Hannah Duffy, University of Illinois Chicago
Senseables, an outerwear and footwear solution addressing the needs of children with autism through touch sensitivity, learning tools for independence, and style and peer acceptance.
Hannah I. Duffy BFA Industrial Design University of Illinois at Chicago
The jury strongly respected that the student was able to achieve - and this within a limited timeframe - a broader and deeper understanding of the autism condition than is usually the case in longer term projects. We also appreciated that the core value of the project lies in the improvement of people's quality of life and that this is achieved through the design of relevant and "senseable" products. We judged the project to be well implemented throughout, following a consistent path from problem definition through research, through design exploration to prototype.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
During my senior year at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I was given the following design brief: “design a product for your senior thesis within sixteen weeks. A current problem, target market, prototype and final rendering will be required”. The most challenging part of this brief was the ambiguousness and choosing a topic that would interest me, challenge me, and be feasible to finish in sixteen weeks.
The problem I set out to solve was how to improve the daily life routine for children with autism. What inspired me to choose this topic, was hearing my Aunt Toni talk about my 7-year old cousin, Liam, and his challenges with autism. The next week I was listening to the news and heard how over 1 in 110 children in the United States has autism. I knew this was a sign that I had found my opportunity; I wanted to better the lives of children with autism through design.
I knew this topic would be challenging, provide a social and large impact, would be rewarding, and of course would require in-depth primary and secondary research. I was ecstatic to finally work on something that meant something to me and would prove to have a purpose in the world.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
At the time, I knew nothing about the disorder autism. I brought “design knowledge” and researching experience. I interpreted the challenges of autism, learned through primary and secondary research, into opportunities for design, which resulted in two products.
There are two additional aspects to my design I achieved that were not part of the original brief. The first is developing my outerwear and footwear solution into an apparel line, Senseables. I was able to create a brand name that is associated with being autism-friendly, yet easily marketable to all children. The title stems from the words “sense” (addressing touch sensitivity needs) and “able”, (giving all children a chance to be able-bodied). Secondly, I designed Senseables to be easily alterable for adults, as several children with autism grow up and still need help with the simple tasks Senseables addresses and helps teach.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
While designing my products, I considered several stakeholders and audiences. I considered caregivers and teachers of children with autism; the products help them help and teach their children to learn daily tasks. I considered children with autism; the products allow children with autism to feel more comfortable during their daily routine, feel more independent by making simple activities easier to learn and simple products easier to use, and to be more accepted by their peers by addressing their needs but not sacrificing style. I considered manufacturing, as the designs do not pose any complex manufacturing methods for ease of mass-producing. Retailers are considered, as they have an incentive to sell Senseables because Senseables meets the needs of children with autism (a growing population) and their caregivers unlike the clothes currently being sold. Retailers also have an opportunity for revenue; the market for clothing that addresses children with autism’s needs exists but has not been tapped.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
The rigor that informed my design was extensive secondary and primary research, and several sketch and model iterations. My secondary research involved reading journals and articles written on autism, reading chapters on autism in therapy textbooks, analyzing medical catalogs selling medical-looking clothing for children with autism, and researching as many medical, therapy, and do-it-yourself autism clothing and footwear websites.
My primary research involved extensive interviews, an observation, analysis, and creative intuition. I conducted in-depth primary research by interviewing four Special Education teachers, two Occupational Therapists, one fashion designer, one podiatrist, (emailing) twenty caregivers of children with autism, and observing one Special Education classroom of eleven high school students with autism. I conducted in-depth material exploration and I made twenty prototype iterations for the outer part of the shoe by using cut-up used gym shoes, “Great Stuff”, white foam, painter’s tape, duct tape and nylon. I also conducted in-depth material exploration and eight iterations for “tie methods” of the shoe, using duct tape, twine, yarn, shoelaces and fabric. In addition, I also used “Play Doh” to simulate the ergonomic zipper, and to form the ergonomic parts of the zipper to a child’s hands. Simultaneously 3D sketching, I hand drew and computer rendered over 150 sketches and brought them to several of the interviews to help steer my design.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
The social value of my design is improving self worth for children with autism, a disorder that restricts independence and the ability to use current products, and also hinders the acceptance of others. My designs earn their keep in the world because of the opportunities they offer children and possibly adults with autism. These products also can offer anyone with the same difficulties as people with autism the opportunity to overcome these challenges.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
If I could have done one thing differently, it would have been to test my products on children with autism. Unfortunately, the Institutional Review Board at the University of Illinois at Chicago was not familiar enough with such in-depth undergraduate industrial design research projects, so they were unable to grant my request in the time allotted, to use children with autism as test subjects to test my prototypes.