorporate a use for the broken models. We prioritized these aspects in our tape dispenser, but also focused on making it one-handed, a desired detail.

We successfully met our client’s needs by turning a broken tape dispenser into a book tape dispenser. The book used was up-cycled from our school library, making it eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing as it blends in well in a classroom environment. It is heavy enough to create stability and one handed use. We had to carefully measure and mark the book before cutting into it to create a spot for the tape dispenser model. Using a bandsaw, we cut through the book from the title page to 0.5mm from the back cover and glued in the model. We created wooden pins to fix broken or adapt the plastic flywheels by sawing wooden sticks into pieces, so they would fit inside the flywheel. While our client desired metal pins to be used, one of my team members discovered wooden pins are more practical, easier to produce, and have a better fit in the flywheels.


In a nutshell, fixing a broken tape dispenser improved my teamwork skills and taught me how to meet client needs.