Our Collaborative Design Process: Marsha and ChiaYing

We started the individual projects in August. After learning what Arduino can do, Marsha showed a great interest in producing a functional object that improves her daily life. Therefore, our first discussion focused on her wheelchair, which plays an important role in her routine.

Marsha tends to keep everything she could possibly need on her wheelchair and within her reach so that she’s prepared for most situations.

Marsha travels equipped!

Then, our conversation moved to Marsha’s living environment and we discussed what a typical day is like for her. I even went to visit her in her apartment to really understand the daily routines and her environment (check out the blog entry Marsha and Chiaying to get a better sense of her apartment!).

Several problems surfaced as potential design opportunities. Marsha showed me four places in her apartment where she struggles to switch lights on and off:

1. The light above the stove. She has to use a stick to reach the switch.

2. The light in the hall way. There are two switches to this one light and they seem to work intermittently but Mike solved this problem during our visit.

3. The lamp in the guest room. The connection of the wall switch to the outlet is broken. It’s difficult for Marsha to reach the switch on the lamp itself.

4. Switching off the light when going to bed. This is a particularly big problem because it means that Marsha has to get out of her wheelchair and into bed in the dark. This can be dangerous since falling can result.

Of these four Marsha identified the fourth as the biggest problem. So she quickly sketched out a plan view of her bedroom for me:

The switch by the door controls the lamp by the TV. She has to enter her room in the dark and get over to the lamp by her bed in the dark since she can’t reach the switch by the door from bed. The same problem occurs but in reverse when she gets out of the room in the morning when it’s still dark.

When we were trying to resolve a final concept, Marsha said,” I want the design to be as simple as possible.” I completely agreed with her. As a collaborative project and her first time working with Arduino, overwhelming technology would not be necessary.  Considering Marsha’s artistry, I suggested we make some of the parts we need, such as switches, a lamp shade, and the case for the Arduino board. Marsha was excited about the idea, and said, ” I’d like to make my room more homey!”

Working collaboratively, we analyzed the problem and what we are capable of, and it led us to a practical yet unique solution.

Hanging Lamp by Bed

We decided to replace the lamp by her bed, so we don’t have to go into the wall and change the existing wiring. Marsha can have lighting if she wants to read in bed. We chose to hard-wire everything rather than use ultrasonic sensors because of the durability and easier programming.

One on/off switch will be by the door and another one will be on the small desk that’s attached to Marsha’s bed. The green circles in the sketch indicate the places we can make our own decoration for the lighting device.

A rough sketch of our concept.

Bedside Table

– This small desk provides Marsha a lot of convenience.


Visiting Marsha

My first visit to Marsha's apartment

Hello, I am Chiaying. Marsha and I have been partners since the first class. In the past several weeks, we learned about the basics of electronics and programming, and now the two of us are working on a project that’s specifically for Marsha. The process of incorporating Arduino allowed us to consider what her real needs are and explore different solutions to one problem.

Mike and I made a trip to Marsha’s apartment on Tuesday, September 6th, 2011. In addition to getting a better idea of the environment, I was really excited to visit Marsha’s place out of genuine curiosity. She appears to be very independent and have a sophisticated lifestyle. I appreciate her personality and her as an artist; I simply think she is a really cool person!

Marsha's neighborhood

Marsha's Livingroom

Although Marsha’s building is accessible for wheelchairs, her apartment is not an accessible apartment. Therefore, she has to do a lot of tasks sideways, and she has gotten used to these inconveniences.

Marsha sits sideways to use her sink

To turn the stove light on Marsha has become skilled with one of her sticks

The hallway and the doorways are barely wide enough for her wheelchair to go through. It took Marsha a lot of practice to get good at moving around in her apartment.

One big problem that Marsha has is that she has to back into her bedroom from the hallway in the dark. So there are two problems here. First, because her apartment is not designed to be accessible the hallway is very narrow and it is impossible to turn left directly into her bedroom.  So instead she has to turn right and then back into her bedroom. See below –

It's a very tight fit thru the doorway into her bedroom

What makes this worse is that she has to do it in the dark! This is because she cannot just hop out of bed and flip the overhead light off like most of us do. So instead she backs into her room and then has to wheel over to her bed in the dark and only then switch on a hanging light. This light is close enough to her bed to turn off once she is in bed. Wow – It’s one of those tasks that noone ever thinks about – how does a person in a wheelchair turn off the lights and get into bed! Marsha has had to develop a lot of patience in order to live in a world that is not designed for her. She really doesn’t complain about things like this and it was only through conversation that we uncovered this problem.

The hallway corner has gotten been pretty banged up

Doing field research like this also allows other influences and even accidental findings to affect the design process. For instance, Marsha’s apartment is full of interesting objects and artwork she has created. Marsha has this tray near her bed that was overloaded with nic-knacks. I picked up the square that says “HI” (see photo below). She said a friend had knitted it but that she knits too and could make something like it. Later it inspired me to consider that Marsha might be able to knit or make some parts of this project herself. So I think her artistry may eventually become a factor in what we create together.

Even something as unassuming as the red and white knitted "HI" can be inspiration

Some of Marsha's artwork

Self Portrait - beautifully done!

So the trip to Marsha’s house gave me a much better understanding of her and her life. Seeing the environment and her artwork definitely helped me to imagine our project. I am excited to collaborate with her on designing a bedroom lighting system that is perfect for her functionally and aesthetically.