Prototyping Part 4

By Aaron Heskes

Sometimes you’ll fail, and that’s alright. Today I’m bringing you yet another prototype from a project that we’ve touched on earlier in this series. If you remember the “wearable” cad models from part 2, you’ll be familiar with this object. This prototype turned out to be ineffective because it didn’t replicate the effect of the concept.


Once you’ve looked at a system, identified a problem and committed to a concept, wherein a concept is a changed system intended to solve the problem, you must test that concept. This is done more easily in certain situations, such as in interface design, where user testers can evaluate the experience via paper models. In more nuanced environments however, it becomes much harder to replicate the situation experienced by the user. Even more pressing is the issue of successfully replicating how the implementation of the concept changes the experience for that user. Your goal is to be able to evaluate how the changes proposed by your concept affect the user’s behavior.

Let’s define what implementing your concept means. First, I’ll provide some more background on the project we’re looking at today.

This wearable concept was intended for doctor’s waiting rooms. From our survey results we determined a need for a system that could provide more accurate ‘live’ data to patients about how long the wait would be until their appointments. Gathering data on average appointment durations and wait times in relation to the reason for the visits, time of day and number of people in the clinic was viewed as a valid method of providing useful feedback to patients and nurses at the time.

The output on the patient’s side of things via the wristband would be a soft estimate of the time until they’d be called into the exam room so that they could use their wait time more effectively. This is admittedly like the buzzing discs that the hostess at chili’s gives out. Because each patient would wear a wristband to benefit from the feedback it gives them, they would simultaneously feed metrics on the efficiency of the clinic for the hospital to evaluate.

Looking back on this clumsy attempt at a prototype, we can see that by replicating the lights and buzzing functions of the conceptual wristband, we weren’t offering the users the real value in that buzzer: The actual time estimate. A much better way to test this concept would be to control patient influx on a certain day and tell each person in the waiting room exactly when they’ll be due to come in to the exam room. This would have allowed us to observe the effect of that information in the clinic without the headache of producing testing equipment.

Prototyping Part 3

By Aaron Heskes

Buck models are integral to developing ideas as they allow users to experience the scale, weight, ergonomic potential, and feature set of a device in a use case scenario. Here we have a few examples from a project wherein the goal was to design a portable insulin solution for type-1 diabetics.

This early foam core mockup offered the basic functionality of a feature which records food consumption and appropriate insulin intake. As in: “How much did I eat at breakfast and when did I last shoot insulin?”

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Early mockups like these test out methods of recording and presenting important information to users. Considerations included the clarity of the graphic icons and the order of operations for shooting insulin.

Once you’ve defined how one interacts with the device, it’s time to consider packaging. Specifically, for medical devices, it’s important to accommodate the standardized elements that must fit into the device. This defines the initial scale. This metal bar was turned on the lathe so that users could handle the device in its intended real world scale. It has functional knobs on the side so that users can evaluate the ease of use.

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Finally, a high-fidelity buck model can be made with the changes informed by the earlier models. This one was modeled in the computer and 3d printed. At this stage, the buck model has the physical functionality of the real thing. The first knob is a time-of-injection setting and the second knob dials a dose of insulin, extending the button appropriately. These 3 types of buck models will serve you well, especially in terms of getting serious user feedback.

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Prototyping Part 2

By Aaron Heskes

A prototype can be as simple as a change in how the task at hand is presented to the user, possibly altering the information given at a stage or changing the order of tasks. Remember, you’re testing how the change affects overall task completion.

There are several different types of prototypes which we’ll go over in this article, from tactile buck models to abstract concepts.

In prototyping part 1, we only went through a general outline of results based prototyping in small areas of existing systems. Today I’ve prepared some examples from my own work for you to judge.

Let’s start off with something a little different.

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Not all prototypes are intended for evaluation by test users. Sometimes we can use storyboarding as a tool to work out how something would work logistically. These types of presentations are also great for presenting a hypothetical scenario to other stakeholders, like non- designers who are involved in the project. If you think about it, a storyboard is just a fancy adaptation of a flow chart, with a persona attached. You’re telling the story of a person who goes through a process that hasn’t been implemented before in its current setting, so the details that distinguish it are important.

I’ll argue that the act of drawing isn’t really prototyping. That fits more comfortably within the realm of ideation. Again, a prototype is created as a tool to visualize how a product system can be changed, and how those changes may affect the completion of the main goal. Some prototypes are created solely for understanding, like the storyboard above. Other models may be created to replicate the actual use case of the changed product, such as the paper interface discussed in Prototyping Part 1. Ideally, by observing the test user’s interactions with the simulated product, we can gain valuable information regarding how the changes are affecting task completion.

