Challenge brief: Serendipitous encounters

Serendipity encompasses the idea of the ‘happy accident’ and the ‘pleasant surprise’ as well as ‘sagacity’ – the quality of being discerning, sound in judgement and far-sighted.

The serendipitous discovery is common in the sciences where information is revealed accidentally, the serendipitous is a delight in design where it often provides for leaps in understanding. More importantly, the serendipitous is a joy in life where the beauty of an accidental discovery or a pleasant surprise reminds us of Mark Weiser’s ‘walk in the woods’.

‘There is more information available at our fingertips during a walk in the woods than in any computer system, yet people find a walk among trees relaxing and computers frustrating. Machines that fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter theirs, will make using a computer as refreshing as taking a walk in the woods.’ – Mark Weiser 1991

The challenge this year invites you to explore the serendipitous as a theme both in terms of design and design forms:

  • Explore the serendipitous in your process
  • Design for serendipitous participant experience
  • Be aware of and document serendipitous discovery in your process
  • Use serendipitous experiences for design inspiration

The challenge is to identify an activity that is currently a mostly isolated experience, and to augment/rethink/design this activity to allow for serendipitous encounters.

For example, explore activities that require people to move from point A to point B. This can be an activity taking place in the physical world or in online spaces, such as taking public transport to work, walking from your office to a meeting room within a building, or shopping for a book online. Following Jane Jacobs’ observations of the ‘sidewalk ballet’, not taking the fastest trip between A and B is what matters, but the journey in between. Search represents another opportunity for serendipitous encounters. Think about the different ways how search can be facilitated, and how serendipity might enrich this experience. Again this could be placed in the physical or the virtual realm.

Consider these questions that Ethan Zuckerman raised earlier this year to guide your research into the challenge:

  • How do we encounter physical spaces to encourage serendipity?
  • What lessons about serendipity in physical spaces can we bring into the virtual realm?
  • How can we annotate the physical world, digitally, in ways that expand our encounters with the world, rather than limiting them?

Getting started

Read Ethan Zuckerman’s notes for his CHI 2011 closing keynote:


Revisit Mark Weiser’s visionary article from 1991:


Find out how the serendipitous can be designed in to the experience of digital online media:


Take a break to go on a serendipitous journey:



As part of the challenge you are required to keep a design blog throughout the 24 hours in order to demonstrate your design process. Use the blog to record any major stages for your design, such as user research, prototyping, etc. As other contestants can also read your blog posts, you don’t need to publish any results in these posts. What we want to be able to follow is the methodology you used to come up with your final design. Make sure we have the link to your design blog, by emailing it along with your team name to sdc@ozchi.org. Include the names of all team members somewhere on your blog.

To demonstrate your solution you will need to submit a video. This can be either a video prototype or a concept video. Anything from animation through screen capture to acting is valid. Note that this means that you don’t necessarily have to implement the system. The video should not be longer than 4 minutes. Include at least a title and your team name somewhere in the video. Make sure to leave enough time for rendering the video as this can be a slow process.

To describe your project you additionally have to write a brief note explaining concept, design process and response. You are also encouraged to include research references and other relevant links in the note.

Video and note have to be submitted as final blog post on your design blog. Upload your video to an online video site, such as vimeo or YouTube, that allows you to embed it in your blog post.

Submissions will be open until Sunday 2nd October 11am (AEST).

Since uploading to online video sites can take time, you can optionally upload the final video file to dropbox.com or any other file sharing service, and include the download link as placeholder in your final blog post by Sunday 11am (AEST). Make sure that your video is properly embedded on your blog no later than Sunday 12pm (AEST).

Judging criteria

Your submission will be assessed by our panel of judges according to the following criteria:

  • Quality of design process and use of interaction design methods and theory
  • Design quality, innovation and originality of your response to the challenge
  • Considerations into user experience and user interaction
  • Quality, visual style, clarity, and depth of the submission (video and note)

Prizes and awards

The top four entries to the online challenge will receive the following prizes and awards:

  • Travel scholarship for attending the OzCHI conference in Canberra to the amount of $600 (per team)
  • Invitation to write a 2-page paper, which will be included in the OzCHI USB proceedings
  • You will have 2 weeks time after the results are announced to complete the paper
  • Opportunity to present your work in a special session at the OzCHI conference in Canberra. We will support remote video presentations if you can’t make it to the conference. However in this case your team won’t be able to claim the travel scholarship.

Based on the paper submissions and the presentations at the conference the overall winning team will be selected. The overall winning team will be announced during the closing ceremony on the last day of the conference and will receive:

  • Prizes sponsored by our industry partners (for 1st and 2nd place)
  • Certificates of recognition (for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place)

Coverage and documentation

Apart from the submission requirements mentioned above, we love to see as much ‘behind the scenes’ coverage as possible – use your design blog to tell us about your process as well as Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc. Please use ozchi24 for tagging any challenge-related posts.

Mini challenges

During the 24-hour period of the challenge we will post some mini challenges with prizes to win on our website. Keep an eye on our blog or Twitter channel at 2pm and 6pm (both AEST) to find out more.

Online support

You can post questions on our website (http://ozchi24.org), on Twitter (@ozchi24), or through email (sdc@ozchi.org). We will provide support throughout the 24 hours of the challenge.


By participating in the OzCHI student design challenge, you agree to the publication of your entry (video and blog) on the challenge website (ozchi24.org) and the conference website (ozchi.org). You further grant us the rights to include parts from your video submission in a video documentation about the challenge. Any material we publish will be fully referenced and your team will remain the copyrights. The travel scholarship can only be used towards expenses for attending the OzCHI conferences, i.e. travel tickets (train, bus, airfare), conference registration, accommodation in Canberra during the days of the conference. You will receive the scholarship after sending us the according invoices as proof of your expenses.