Master’s Students Show Off Inclusive Design at Microsoft Design Expo

Maria Lauro

Each year, Microsoft Research sponsors a semester-long class at leading design schools around the globe. Students are asked to design a user experience prototype that solves a real-world problem. Microsoft then invites one team from each school to participate in Design Expo. For 2015, students were challenged to design a service, product or solution for someone with a context-dependent disability. The World Health Organization has dramatically shifted its definition of “disability” to a problem that is “context-dependent” as opposed to an “attribute of a person.”

Under the guidance of faculty members Bruce Hanington and Peter Scupelli, students in the combined Graduate Design Studio II and Research Methods for Design class spent the semester creating solutions that included a system to improve communications between medical professionals, patients and their caregivers, and a program to address the cognitive dissonance millennials often have regarding planning for their financial future.

“The design themes provided by Microsoft offer a perfect balance of open-ended flexibility and rigorous accountability for creative solutions,” said Hanington.

Throughout the process, students had opportunities to have their work critiqued by Microsoft liaisons Annika Ushio and also Austin Lee, who recently became a faculty member at the School of Design.

“Design Expo provides an incredible opportunity for students to engage in professional-level work,” added Hannington. “The liaisons add a complement of unique expertise to design education at CMU.”

Jane Lien (MDes), Lorraine Shim (MDes) and David Scoville (MPS) were selected to present at the Design Expo in Redmond, Washington, this past July. After interviewing and observing patients, caregivers and hospital staff, the team created “GatherWell,” a prototype for a system to connect medical professionals, caregivers and patients who have difficulties communicating for any reason from hearing loss to language barriers.

“Many of the patients we came across while observing at the hospital were older and had hearing loss to some degree,” said Lien. “Also we interviewed people who had health issues while abroad, issues which were exacerbated by lack of communication due to language barriers.

“Being unable to communicate because of language barriers is a situational disability that corresponds with the more permanent disability of hearing impairment,” continued Lien. “We also found that some of the current design solutions for those with hearing impairments in hospitals were degrading, such as wearing a badge that says ‘I am deaf’ in large letters.”

Their research led the team to three key insights: Medical discharge information is often very cryptic, can involve many conversations, and discharge papers that try to consolidate complex information to a page can be confusing. Another barrier to clear communication is the number of stakeholders who need to be on the same page but often don’t take part in the same conversations. In particular, deaf patients in hospitals are dependent on human American Sign Language (ASL) translators, and therefore have very limited independence.  GatherWell solves these problems by providing real time remote access for other professionals and caregivers to join conversations, and by providing translation and transcription in both text and ASL. 

“GatherWell summarizes and catches each conversation with tagging and visualization, so key information can be extracted very quickly,” said Lorraine Shim.

“We’re excited about what this combination of technologies can provide. It’s not just a simple translation service, but a combination of multiple technologies,” said David Scoville. “For a conversation between a patient and the doctor, we’re using augmented reality glasses to give that live translation.  

“This technology can span across a spectrum of different types of people, not just those in the deaf community or with situational language barriers,” he added. “For example, someone who is temporarily cognitively impaired from anesthesia or medication could use the transcription abilities to review conversations later.”

“CMU’s design program brings an emphasis on research as well as systems thinking, where the whole ecosystem is considered,” concluded Lien.

“A lot of the interactions we want are possible today, but what we want to think about is how we can push the idea further and think about the future.”

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Date Published: 
Thursday, September 24, 2015