The following are a couple more examples from the same project as the storyboard above that serve the same purpose of aiding in understanding and visualization. These rendered 3d models present the appearance of the physical product. In part, they help set the abstract idea of the “wearable” in reality. Naturally, these visuals come later in the development of an idea as they are used to present the functionality of this wearable device within a presentation. By creating high fidelity visuals, you commit more time to the idea. Creating a more detailed visualization of the product demands a complete understanding of the product’s whole life. You must begin to answer questions about the product or system that you might not have thought of initially, such as how the wearable is charged, stored and packaged. How is it initially set up, and who is responsible for that? These considerations stem off from the initial storyboard which went through the use case from a patient’s perspective.

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A visual prototype should communicate how it fits into the story. If the prototype facilitates communication, what type of feedback does it offer to the immediate user. Furthermore, how is that presented so that it’s legible?

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A note on 3d modeling…

The first set of visuals for this wearable was created in rhino 5, which is a sculptural 3d program. Although measurements can be specified in the program, they cannot be changed later. This next set of visuals deals less with the functional demonstration, and more with the manufacturing potential of the product. By modeling the wearable in a parametric program (solid works in this case), we can go back at any time and edit the dimensions. This model deals with a different set of questions. How can this product be manufactured? How are the parts assembled, and how will they hold each other together?

The manufacturability of your model is almost irrelevant to your project’s conceptual strength, however both 3d models illustrate the purpose you should create high fidelity models for: aiding understanding.

By giving your concepts some visual polish, it makes other people take the concept more seriously. As more people understand the concept and can visualize using the product, you allow yourself to receive valuable criticism from a wider range of people.

The examples we’ve looked at today come much later in the design process, so next time we’ll circle back to simple user testing models that can be created and used before the concept is finalized.

Prototyping Part 1

By Aaron Heskes

Prototyping isn’t only done in the final stages of development of a product. In fact, prototyping becomes relevant very early on as a way of testing conclusions which in turn shapes the direction of conceptual development.

A prototype replicates a use case scenario. By allowing users to interact with an experimental situation, it allows designers to evaluate how those changes affect task completion.

Everything we’ve talked about so far gives us the background knowledge to start posing meaningful questions. By creating personas, we can develop empathy for the users of the product. Personas neatly assemble information about the users which may have an external effect on how they use the product or service. The key to discovering the reasons why people don’t interact effectively with a product lies in developing that sense of empathy for individual restrictions and needs. If you attended the gown workshop, you’ll understand that although all gowns serve that same purpose, every model had constraints that required the function of each gown to serve their personal physicality.

The degree to which a prototype can replicate the change in how a product can be used however goes well beyond physical constraints. Another aspect to consider is how one’s background affects their understanding of what a gown is, how it should be put on and where they feel comfortable wearing that garment.

System mapping graphically can allow us to picture the logistics of how a product interacts with a group of users. It answers the question, “what does everyone have to do (individually) to accomplish the greater goal?”, and for that matter “How do each individual’s goals relate to the greater goal?”.

Using what we know about a system/service/product, we can begin to ideate. The best place to begin ideating is at an area of friction and discomfort. Consider the points of contact between people. Think about what information must be exchanged in those interactions. What is each user expected to know, and what might be unfamiliar to a first-time user?

What is the purpose of each step the user is expected to go through? If certain existing aspects seem awkward, think about why more direct methods haven’t been put in place already.

How you replicate change to test for results varies by the nature of the entity you’re changing. For example, a team working on a software based application might hand draw the layout of a new interface and ask someone to complete a task by treating the paper like the surface of a tablet. As the subject interacts with the paper interface, the operators go through the pages accordingly to replicate the experience of navigating the app.

This method of testing is popular as a quick, low fidelity solution. It’s called the “Wizard of Oz Method” because the operators manually respond to the user’s input, giving the illusion that it’s a working product.


Low fidelity mockups are great because they can answer questions early on concerning what might be a good or bad change. They are also easy to change because they take such little time to produce. Although nicer mockups present a more realistic vision to the test user, team members might become attached to weak ideas early on if they spend too much time developing that idea before having any feedback that proves the validity of the change. There’s always time for nice mockups later.

At this point, it doesn’t matter how pretty your prototype looks. Think about what the problem is that you’re solving for. How do you expect the changes you make to affect the use case, and how are you replicating that change and testing for results?

