Interdisciplinary Human-Centered Design Research – Overcoming Practical Challenges Before and During The Pandemic Time – A Pragmatic Approach to Design Education and Practice

A project to improve VA technology for veterans with spinal cord injuries

Sam Anvari
Assistant Professor
California State University Long Beach

This presentation proposal covers the practical approach and various pedagogical measures taken to form a team of fourteen students and two faculty from Graphic Design and Psychology to improve VA technology for veterans with spinal cord injuries. This multidisciplinary project is ongoing research between California State University Long Beach, the Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders (SCI/D) Center at the Long Beach VA Hospital, and the device manufacturer, Accessibility Services, Inc. in Florida. The project’s goal is to improve the design usability of the Environmental Control Unit (ECU), which patients with SCI/D use to complete everyday tasks such as making a phone call, calling the nurse, controlling the TV, adjusting the bed, etc. The project started in 2019 by performing heuristic evaluations on the ECU device with a team of seven students and faculty from psychology, health science, and graphic design. Findings from this work identified system elements needing improvement for better user experience and visual interfaces design.

Despite the pandemic and its associated lockdown conditions, the research team successfully transitioned to the project’s next phase, design A/B testing, online. The faculty leaders scheduled virtual weekly meetings with the team and developed an alternative plan to continue the project. In 2020, students worked tirelessly to a digital prototype of the device that is accessible remotely online within the safe space of the home. The ECU device’s online prototype made it possible for the research team to apply design changes and prepare for remote user testing. In the meantime, the research team grew more extensive, with five students from the graphic design program, eight students from the Psychology Human Factors program, and another two students from the university’s undergraduate research opportunity program (UROP). This presentation will discuss various tools and methods for human-centered applied design and networking with the industry.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 8.2: Annual CAA Conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

Adaptation in Design Research: Combatting Social Isolation in Older Adults

Our need to socially connect is the strongest evidence of our shared humanity.

Christine Lhowe
Assistant Professor
Seton Hall University

At the core of human-centered design are people. Grounded in empathy and driven by human needs, HCD has the power to improve quality of life for individuals and society. As our communities, environments, and global structures change, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, design must adapt to serve people within new contexts.

Our need to socially connect is the strongest evidence of our shared humanity. We are so highly interdependent on each other that isolation not only affects mental well-being but contributes to physical decline. In older adults, a population largely affected by loneliness, social isolation is associated with a 50% increased rate for dementia and other serious medical conditions.1

As a design practitioner and educator, my research focuses on cultivating meaningful connections through experiential design. With Me, an intergenerational toolkit was created to integrate older adults deeper into the fabric of society. As an analog kit, the fundamental purpose is to encourage people to spend time with one another.

In February 2020, With Me was in the last stages of production before implementation at a non-profit serving older adults across New York City. Social distancing requirements in mid-March put it indefinitely on hold. Caregivers were no longer able to do home visits. Family members were strongly recommended against visiting their loved ones. Loneliness in one of the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19 was magnified. When connection was needed most, With Me had to transition to a virtual solution.

This presentation is a case study on adaptation in an ongoing research project. It asks if we can replicate the benefits of physical time together while in a virtual world. It experiments with technology in a population that is often hesitant with using it. It explores how experiences may be designed for meaningful interactions across varying communication channels.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.2: 109th CAA Annual Conference on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.