Colligan Challenge participant lands internship at Amazon

Claire Sakaguchi

In January 2014, Claire Sakaguchi, as part of Team IRIS, competed against four other design teams in the final round of the 2013 Colligan User Interface Design Challenge. Although her team did not win the competition, her participation in the Colligan Challenge led her to earn an internship with one of the most heavily sought after tech firms in the world. She served as an intern in the Amazon Concept Lab, an experience she says she would not have gained without the Colligan Challenge.

Sakaguchi said participating in the Colligan Challenge opened doors for her, including the opportunity to intern at Amazon.

At the time of the Challenge, Sakaguchi was a UO senior pursuing a major in product design and a minor in business. Team IRIS snagged second place in the competition and a prize of $4,000 for their design of a medical communication system that would help bridge the language gap for first responders working in disaster relief or other global catastrophic events. The system consists of a wearable scanning device that linked to a user interface displaying patient vital statistics using universal symbols and color codes.

“Our team was focused on communication, specifically where communication is more critical in one situation over another, “Sakaguchi said. ”We determined that communication between patient and doctor in an international context was a challenge.”

Participating in the Colligan Challenge helped Sakaguchi realize the need for stronger integration of business and product design. During the competition, the judges asked her team to describe their marketing model and their potential buyer.  The team had identified the target audience for their medical communication system, which included non-profit groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Peace Corps, but they had not thought about a distribution and marketing plan.

“We didn’t know how to answer the judges’ question because developing a marketing strategy isn’t a familiar step for product design students,” Sakaguchi said. “This was a wake up call for me. We hadn’t realized for a product being distributed to nonprofits, it’s important to keep production costs low and minimize technology complexity.”

After the competition Sakaguchi was selected as one of 66 students from U.S. universities to participate in the University Innovation Fellows program funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University, which offers undergraduate students the training and support to become leaders who catalyze change on their home campuses. Inspired by her experience with the Colligan Challenge, Sakaguchi set out to bridge the two worlds of product design and entrepreneurial business.

“I wanted to tackle the segregation I observed between business students and design students,” Sakaguchi said.  

As part of her fellowship, she helped organize the event 3 Day Startup Springboard, an interactive workshop held last spring at the UO, in which students gained skills in testing and pitching an idea to a global audience and creating a start-up business.  

After graduating from UO this past June, Sakaguchi started a summer internship in Amazon’s Concept Lab – a lab to develop big ideas that may eventually become Amazon products in 3-5 years. Her participation in the Colligan Challenge was key to obtaining the internship. Rob Haitani, principal UX designer at Amazon, participated as a judge in the 2013 Colligan Challenge. Following the competition, Haitani contacted the UO looking for Colligan Challenge participants to apply for the internship. After four rounds of interviews Sakaguchi was selected for the internship with Haitani serving as her mentor. Sakaguchi completed her internship at the end of September. Starting in early 2015 she will be working fulltime at Amazon as a user experience designer.

Sakaguchi’s advice for participants in this year’s competition:

“Scope and scalability is key to this competition,” she said. “Our project had a huge scope. The first place winners had a smaller scale product and they had a targeted business plan.“

Interested in applying to take part in the 2014 Colligan User Interface Design Competition? Register your team by midnight Thursday October 23.