Drafting Surveys: Problem Generation Part 3

By Aaron Heskes

In problem generation part 2, we touched on surveys. Naturally, every response you read should be taken with a grain of salt as each person surveyed can only provide information based on their own priorities and experiences. This in turn is why surveys are valuable, as they flesh out the troubles, needs and desires a certain user role encounters. Each user role is defined by the reason an individual is engaging with a system in the first place. As we saw with the dreamcatcher exercise in part 2, every system is comprised of several co-dependent roles. Each role is filled by an individual who has an independent set of tasks and priorities to complete. As a result, feedback is best understood in the context of each user’s role.

The best responses come from specific questions tailored to the challenges and responsibilities that user takes on. It’s important to keep in mind why you’re surveying these people. Good questions prompt the survey taker to tell you about the experience, but as the question writer you can’t allow your own theories and opinions guide those responses. What are the steps they must go through to get the job done? What aspects of the task are most difficult for them?

Wording questions for specific yet unbiased answers can be difficult. A good rule of thumb is to try the questions out yourself. Is there more than one possible answer? How predictable are the responses? Instead of asking: “Do you think the sign in process is problematic?”, you may ask the survey taker to “Please tell me about how you sign in at this office…”

If the sign in process at this fictional office is obviously and hopelessly flawed, then skip the basic portion of the question. Think instead about why a better sign in process would be important to the patient, and gear your questions towards getting that information.

Take a look at the survey below. This Survey was conducted to evaluate the care environment in the Oncology Clinic at Miriam Hospital.

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This survey is an example of an instance where a survey taker goes above and beyond. She gives a lot of detail about what a nurse does in the clinic. However, she also shows an awareness of how she handles those responsibilities when interacting with patients. This nurse describes her professional and therapeutic temperament as a coping mechanism for her patients. This adds a layer to the formal list of responsibilities a nurse has in that environment, and insinuates that the clinic might be an uncomfortable place for patients. This type of self- analytical response gives you, the evaluator, everything you need to understand her place in the equation, as well as a sense of her insights.

Not everyone will be so willing to give quality feedback. Naturally some people, like nurses, feel obligated to be thorough and competent. Others, namely the patients in the clinic, didn’t take well to filling out surveys typed up by some pesky RISD students.

The survey below is from one such patient. The curt answers don’t give us more than the facts.

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To avoid useless survey results, remember to word your questions carefully. Due to patient privacy laws, I can’t recommend you record your interactions with people in the clinic, however take notes on what they’re saying. Most of the patients we surveyed were having chemo done, so they didn’t feel like writing. If you wish to take anything from my advice on the written survey methodology, remember to keep your interactions cordial, conversational and natural. Most importantly, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. If you can coax someone into a story or rant, you’ll learn a lot more about who they are and what they experience, than you might if you expected them to articulate the same insights on paper. Written surveys are flawed, but if you can make up for their shortcomings with some social finesse, you’ll be able to collect all the information you need from anyone.

System Mapping: Problem Generation Part 2

By Aaron Heskes

Secondary research is good. In fact, published research is scientific, comprehensive and reliable. However, the value of the design process is in its application to unique environments and unusual situations. Almost anyone might be willing to give their opinion on a product or service, but a designer can’t operate on opinions of what “should” be changed. User opinions are valuable if only as an indicator of the general proximity of a pain-point.

Within any product system, there are always weaker areas where an unusual burden is put on a group of users. This could be a passive end user such as a doctor who enters data into a health record, or non-user participants, like her patients, who must wait longer because she has difficulty entering the data efficiently.

In a case like this, our survey of the patients in the waiting room would probably return complaints of long wait times. The challenge at this point is to look for the causes of those wait times. Discovering the root problems by mapping out what each person is responsible for and who they interact with is the primary goal. I’ve already identified the root problem in this hypothetical situation, but if we were to attack a problem like this in reality, it would take much longer to even discover the data entry problem.

It’s important to emphasize the value in viewing a product system as an interconnected entity. Picture a dreamcatcher; It has a circular perimeter to hold its shape, and a web on the inside linking all areas of the perimeter. The circular perimeter is representative of a user’s workflow, broken down into each step which is necessary to use a system or product. We can arrange the user’s steps in a circle because the they always repeat themselves in the same order; they are cyclical. However, each step has a direct effect on the next consecutive step in the system and an indirect effect on the other steps.

