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In a time of unprecedented social isolation, where in-person events are unviable, five NSW EWB university chapters collaborated to take their annual Inter-University Design Corner competition online, for the first time ever! 

“[I loved about this event…] Getting to work and socialise with my friends via Zoom on an interesting topic, especially at a time when socialising is still not what it was before and uni life doesn’t exist.”

Big Design EWB Participant

A passionate team of EWB Chapter members from UTS, USyd, Macquarie University, UWS and UNSW re-designed and adapted the event, previously known as ‘Design Corner’ hosted at UTS,  into a week-long design challenge titled ‘Big Design EWB’, aiming to increase understanding of the importance of deeply understanding community needs in design. 

Over 5o student teams participated, dedicating a week of their July holidays to design and pitch solutions to improve health and access to medical supplies including sanitary items, disease prevention and telemedicine, in remote communities.

Big Design EWB’s Interactive Online Delivery 

Big Design EWB kicked off with an address via Zoom by the organising committee and a Design Thinking Workshop run by University Innovation Fellows (UIF).  Throughout the week, participants were supported via a Facebook group where they had access to the organising committee and were fed tips and tricks regarding prototyping and tutorials on topics such as ‘How to pitch your idea’. There was even a movie night run toward the end of the competition, giving participants some time to chill out and sit back before putting the final touches on their designs. 

“We wanted to provide a creative but purposeful outlet for all the engineering students who wanted a chance to experience tackling real-world engineering problems in the comfort of their own homes. We centred our design problem around accessing healthcare since it seemed so relevant to our current situation. Our goal with this year’s design challenge was to invoke a sense of empathy from our participants, so that the motivations behind the solutions would be genuine and that’s exactly what we saw,” said a representative from the organising committee.

Event supported by academics, industry and community development professionals

Online delivery of events such as this are providing more and more opportunities for academics and industry professionals to get involved in EWB Chapter events. Finalists pitched over Zoom to an impressive array of judges from academia, industry and community development professions, including UTS Rapido, Engineers Australia, the Australian Water Association and the Department of Defence.

Key Takeaways

Community needs, humanitarian engineering, teamwork, fun

EWB Chapters play an important role in providing opportunities for their peers to explore engineering as a mechanism for positive change. Of participants surveyed, 63% included “Increased awareness of importance of deeply understanding community needs in design” as one of their top 3 takeaways from Big Design EWB. Other top key takeaways included “Greater appreciation for humanitarian engineering” and “Importance of collaboration and teamwork in engineering.” 

And let’s not forget enjoyment and fun! Asked what they loved about the event, participants responded with key themes of friendship, fun and a challenge, the “opportunity to meet new people”, “having fun with teammates”, “the challenge” and “enthusiasm from the organising committee” to name just a few.

“I learnt that there is a very large number of economic, cultural and social factors you need to take into consideration when trying to solve a problem”

“This event gave a chance for me to improve my teamwork and leadership and most of all, having fun with teammates. I love how balanced my team is.”

– Big Design EWB Participants

Team Gumpad from the University of Sydney reflect on their experience in Big Design EWB 2020.


Find out more about EWB’s Chapter network.

*43 participants completed the post event survey