Name that Tech – Collaborative Design Challenge Workshop

Twitter by Drew Gordon

At the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, 2011, Joshua Breitbart of The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative and Nina Bianchi of The Work Department and Detroit Project Archive designed and organized Name That Tech Collaborative Design Challenge. With the help of a handful of terrific volunteers, we had a successful first run of the workshop and saw some incredibly illuminating illustrations of a wide range of technologies, ranging from Twitter to Encryption to Inclined Plane / Lever. We’re posting our documentation here as well as all of the resources we created so that you can host this workshop yourself in your community, anywhere!

Surveillance by Sasha Costanza-Chock

Name that Tech: Collaborative Design Challenge Workshop


Purpose: If we want to teach a new technology, we need to use words and images that people can readily understand. This workshop helps us learn how to do that by restricting us to basic shapes and some of the most common words in the English language.

Goal: Explain a specific technology to someone using common words and shapes.

Materials: Scissors, glue sticks, paper; set of words; set of shapes. (You can also use magazines or newspapers for raw images and text.) You can download the graphics, word elements and instructions here:

Basic Geometry: print on 11 x 17” paper, print one PDF set of shapes per 5
Basic Words: print on 8.5 x 11” paper, print one PDF set of words per 15 people
Instructions and Template: print on 8.5 x 11” paper and hand out to all participants, this also doubles as the paper that participants will use for their design

Note on accessibility: It is important to have a table available for anyone to work who may not be able to use the floor as a work space.

How the Internet Works by Hannah Sassman The Cloud of Technology by Ashraf Ali


1) Think of a technology that you are familiar with. It can be old or new, real or imagined.
2) Find the shapes and words you want to use and cut them out.
3) Arrange the shapes and words on the page in a way that explains the technology: how it works or how you use it. Imagine that the person you are explaining it to doesn’t know anything about the technology.
Note: You may use any number and combination of words and shapes; you can cut,
fold and past; but you can only use what has been provided.
4) Glue the pieces in place. Make sure they are all glued.
5) Write your name and contact information, along with the technology you are explaining, on the back of the sheet of paper.
6) Using the binder clips, hang the flyer up to display and dry on any of the hooks on the window.
Documentation by Preston Rhea

Documentation by Preston Rhea

Documentation by Preston Rhea

More documentation of the workshop results and photos can be viewed here:
Workshop Process Documentation: Preston Rhea, Open Technology Initiative
Workshop Complete Results: Nina Bianchi, The Work Department
Workshop Process Documentation: SFA Media

Email Nina Bianchi at nina [at] if you’d like to share your documentation, we’d love to share your stories! Tweet about it using #collabdesign to post to the Allied Media Conference TALK site.
Photo and Illustration credits above, from top to bottom:

1. Twitter by Drew Gordon, 2. Surveillance by Sasha Costanza-Chock, 3. The Cloud of Technology by Ashraf Ali, 4. How the Internet Works by Hannah Sassman, 5-7. Workshop Documentation by Preston Rhea  





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