With this picture in mind, we can take survey responses and connect surface level pain-points (or complaints) to deeper causes of dysfunction. This is in the service of avoiding premature solution generation. For instance, you may conclude from your patient surveys that the wait times are abnormally long. This is important information though it is not enough to start the solution generation phase with. If you were to try to solve the surface problem with such little information, the best solutions you could come up with would be limited to occupying the patients in the waiting room instead of shortening wait times or making appointment arrival times more accurate.

Let’s look at this dreamcatcher diagram. Again, its purpose is to help us visually lay out a complex system.

The first step in creating a dreamcatcher diagram is identifying the primary task. What is the main goal here? Within a doctor’s office, it might be to perform a complete physical on a patient.

Next, identify the primary user. From her point of view, list out all the steps she must go through to accomplish this primary task in a circle, from start to finish to start again.

Within each step, answer the following questions:

What is this user expected to do?

What does she need to know to complete this step?

Who else is involved?

Answering those questions will give you a good idea of how effective the current process is, and which steps present problems.

At all steps where the primary user interfaces with a machine or secondary person, the primary and secondary user share a step. These points of interaction in the process allow us to branch out to elaborate on the responsibilities of secondary users in accomplishing the primary user’s main goal.

To elaborate on a secondary user’s process, simply repeat the dreamcatcher diagram and fill in the steps.

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Personas: Problem Generation Part 1

By Aaron Heskes

Design is not a linear process. Rather, research, need-finding and incremental product development (via prototyping) all move cyclically to identify a set of problems. These activities all go hand in hand to close in on solutions incrementally.

As we look at the best starting place for the design process, I think it’s important to emphasize that all these processes are repeated several times in the iteration of a design thesis and later of a product.

Since people are always at the center of the problems we’re designing for, it’s best to start by understanding those individuals. A good understanding of who someone is can come through several different lenses, depending on which attributes and behaviors are relevant to the need or task.

For instance, the initial goal might be to make living with type 1 diabetes easier for teenagers. Although it’s a broad goal to start with, it allows the potential solution to take any form. This means that the solution will not be predetermined. If a team were looking specifically into insulin delivery, they might come up with a more specific goal, such as…

“to make the best insulin pen.”

Although this seems like a perfectly fine goal, we can improve it by making the parameters more specific and the scope broader. So, a better goal might be…

”to make the most intuitive insulin delivery system.”

This way, the method of insulin delivery is left open, while the goal of making that system easy for first time users to understand is very specific.

Although we’re labeling personas as a good starting point for the design process through understanding the users, the finished personas in themselves are the result of measurable research and time.

For many first-year undergraduate projects in the studio, Proto-personas suffice as decent guides for the direction of the project. Proto personas are based on secondary research from other people’s conclusions. They offer valid, though general, information on a demographic. Some studies may offer good information, but relying on these sources to develop users and use cases will never bring anything new to the table.

As we’ve begun to discuss how design relies on an understanding of the user’s habits and needs, it’s important to note that marketing teams also make use of these tools to determine the types of customers they are speaking to, and the message they want to send with their product.

What separates a marketing perspective and a design perspective is that a marketing team works backwards. They have a product that they’re trying to sell to a chosen audience. In a way they define the audience, not the product. Marketers may care about demographic information, buying motivations and customer behavior, but it’s not within their depth to care why a customer makes certain decisions.

By contrast, an understanding of these motivations is particularly the insight needed to develop a product thesis. Design personas do not necessarily separate people by age or social views, but rather by ability, means and any other factors that would cause them to have different priorities.

This begins to answer our main question: Where does this solution fit into the user’s life?


So, we know that understanding our user’s behavior and needs is the best way to design a relevant solution, but you’re probably wondering what the best way to collect primary information is to build those personas? That’s coming up next time as we delve into the gritty task of writing, administering and analyzing surveys!

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Designing for Task Completion

By Aaron Heskes


I want this phonograph, and I don’t even own any records. The Braun Phonosuper sk4 is a product of German postwar “geometric formalism.” Geometric formalism describes the school of design that governed the aesthetic and interfaces of Braun’s products for years under Dieter Rams’ direction. The straightforward layout of the controls and simple form language serve to bolster manufacturability and visual legibility.

A product’s visual and tactile details should tell a story about its use.

Rams’ phonograph looks simple, but his adherence to geometric simplicity and minimalism allows him to control what the product tells people about itself. Its simple and boxy structure might not speak to the music it produces, but rather to the environment it lives in. Consciously or not, everyone approaches a new gadget or appliance with the following questions. They might try to answer these questions mentally before trying it out, or as they go through the process of figuring it out.

What is your function?

What do each of your controls do?

In what order to I need to operate your controls to make you work?

Should I be gentle or particular with how I operate these controls?

