A few months ago Intridea decided to splurge and upgrade our (already awesome) benefits package. In addition to the basic perks like amazing health insurance, hardware funds and an annual subscription to Amazon Prime, we started a new program called SparkTime. SparkTime is much like Google's 20% time – everyone spends a few hours a week working on something that they are passionate about. We record our ideas in SparkBin, team up if we want to collaborate, and then we get down to the business of impassioned creation.
In addition to being a UI Designer here at Intridea, I’m also a grad student in the Human-Centered Computing program at UMBC. This semester, my professors Dr. Amy Hurst (co-creator of http://nickelforscale.com/) and Dr. Ravi Kuber (author of many great papers on computing and the visually impaired) suggested that I work on a mobile rehabilitation application for stroke patients. This sounded like the perfect opportunity to bridge my educational and professional worlds.
Research = Time Well Spent
I’ve been prepping for this project by taking Dr. Hurst’s course on Assistive Technology. Chris Selmer is my “internal client” and he sent me to an iOS crash course where I had gotten the basic fundamentals of iPhone MVC architecture and learned Obj-C syntax. These courses have been extremely helpful, but I also needed requirements from real doctors and nurses on how this mobile application should actually work.
Before I started wireframing and coming up with designs I needed to do some research. So I talked with nurses and physicians in the stroke unit at the Kernan Rehabilitation Center. I had the opportunity to communicate with stroke victims and in doing so, I observed the deficiencies caused by stroke trauma. The physicians described exercises that they would like to see in a mobile device. I visited with Dr. Mark Young (physician with a specialty in stroke trauma) and my friend Michelle Jones (occupational therapist at UMMC) who both helped me strengthen my idea and gave me insight into rehabilitation for those with physical and cognitive deficits.
Armed with some really useful information, I was able to approach the blueprints for the mobile app. Initially, I had imagined that I would be creating an application that focused solely on physical rehab using a smartphone; but, as it turns out, what stroke victims really need is an application that stimulates their coordination, cognitive abilities, and fine motor skills. I had planned on using an iPhone but I have since decided to start with an iPad, so the user will have more screen area to start with.
I saw firsthand why user interviews are so necessary and why design should rarely be an effort by the designer alone.
The Beginning of a Great App
I’ve named the project CogConnect, and plan to keep my entire process and code open-source. I’m in the design phase right now and I'm happy with the wireframes and the direction of the project. I'm looking forward to spending my SparkTime working on this application!