User-Centered Design, Expert Interviews, Research, Prototyping
Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop
3D PLA Printing, Material and Specialized Parts Sourcing, Sewing
The assignment began in a medical device design studio alongside the Occupational Therapy team at Quentin Mease Hospital in Houston, TX. My research partner was an OT student from Texas Woman's University. Together, we investigated how people recover from stroke-related injuries, specifically: elbow flexion spasticity.
Defining the Problem:
In other words, the neural pathways that channel a command from the brain to the arm are damaged. Patients must practice to relearn how to properly extend their affected limb, however they need guidance to ensure they are moving correctly, and not compensating with other muscles.
OT's are limited on the amount of time they can spend with each patient, so an orthotic device that ensures proper movement and limited supervision is ideal.
A major breakthrough was comprehending how the arm itself is not injured. Rather, the brain is injured and causing muscles in the arm to contract, which will become injured if left untreated.
To avoid injury occurring, people with spastic limbs are often stuck in static splints that require OT's time and specialized tools to build. These are hard to get in and out of, especially independently.
"Effects from strokes usually act like strings of tree lights: when one goes out, everything past it is affected. So if your bicep is effected, your forearm and hand are likely experiencing spasticity and need to be splinted."
-OT explaining gradations of spastic limbs.
"When you think about it as wires getting tangled, it makes sense you have to patiently concentrate to straighten things out. But it takes time and effort."
-OT explaining recovery
Understanding the process from an OT's perspective helped to clarify how spastic upper limbs are treated with standard tools available. Interacting with their patients expanded our understanding of real-world situations that prevent people in recovery from realizing their full potential.
Drawing and redrawing a concept from multiple angles helps me to work through dimensional mechanics. Understanding how the arm should move was investigated in studio workshops. This included:
Modeling + Printing
The device should guide the arm into extension, while allowing the wearer to increase and decrease intensity for practice, then convert into a static state simply by locking. It should be easy to operate and get on and off.
Various iterations were necessary to first achieve the desired extension dynamic, then develop an aesthetic direction based on the space needed for function. Though initial models were bulky, the form evolved into a sleeker design once the pressure points were worked out in the proof-of-concept.
The concept of the solution-as-service was accepted into the University of Houston's RED Labs accelerator program. There, we built a business plan centered on the device and completed a crash course in building startups.
Logo design was inspired by common handicap iconography. The "d" in dext is an inverted abstraction of the familiar icon.
Graphics and color choices were selected using the Archetype Wheel and reviews with professional branding consultants.
Personas were developed to contextualize the device: the growing senior population is a high risk category for strokes resulting in spasticity. The ideal client is an active senior, which also describes a significant share of pickleball enthusiasts. We realized the device could be used as an everyday brace, delivering medical-grade rehabilitation for minor injuries as well.
We established a shared pain point between the OT's who prescribe dext and users who purchase - is limited time. Saving time is a common motivator, but the same benefit means different things to both parties and communicating that value should be tailored:
The OT appreciates when their client's recovery reflects well on their business and when time spent with clients is optimized.
Patients who already feel immobilized want independence; the more they practice, the more they recover.
To gather user feedback, it was important to get people who suffer from elbow flexion spasticity to test the device. However in order to test the device in a clinic setting, IRB approval was required. Though the IRB Protocol was submitted and reviewed, it was not accepted and attempted revisions were quickly sidetracked by other assignments.
The biggest takeaway from this experience was the appropriate scrutiny of medical device research. Though progress was ultimately stunted by inaccessibility to users, it was an excellent exposure to scientific research regulations, which eased thesis research (see: WishCycle).
This poster was circulated to advertise to potential test subjects according to device testing requirements in the IRB protocol.
Data from market segmentation research was gathered to visualize value of the innovation in pitch presentations.
In these clips, various functions of tensioning and locking the brace are performed.
Though dext has not been fully pursued past the accelerator phase, the experience provided invaluable exposure beyond launching a startup. These skills include:
Pitch Deck Development
Business Model Mapping
IRB Research Protocols
Sourcing Specialty Materials
Working with Engineers to Customize Spring Mechanics
Collaborating with Medical Professionals
A final form transitioned even further toward a subtle orthotic with all core components embedded within a sleeve.