We can look at a dinner party place setting the same way.... There are six utensils and four glasses to arrange for the diner. The order of these items on the table corresponds to the sequence of the courses, so that the diner only needs to take the outer most desired utensil during each course. Similarly, the champagne flute is the farthest to the right because it would be used for a toast at the beginning of the meal, and then cleared. Without this system, diners would not be able to use the proper silverware, making extra work for the help.

Within the world of electronic and mechanical products though, there is much more potential to make understanding from a two-way conversation. The designers can introduce details that give the user active feedback, such as an illuminating ON button when the button is depressed.

Passive feedback plays an equal or greater part, especially in a product that is as hands on as a phonograph or radio. Visually, the purposeful and minimal approach affords big opportunities to grab the user’s attention. Naturally, there may be a sparing use of color or visual mystique aside from the start point or end point of the interface.

Coming back to the place setting example, the same logic used there dictates how designers lead a user through any experience. The bright red button draws the eye in immediately. From there, even just by feel, the hand moves to the largest knobs. It doesn’t matter which the user chooses first (volume or tuning), because their functions become self-evident by simply adjusting them. The feel of the knobs punctuates this information, as the volume knob is smooth and linear, whereas the tuner is precise and notched.



Plastic Straws and Product Lifecycles

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Plastic Straws and Product Lifecycles

By Aaron Heskes

Welcome to the design blog!

Here, we don't just talk about our world of consumer products and services, but also the thinking behind them. 

Every artifact has a specific purpose, and the initial presentation and packaging of it is usually essential to understanding how to use it properly. Unfortunately, it's often the simplest objects whose proper uses are neglected because people assume they already know how to use them.

Last week I was doing something I do a lot at my day job and this thought stopped me in my tracks. I was preparing a coke (actually it’s a pepsi, but no one would order it if they called it that). I don't have much to say about soda since I'm in no position to judge a sweet tooth, but I caught myself committing a minor hygiene violation.

I’m talking about straws here... plastic drinking straws with tidy paper wrappers to keep them clean.

These fancy straws are great for individual use because the crisp white packaging tells the end user, the soda drinker, where that straw has been. Its condition ensures that they’re the first one handling the straw.

This all falls apart in a restaurant setting.

I had to stop and think as I was preparing this “coke” because I realized that by tearing off most of the wrapping and leaving just an inch of sanitary wrap on the tip of the straw, I was defeating the purpose of the wrapper. Since tearing off most of the wrapper before serving it to a customer seems objectively illogical, I think an explanation is in order.

Restaurant staff do everything they can to make the patrons believe that they’re special and that the food/service/serving-ware is sanitary. While this is largely already true, sometimes working to uphold a perception of these values works against the end goals.

The paper wrapper communicates cleanliness so well that leaving a bit of it on the tip elevates the perception of cleanliness in the entire restaurant. This detail tells the patron that the server has considered their health.

Unfortunately, tearing off the wrapper forces the server to handle the straw more than if he had used an unwrapped straw.

All products have an intended life cycle, but few are interpreted properly at every step of the way. It’s important to understand whether or why people may misuse something as simple as a paper wrapper to design a complete process that actually accomplishes what it sets out to do instead of encouraging the problem.

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The Beauty of Knowing - Richard Feynman's thoughts about science, art, and the beauty of a flower


The Beauty of Knowing - Richard Feynman's thoughts about science, art, and the beauty of a flower

By Gerry Hefferman

We at Design+Health are firm believers that different disciplines have a tremendous amount to add to one another. While many people share this philosophy, few have articulated the ways in which a deep understanding leads to a more profound appreciation of the beauty of the natural world than Richard Feynman in his 1981 BBC interview, 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.' The video above, by Frasier Davidson, animates one of Feynman's most thoughtful observations concerning science, aesthetics, and the beauty of knowing.


Soundscapes in the Hospital


Soundscapes in the Hospital

By Pranav Reddy


“All research into hearing seems to home in on two basic facts: 1) if a channel of information is available, it will get used by living things and 2)sound is everywhere there is life (and other places).” -Seth Horowitz

On September 25, 2013 we held our first Design and Health workshop. Led by Shawn Greenlee, a RISD Professor of Foundation Studies, we started a conversation that would encompass a broad spectrum of issues at the intersection of the often-disparate worlds of healthcare and design.

During this first workshop, we absorbed the “soundscape” in the hospital, adding sounds to recreate the atmosphere. Discussing the role that sound plays in patient and provider experiences, we unexpectedly delved into a ubiquitous yet often unrecognized factor.

