Part of my masters programme is open to elective courses. However, if, for whatever reason one may have, these are not desirable courses, students can engage in- or create their own research project. Hence, this project was of the latter kind, created with two fellow students. This meant, that we created the curriculum, the process and the goals ourselves and had a professor as a supervisor, who also signed off on the projects viability.

The project concerns how we as designers could support and develop a neck exercise by focussing on the interaction in a prototype, in the context of physiotherapeutic praxis.

The frame for this project was then, for us as students, to engage- and learn more about the latter part of a design process, namely the product development. Hence, we had a wish of creating more than just a proof-of-concept mock-up, and the result was an advanced prototype, which we tested in the praxis itself. For pictures, see bottom of this article (though they reveal very little of the concept, since the focus was on the interaction itself).

We created our product through a technology-driven product development methodological approach, mixed with a few research methods from traditional participatory design. The goal was to identify design opportunities regarding the introduction of technology in the physiotherapeutic context, through the use of technology in the inquiry phase.

Our theoretical framework was build on embodied interaction, aesthetics of interaction as well as playfulness. On the basis of these, we developed a set of attributes from which we created the prototype. Hence, these attributes were the defining elements in how we wanted the interaction to be – what we call the interaction gestalt. This gestalt is the intangible “thing” in the middle of a interaction situation between man and machine – it is what’s in the middle of the artifact and the users experience thereof. But by using the attributes, we have a tool to articulate this fluffy and hard-to-grasp thing in the middle, allowing us to design it. This may sound fluffy, but seeing as this was the core of our challenge, it is quite important.

What we found was, our design of the interaction itself through the use of attributes was relatively succesful. Relatively, because we had both positive- as well as negative aspects. The vast majority of our attributes were successfully implemented, but we did have a few hiccups.

Because, since what we tried to do was to create a more adequate experience of training your neck after e.g. a whiplash by incorporating motivational elements, we also moved to a risky place. Hence, we found that since we are working with an extremely subtle set of movements – even more than we thought – even the slightest elements of playfulness incorporated in a solution, can also come across as disturbing. And seeing as disturbance was not exactly an attribute, we wanted to characterize our neck exercise, this was a problematic element.

Thus, we learned when working with such fragile clients and also incorporating movement, and understanding of the interaction through that very movement, the playful elements where not working as supporting the situation and enriching it. Rather, they became an element of surprise and wonder in a situation where clients simply could not handle it, ultimately resulting in an undermining of the purpose of the neck exercise.

As always, feel free to ask for more information on the project or the paper on it.