This entrant demonstrated how design can gel new behaviours with sellable products in an elegant way.
Designed Obstacles is a piece of modular parkour training equipment designed specifically for use in the gymnastics or other controlled training environment. The design uses a system of anchor boxes and bars to create a large, stable training structure which can be quickly setup, reconfigured, and disassembled. The primary structure consists of 4 boxes. Additional boxes and/or additional structures can be incorporated as your gym size and budget allows. The training structure is designed to make use of the mats and other safety equipment in the gym environment, augmenting the system and providing an infinite number of training scenarios.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Parkour is the art of creative movement through the urban environment. It incorporates aspects of gymnastics, rock climbing, and martial arts. When practiced correctly parkour can have phenomenal physical and mental health benefits. The most pertinent challenge facing the parkour community is that injury rates for traceurs (practitioners of parkour) are very high. In my research, I found that this can be attributed to two main factors; a lack of parkour infrastructure in the USA and the challenge of new skill acquisition in high risk environments. Parkour is a young sport which has seen a boom in exposure in popular culture over the last few years. Interest in parkour has skyrocketed but few resources for potential traceurs have had time to develop. As a result, new traceurs often attempt to emulate skills they see on TV or in movies without proper training; resulting in injury. Additionally, the process of new skill acquisition in high risk environments (like the urban setting traceurs use to train) often leads to injury. Simply put, the urban environment is unforgiving and human beings are complex and fragile. Research has shown that dozens of attempts at a single skill are required to significantly reduce one’s variability in its execution. As such, for the first few dozen attempts, a traceur’s risk of injury is very high. The design challenge was to create a product that would allow traceurs to practice more safely and more effectively while also promoting the growth of the parkour infrastructure in the USA.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The primary goal of this project was to create a product that would allow traceurs to practice more safely and more effectively. However, from my research I saw that leveraging the current state of the parkour infrastructure in the USA and growing that infrastructure were also critical in order to help parkour grow as a sport and in providing new traceurs resources for learning parkour. As a former gymnastics instructor, I recognized early on the value of incorporating the gymnastics environment into parkour training. The mats and safety features found in the gymnastics environment are perfectly suited for minimizing the risk of injury during parkour training. However, this equipment and gym space is expensive. As such, it is difficult and risky to finance a dedicated parkour training space in a community where interest in parkour is untested. The gymnastics environment alone, however, is not well suited for parkour training as the mats and equipment do not replicate the physical features found in the urban environment. By designing dedicated parkour training equipment for use in the gymnastics environment, a controlled parkour training environment could be created without the need to invest in an entire parkour gym. Additionally, the designed product needed to be able to expand as interest in parkour increased.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The design process for this project began with a literature review. As parkour is a newer sport, scientific literature on the subject is scarce and so I studied literature of related topics such as gymnastics, rock climbing, general skill acquisition and fear handling behavior. I attended parkour practices in the role of both an observational researcher and as a new student in order to gain insight into the current state of the parkour community and to identify their needs. To help identify the most pertinent needs of the parkour community I developed a web survey and distributed it to traceurs around the world. Based on the results of the survey I began to define the problem space for the project. I conducted small group interviews of new and experienced traceurs in which we expanded on and clarified the information revealed by the survey, more deeply explored the challenges they faced in parkour training, the unmet needs of their current training spaces, and their requirements for potential parkour equipment. At the end of the interviews, I reviewed my initial design concepts with the participants and they provided feedback which helped in developing design criteria for the final solution.
In developing the final design solution, three primary stakeholder’s requirements had to be considered; the traceur, the coach, and the gym owner. Based on my interviews with the traceurs, in order for training equipment to be effective they would need to be able to practice a wide variety of skills, practice multiple skills in succession, and practice skill progression. The primary requirements from the traceurs posed a challenge from a design perspective as the product would not only have to accommodate a variety of different skills but also be able to withstand the high jumping, vaulting, and landing forces of the traceurs in every direction. This force issue was made more challenging by the stakeholder requirements of the coach and gym owner. Since the space in the gym environment is in high demand, this product would need to be mobile so that it could be moved and stored quickly when the space is being used for gymnastics. Unlike most current gymnastics equipment, the design could not be permanently anchored or difficult to move. Additionally, the coach required that the design be able to accommodate up to 8 traceurs at a time. The primary concerns of the gym owner, beyond a small storage footprint, were the accommodation of both adult and child students and the ability to expand the equipment as business from parkour students increased.
I built a full scale works-like prototype and asked expert members of the parkour community to test the equipment in a focus group. The focus group was conducted in the gymnastics environment and the participants were encouraged to test the equipment in any way they saw fit and to provide suggestions on how the design could be improved. The design was well received and refinements were made based on their feedback.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The immediate value of this product is that it provides a piece of equipment that allows traceurs to not only practice more safely but also to develop new skills more quickly because they can manage the fear of injury during the learning process. Using this equipment will reduce the injury rates of new and experienced traceurs and improve retention of new traceurs who often leave the sport after their first injury. More importantly, however, this product leverages existing gymnastics and similar controlled gym environments as a catalyst to grow the parkour community as a whole. Currently, knowledge of parkour by the general public and the interested level in parkour training is too uncertain to warrant the investment in a dedicated parkour gym environment in many communities and safe parkour training spaces are difficult to find. By purchasing this single piece of equipment, gymnastics facilities can not only provide a safe parkour training environment but also offer parkour classes. As knowledge of and interest in parkour increases in the community the gyms can expanded their parkour equipment lineup, and begin to develop permanent controlled parkour training spaces with a substantially smaller financial risk than potential parkour start ups currently face. This phase of growth is critical to parkour as a sport as it is will allow parkour training resources to keep up with the interest of new potential traceurs and experienced traceurs alike.