Out of this initial exploration, a research study led by emergency physician Dr. Leo Kobayashi MD, Dr. Jay Baruch and Tony Zhang MD, MS along with Markus Berger, Professor of Interior Architecture at RISD was born.

Sound has been showcased to affect patient’s well being, and even more so in high-stress, error-prone medical environments. The focus of this study is on areas of transfer-of-care (“sign-out”) in the ED, where there is often sound leakage. Although patient privacy and confidentiality are held as cornerstones of medical practice, in reality studies show that 36%-45% of patients overhear provider conversations.

What does the sound landscape look like in the emergency department, especially near transfer of care areas? How much confidential information can be overheard?


Design + Health @ Better World x Design

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Design + Health @ Better World x Design

By Elio Icaza

Design + Health will be participating at A Better World x Design conference held on the Brown and RISD campuses this weekend through to Sunday, September 21.  You can find us at the Expo, a space for speakers and other organization to share their ideas in greater depth.

11 am – 3:30 pm Solomon Hall Brown University Main Green

Please come speak with us about Design + Health, our course, workshops, and campus presence.  We’re excited to share ideas and continue building a stronger RISD/Brown partnership between the sciences and the arts. See you there!   Learn more about Better World and their impressive group of speakers:

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EMR Reimagined


EMR Reimagined

By Pranav Reddy

A constant complaint of physicians is the difficulty of using electronic medical record. Far from contributing to the patient experience, EMRs often prevent effective transparency, decrease the “inter-subjective” connectivity of the healthcare encounter, and have low levels of user-friendliness.

EMRs could be so much more, if designed with care and thoughtfulness. We aspire to create an EMR that informs the patients, enables physicians’ diagnostic thought process, and is a collaborative effort between patient and doctor. Our Re-imagined EMR will have all of these facets within a framework that is as intuitive as an online social network.


ColaLife coming to Brown + RISD, December 4th, 2013


ColaLife coming to Brown + RISD, December 4th, 2013

By Ravi Sarpatwari


Interested in the intersection between global health and design? Come hear from ColaLife’s Public Health Adviser, Rohit Ramchandani, about an innovative public health solution to a global problem. ColaLife is an independent, non-profit organization that utilizes Coca-Cola’s distribution channels to bring oral rehydration salts and zinc supplements to remote areas in the world. These products are packaged into wedge-shaped pods which fit in the empty spaces between Coca-Cola bottles when they are transported in crates.

This event is open to all members of the Brown University and RISD communities. Dinner will be provided.

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013, 6:00-7:00pm

Alpert Medical School, Rm. 170
222 Richmond Street


PAUSE EMOTE – Amy Goldfeder (RISD ’13)


PAUSE EMOTE – Amy Goldfeder (RISD ’13)

By Anna Delamerced

n the U.S., there is a suicide every 15 minutes.  25% of deaths are related to drug or alcohol abuse.  And 1 out of 4 people have a mental illness.  But patients see their therapists and mental health providers for only 0.04% of the entire year.

Amy Goldfeder, a 2013 graduate of the Industrial Design masters program at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), is a game changer.  With her brainchild “Pause Emote,” she is looking to revolutionize the mental health industry.

Pause Emote is an app that uses mobile technology to diagnose and treat patients.  To document life as it is actually happening in real time.  And to enhance communication between them and their therapists or psychiatrists.

Patients record their feelings at any given time in the day in a daily log.  For example, they can be at the gym or at a restaurant and log in how they’re feeling in those different contexts.  These key pieces of information can then be reviewed during sessions with their providers

A self-described designer, inventor, and problem solver, Amy kindly answered a few questions for D+H:

What sparked your interest in design in the first place?  Have you known since you were a kid that you’ve wanted to go into the field of design?

“I grew up in New Jersey and have pursued drawing and painting my whole life.  I’ve just always loved drawing and painting.  I took classes at art schools like the Pratt Institute, attended summer programs like Sotheby’s in London, then earned an undergraduate degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006.  I focused on interior architecture and after graduating I worked in architecture and branded environments.  I got to do really cool projects like working in a film studio that was all sustainable, really high-tech, and beautifully designed.  But at the end of the day, not many people had access to the building.  So I became more and more interested in industrial design and product design, and its impact on multiple people.”

Your current work, Pause Emote, provides a platform for people to record their feelings and aims to assist people with mental illnesses.  How did you become interested specifically in this field of emotions, psychology, and mental health?

