What I Learned Fixing a Tape Dispenser

What I Learned Fixing a Tape Dispenser

I am going to tell you what I learned fixing a tape dispenser but before I do I would like you to imagine fixing one yourself. Imagine holding the beaten and battered dispenser, its flywheel broken it’s cutting-edge dull. Imagine taking it and restoring it to its rightful place as a tool of mild convenience and efficiency. what do you think you would learn from the experience?

I certainly did not think I would learn much.

I was wrong.

When we started the project to fix the school’s tape dispenser problems, Mr. Neal, the teacher of Design for Change (D4C) gave us this handy image to help explain the design process.

The image shows all the steps that should be taken when designing anything. (“Ideate stands for create ideas)

When designing to fix the tape dispenser problem my group did really well when defining the problem and prototyping a solution and its these two subject I want to tell you about.

After being told about the problem asking some questions to help empathize the second important step toward a solution was to define the problem and create a problem statement. The class was separated into teams and all the teams worked to create a problem statement that would be used by the class.

My team defined the official problem statement shown below, used by the whole class to Ideate solutions

‘Mr. Neal’s plastic tape dispensers keep breaking. The solution must be eco-friendly, mobile, stable and incorporate a use for the broken tape dispensers.’

Using this problem statement we Ideated many different solutions (one of the most important things I learned from the experience is that quantity beats quality every time). We decided to focus on the idea of preventing the dispensers from braking, not just fixing ones that were already broken.

To accomplish this goal we isolated the fact that most tape dispensers broke when they were knocked carelessly from students desks. To fix this problem our solution needed to be two-fold

  1. Make the tape dispensers heavier so they were not knocked down so easily.
  2. Make them more noticeable

By now the solution was obvious;

Put the tape dispenser in a book

Good luck knocking this bad boy off your desk (looking at you 6th grade)

After making the tape saver 9000(trademark pending) we also fixed many of the broken tape dispensers by fixing their broken flywheels and replacing them with a more durable material (metal, or wood in some cases).

Impressive as our solution was it had some flaws.

  1. I hate books as much as the next guy but you would have to brutally destroy a lot of books to make one of these for each tape dispenser in the school.
  2. It was time-consuming. It took almost 3 classes to find and make our prototype.
  3. In the end, it was probably unfeasible to consider rolling this out to every classroom in a school the size of FIS. Which means that although the solution met every parameter set in the problem statement it did not solve the problem and to my knowledge FIS still struggles with broken tape dispensers.

It is this last point which taught me the most from fixing a tape dispenser.

You can make the best problem statement and fulfill every parameter but a solution which solves the problem statement and one which solves the problem are not always one and the same.

That is what I learned from fixing a tape dispencer.

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