Research and Problem-Finding

For this week's assignment, I settled on a specific winter-related topic to research. I chose to explore thin ice and cold water safety, recalling the reports of drowning and hypothermia I hear every year. By conducting interviews, I learned about the experience of falling through ice and the physiological effects it has on the body. I sought out individuals who have fallen through ice or experienced hypothermia, have knowledge about winter safety, or have experience rescuing drowning victims.

Michael Tormoen


Michael is a freshman at the University of Minnesota who responded to my online search and volunteered to be interviewed. He has much experience with falling through ice, having fallen into the pond at his grandparents' house on ten different occasions. During childhood visits to northern Wisconsin, he and his cousins would dare each other to run across a semi-frozen pond. Someone, usually Michael, would break through the ice and fall into the cold water. All the children would respond with laughter--including the now shivering Michael. It was difficult for Michael to get out of the water. The cold numbed his senses and his limbs. He tried to push himself up onto the ice, only to break through again. He repeated this action, making a path to the shore five or six feet away. After he had climbed out of the water, the adults would run outside, yelling and fearing for his life. They brought him inside, dried his clothes, and warmed him--scolding him all the while.

Michael recommended that anyone who falls through ice should stay calm and regulate their breathing. He also emphasized the importance of spreading one's weight across a large surface area when attempting to get back onto the ice.

Laura Garbe

laura.jpgLaura is another student who volunteered to be interviewed. She shared a story about her experience with mild hypothermia. Laura was swimming at her family's cabin, not during the winter, but on a particularly cold Memorial Day weekend. She, along with her brother and a friend, pulled a swim raft into the lake. Laura's brother and friend mostly stayed on the raft, but she swam to the bottom of the lake and spent more time in the water. Later the trio was too cold to stay in the water, and the three made their way back to the cabin. Laura's brother and friend quickly recovered from the cold, but she was shivering uncontrollably for the next couple hours. She tried to recover by drinking hot tea and sitting on a couch under a blanket but didn't feel much better. She didn't fully warm up until taking a long, hot shower.

Laura recalls feeling lethargic and cold to her core. Immediately after leaving the water, she wanted a way to quickly transfer heat to her entire body, a need that she couldn't fulfill with what she had on hand.

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht

Gord_Giesbrecht_web.jpgDr. Giesbrecht is a professor at the University of Manitoba who researches human response to extreme environments and has performed hundreds of cold water immersion studies. I used many resources from his website to learn about surviving a fall into cold water. I have contacted him but have yet to receive a reply. I hope to interview him via phone next week.

Kara Owens


Kara Owens is the information officer of the Boat and Water Safety division of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources. We've made contact, but she was unavailable for interview this weekend. We plan to meet next week, and I expect that she will have lots of relevant information. I've already used her Boat and Water Safety website as a research source.

Other Interviews?

I also contacted the University of Minnesota's Department of Emergency Management and a local snowmobile retailer asking about local winter safety problems and precautions. Both have yet to reply, but I hope to interview their staff members next week.

Designers make observations and conduct research to gather information about their topic of interest. Because it was impossible for me to observe people falling into freezing water, I focused heavily on researching my topic.

Two particularly useful resources were videos on Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht's website, titled "Getting That Sinking Feeling" and "Cold Water Survival." The first is extremely relevant to a product designer. It compares two snowmobile jackets, one that is more comfortable but absorbs water and another that is more expensive but drains water and is buoyant. The better-designed flotation suit, though less comfortable, is able to save a drowning victim. The second video shares specific techniques to climb out of freezing water.

I was also interested in Dr. Giesbrecht "1-10-1 Rule" of cold water immersion. For one minute, a victim in cold water gasps and hyperventilates involuntarily. To survive, he must calm down and concentrate on not drowning. Over the next 10 minutes, the victim loses effective use of his fingers, arms, and legs. Without a life jacket, he will drown. This is the critical time window in which the victim can potentially escape without outside assistance. He can survive for an additional one hour. After this time period, the victim will die of hypothermia. It is a misconception that hypothermia quickly kills victims within minutes.


Designers often take an empathetic approach to their topic, attempting to experience it for themselves. I didn't want to jump into a frozen body of water, but I did opt for a cold shower one morning.

coldshower.jpgConclusions and Problem Statements

The goal of the interviews and research was to create problems statements to be contemplated later in the class. These are a few problem statements I constructed:

"Michael, a child who has fallen into an icy pond, needs a better way to get out of the water, because pushing vertically only further breaks the ice."

This problem was inspired by Michael's ineffectual attempts at getting himself on top of the ice. Dr. Giesbrecht also noted in his "Cold Water Survival" video that this technique is a common first response of a victim in cold water.

"Laura, a victim of hypothermia, needs a way to warm up her entire a body quickly, because simply insulating herself isn't stopping her uncontrollable shivering."

In my interview with Laura, she strongly emphasized her need to become warm quickly. She needed heat actively transferred to her body, rather than slowly contained by a blanket.

"Snowmobile enthusiasts need a way to see patches of open water, because their current headlights don't allow them to safely travel at night."

In Dr. Giesbrecht's "Getting That Sinking Feeling" video, a demonstration depicted snowmobiles plunging into water at night. It was stated that the riders should have slowed down so their headlights could illuminate the water. I wondered why the riders didn't simply have better headlights.

Idea Wallet

The final portion of this assignment was to start an "idea wallet" and a "bug list." I have been recording interesting inventions, solutions, and oddities I encounter in my idea wallet to use as resources for future creations of my own. A bug list is the opposite. It contains all of the frustrations, glitches, and design flaws I notice every day. Below are two example entries from my week.


One frustration I've had recently was riding to class on a soggy and snow-covered bicycle seat. Some people create makeshift covers out of plastic bags, but I think it is reasonable to expect a better solution. Coincidentally, I also observed a clever idea that monopolizes on this problem. In the picture above, a local business created adjustable and formfitting bicycle seat covers and planted them on college students' bikes. In a brilliant advertising ploy, information about the business was spread and an entirely unrelated consumer need was fulfilled. I'm sure the positive experience created by the advertisement will leave a far more favorable and memorable impression than its direct message--all for virtually no cost.


Using somewhat random participants in this assignment is excellent. As the assignment calls for at least 3 interviews, I think it would have been beneficial to go find at least one other person to interview instead of waiting for them to reply. Supplementing your interviews with research was certainly helpful, though. I would suggest going to a store that sells winter products, such as a snowmobile store - there could be employees there who would have some great information for you on your topic.

The layout of the blog is good. The problem statements are descriptive and do not contain solutions as far as I can tell - I'm not sure you need to include a blurb on how you came to those statements though. Also, the final paragraphs seem out of place compared to the rest of the blog. I don't believe the bug list was required to be on the blog - maybe you could create a new entry for that?

Overall, you clearly did a lot of research on the topic of ice and cold water safety. I would love to hear how the rest of your interviews go this week!

Winter Safety is a difficult topic to explore when we have yet to have a big snow and the lakes have not frozen. Your approach is a good beginning, and it seems like the interviews you were able to conduct were fruitful, illustrating two challenges presented by cold environments. Though you were not able to contact everyone, you have started good research with primary sources. When they get back to you, I expect you will find some added insights.

The thin ice dare is a terrifying ritual! The "bravest" kid is also the most likely to be lost, the further from shore.

Your interviews led to particular problems that need solutions. Your problem statements are all clear and practical, and I expect your brainstorming sessions to go well.

What were your thoughts during the cold shower experiment? Though it may seem trivial, remembering times when the hot water heater was empty or showering at camp showers I know the cold can be challenging to enter. How did you react?

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