“It really all started with this idea of mindfulness.  I personally got into meditation, and so I was toying with the idea on figuring out a way for people to become more mindful.  To help people pause their lives and take breathers.  I started thinking, how can technology be used to help people do that: for us to pause and reflect and be mindful.  Looking deeper into psychology, mindfulness, and meditation, I became interested in mental health as well.  With Pause Emote, I’m hoping to break the stigma around mental illness.  Ultimately this app could be used by anyone.”

Can you take us through the process of designing and testing your idea and product?

“There’s still a lot of beta testing to go through, but I’m happy with where my design is going.  I’ve tested the app with people but it’s not yet out on the market.  I need to tweak some things and refine some things.  For now, I’ve tested it with family members and friends, and am currently working with a hospital in order to test patients.”

What were some of the design challenges you encountered?

“(Laughs) There’s always challenges.  You think you know things and then you put it into people’s hands, and it’s cool to watch how people use your app.  For example, I thought people were going to touch the screen with their fingers in one direction but they ended up moving their fingers in the other direction.  People’s reactions definitely influence my design. Another example is that I thought my ‘Emotions 1-10’ scale would be great and easy to understand — people would rate their emotions (e.g. calm, anger, anxious, confused, sad, joyous) on a 1-10 scale — but when I went to test it out on people, in reality people didn’t get it so I changed the design.

It’s a great learning process.  I understood I had to change it.  So now, for example, I incorporated language instead of a ranked scale: “I’m really sad” to “not sad”.”

What’s the best part about the design process?

“I think really that’s the best part — learning.  Learning from my mistakes.  I love the challenges that come inherently with this whole journey.  I’ve learned to just put things out there really quickly (RISD taught me that), make a lot of mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and change things.

And it’s also fun to be surprised.  One thing that really stuck out with me is what one person told me after using the app.  She had been seeing a therapist once a week for a very small amount of time with the therapist; this person was quite depressed, and didn’t tell her therapist everything, but within the first few days of using Pause Emote, she logged everything down, like whenever she was happy after hanging out with her Chihuahua.  So people showed me things about my product that I didn’t even know, and it was enlightening.”

What kind of impact do you hope Pause Emote will achieve on people?

“There’s value in stopping and thinking about how you feel, so recognizing a feeling at a specific moment is very valuable.  Again, it’s about mindfulness.  And pausing.  And this pausing and logging the feelings (‘journaling’) helps change behavior, and communication with therapist is enhanced so therapy will be enhanced.  Moreover, the relationship and the trust between therapist and patient will hopefully build and increase due to Pause Emote.”

What do you think has been your most valuable lesson you’d like to share from your experience and journey with Pause Emote?

“Fearlessness.  If it could be summed up in one word, it’d be fearlessness.  It’s definitely a risky thing to do — trying to start your own company — but just go for it.  Take a stab at it.  Reach out to people as well.  I’ve learned that people are always helpful and willing to help and talk about things.  People are friendly.”

What’s next?  

“In the future, I want to do more studies and concentrate on getting Pause Emote out there.  I want to see it out there, test it, and refine it for improvements.

In terms of other projects, I see myself as an entrepreneur, innovator, and designer.  I wear a lot of different hats, and I’m interested in many different fields (technology, healthcare, and more).  I have some other ideas but right now I’m focusing on Pause Emote.  It’s been a great journey so far and I’m looking forward to whatever happens next.”


Increment – Maeve Jopson (ID ’13) and Cynthia Poon (ID ’13)


Increment – Maeve Jopson (ID ’13) and Cynthia Poon (ID ’13)

By Zoe Clark


The future of education and learning is both exciting and dynamic; it is a field in a continuous state of evolution. Pushing at the forefront of this change are two recent RISD graduates, Maeve Jopson (ID ’13) and Cynthia Poon(ID ’13), founders of the company Increment.

Maeve and Cynthia spent their senior year degree project developing a series of sensory learning toys for the blind and were able to test their toys (O-rings and Halflaps) at the Meeting Street School. Brought together by a shared passion to change the world and a love of education and health, these two Industrial Designers are pushing what it means to experience learning. Currently, they are Marker Fellows at Betaspring and further establishing Increment.

With the Toys for Rehabilitation workshop fresh on our minds, D+H was excited to asked Increment a few questions:

Your degree project was a partnership. How did you guys come to work together? What do you each bring to the group?  

The first class we had together was Production Ceramics during our Junior Year, and after that, we just kept running into each other. We were then placed in a group together in Design for Entrepreneurship. It’s all been very serendipitous. That was the project that started it all–the PlayMap. It’s our baby. Throughout the project we began to recognize the many things we have in common: similar core values, love of an iterative design process, need for collaboration, fascination with health and education, a desire to change the world, and the inexplicable need to regularly work until 5 in the morning.

Toward the end fall semester senior year, we discussed the idea of starting a company together, and we decided that the best way to decide if we really wanted to do it, was to do a collaborative degree project. Our chemistry as a design duo was just too much to ignore. We learned quickly how to balance each other’s personalities and work styles. Maeve is broad-thinking, word-vomiting, and multi-tasks a little too much. Cynthia is nit-picky, detail oriented, and hyper focused. Since meeting, our antics have rubbed off on one another, and together, we’ve turned into a weird, but balanced combination of opposing qualities.

While we are constantly collaborating, co-designing, and now cohabiting, it’s rare that one of us is seen without the other. We spend so much time together that we can start/finish each other’s sentences, and we somehow end up wearing matching outfits.

Were there any surprising constraints or requirements you encountered while designing for your user group (initially the blind)? Things maybe a seeing child wouldn’t be very aware of?

We began our degree project by revisiting research. Heavily. It’s something that we place a lot of value in, and especially with our user group, it is the best way to get to know their needs. Even though we had worked on a fairly similar project only months before, we knew there were still gaps in our knowledge of how these kids learn. We knew that there was more to it than just add textures to everything, and we wanted to gather as much information from users and experts as possible to avoid any incorrect or condescending assumptions. We met so many awesome people along the way, and building these relationships was a very humbling experience.

During our time at Meeting Street School, we spent a fair amount of time shadowing physical therapy in the Sensory Integration Gyms, which are rooms filled with mats, ball pits, swings, therapy balls, and toys that stimulate the senses. These rooms were fascinating to us because they were used by all of the children, with and without disabilities for therapy and play. These spaces are particularly beneficial for blind children (who often have additional cognitive or physical disabilities) to train their bodies to balance, orient themselves, and move around independently. The “why” behind this hybrid of play and therapy was what really inspired us: through this, kids gain skills to learn to walk with a cane, but even to develop pre-braille dexterity, and other skills for independent living.

It seemed that iteration and model making were really important to your process, usually met with many late nights in studio–any funny/crazy stories from one of these nights?

There isn’t really just one story, but our approach to senior studio got a bit nuts. Or we got a bit nuts. By the last few weeks of the semester, our play-mess had spread over several classmates’ desks… We would just kind of ooze over onto their workspaces when they weren’t in studio. We had one table that we had taken over, entirely dedicated to making the mold and casting the Half Laps. There was clay, and fiberglass, and plaster, and expanding foam EVERYWHERE. Eventually we actually just bought our own shop vac.

We had also stolen tools from just about everyone on our floor (and from some other floors as well), and consistently left these obscenely large messes in our wake. The cleaning staff actually just stopped cleaning up after us for a while. We don’t blame them. And of course it was awesome when, on that last night/morning, at about 5am before our crit, some of the cleaning ladies came in to wish us good luck (and good riddance).

You were able to test many of your ideas with a local user group at Meeting Street School. What was it like seeing your toys being used?

Incredible. It is amazing to be able to watch how our toys can fit into real-life education and therapy. Seeing a kid play with something you designed, with a huge smile on her face, is pretty much the best feeling ever. It’s a feeling that’s addicting, motivating, and so encouraging. It made all those late nights worth it, and we look forward to plenty more.

What can we expect from Increment in the future?

We’re currently Maker Fellows at Betaspring, taking part in the fall session as newbies in the startup world. It’s been an awesome experience for us so far, since we get to shadow all the events and programming, pitch with the rest of the cohort, and mingle with mentors, without having to deal with the investment/equity tradeoff. The program itself is a bootcamp environment, and it’s got us hard at work on fundraising, networking, and finalizing the O-Rings, which will be our first product to bring to market. Kickstarter coming soon!

On the product development side, we will be branching out to work with kids on the autism spectrum, as well as those with more physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, and creating toys and equipment accessible to their needs.

In addition to production and further product development, we’re really invested in the relationships we’ve formed along the way, so we are planning to hold some community based play events in the near future. Lots of kids, lots of play, lots of fun.

Anything else you want to comment on, or include?

We’ll be presenting at Betaspring’s Launch Day event on November 14th, and we’d love to have you there! Can we get some RISD folk to cheer us on?

Also, feel free to learn more at our super bare-bones website,! Contact us at, follow us at incrementstudios.tumblr,com, and tweet at us @IncrementTweets! All of the social media!