Eric Lawrence, Creative Director
Planning: 9 weeks
Research: 10 weeks
Design: 10 weeks
No parent is ever prepared to hear their child is anything other than happy and healthy. Yet 9 - 27 million parents in America who have children who are affected by sensory processing disorder (SPD) are required to quickly make sense of this condition so they can effectively intervene on their child's behalf.
What is SPD?
Sensory processing is how your brain interprets the deluge of information received through your senses such as sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. SPD arises when your brain does not adequately interpret sensations, it can result in your body feeling bombarded by or deprived of signals from your sensory system. .
In order to thrive, children with SPD need their parents to be well informed and gain expertise about the various and every changing manifestations of their condition. This often requires parents to navigate massive amounts of information or search for others who have experience with this condition. Meanwhile only until recently has the medical community recognized SPD as a formal condition, making it ever more difficult for parents to acquire what’s needed to help their child.
At its core Aru is a desirable information experience. In contrast to operating as a traditional social networking site or Q&A platform( such as Facebook and Quora), Aru takes an efficient approach to facilitating information sharing by employing an AI recommender system and search engine, personalizing information feeds based upon self-identified preferences and usage.
For parents of children
with sensory complexities.
Where parents can connect, contribute and find answers.
Based on parent's
preferences and interest.
Aru provides personally relevant information quickly. It saves parents time by directly bringing them the answers they are searching for.
Parents can form
just right queries.
Aru's search engine helps parents build their expertise through search iteration. Aru employs as-you-type suggestions for precise query submission.
After we completed planning we sought to narrow our problem space. We focused our research on transitions and sought to understand the barriers neurodivergent people face throughout childhood and into adulthood that prevent them from being fully integrated within society. We took an iterative approach to conducting secondary research that involved many modes and cycles of generative research. What follows is a summary of this approach.
To learn more access the full study guide>
We conducted interviews with people whose expertise lay in this area, talking the co-director of Portland State University’s Inclusion program and author of The Educator’s Guide to Implementing Transition Planning and Services (2017) we learned about the high school to college transition.
From Bryce Johnson, inclusive product design lead at Microsoft, we learned about micro transitions such as the difficulty a young child with a sensory processing disorder can face when transitioning from the school to home. This need led us to identify a targeted user group - children with sensory processing needs.
Expert: Bryce Johnson
Bryce Johnson has been designing accessible experiences and technology for over 15 years and is a member of Team Xbox at Microsoft. He initiated and designed the very first Inclusive Tech Lab at Microsoft, which is a space where people can explore how gamers with disabilities interact with Microsoft games, services, and devices. Currently he is designing a solution for the mico-transitions that children with sensory processing needs experience. He and his team are working on a variety of explorations ranging from a sensory swing to a sensory fish tank. Bryce introduced us to the topic of micro-transitions through explaining his current design of a sensory environment for children with sensory processing needs who are just arriving home from school. He pointed out the expense of the environment and pointed out ways in which an environment could be modified and made more accessible for families. He also provided us principles of implementation by introducing us to first-person language. Bryce lead our team to Washington Autism Alliance and Advocacy group and we were able to volunteer during their annual Day Out for Autism family Day.
I made this recruitment website to supply our project with study participants.
In order to ensure that participants would be available for the various data-gathering activities recruitment became a prioritized initiative. Now that our team had an audience description our recruiting activities began, starting with outreach. Given my familiarity and background with this population I took the lead with recruitment. I engaged prospects, made a screener, created a website, got responses, & arranged/scheduled interviews, then conducted interviews.
Our team was committed to an inclusive approach to design we each deemed it important include the end users throughout the design to development life cycle. To this end we decided we would go into the community to reach out to people. To make this happen, I registered our team up to volunteer at an annual community event called “A Day Out for Autism”. During the event, I took the lead in community outreach and established channels with 4 professionals and 1 family with sensory processing disorder.
The major takeaways from this event were:
1. There are a lot of resources out there for children with autism and SPD
2. But many of those resources are quite expensive
Talking to a sensory gym vendor to learn more about resources for children with sensory processing needs.
To learn more about our competitive insights access the full report.
Through conducting informal observations, speaking to experts and carrying out a comprehensive literature review plus competitive analysis we refined our inquiry by formulating the following research questions:
1. How might we better support the needs of children with sensory complexities?
2. What barriers exist for addressing their needs?
3. What types of resources currently exist for these children?
4. What are the outcomes for utilizing the available resources?
To clearly identify what services and products were currently being offered to this community, we conducted a competitive analysis. Each item was analyzed based on 4 criteria we felt were reflective of considerations made by families when seeking resources:
affordability - is this cost prohibitive for average income families?
adaptability - can this be used by a variety of children with sensory needs?
usability - is this easy to access and use?
enjoyment - how enjoyable is this for children and/or parents?
These activities informed us that a wide variety of resources exist to support the needs of children with sensory needs and established some barriers to accessing them.
Understanding the Experiences of a child with SPD
Taking what we learned from this expert interview, we set out to understand sensory processing needs through a multi-dimensional approach, from the individual child’s perspective, but also through the lens of their caretakers, therapy providers, and educators.
To determine how we could get closer to understanding the experiences a child with profound sensory needs undergoes we sought the input of an additional expert, University of Washington professor Dr. Jake Wobbrock whose expertise includes HCI + accessibility. Our conversation led us to evaluating various phenomenological-based methods even considering a design for one approach.
Contextual Inquiry which told us about tools being used to address SPN. It also helped us to establish the challenges of dealing with it and the role of community.
Artifact Analysis to help us identify how people create and adapt tools and techniques. It helped us to envision experience of children and grasp their environments.
Directed Storytelling to learn managing SN and its impact. This method also exposed a lot of the emotional experiences of parents. This technique uncovered underlying struggles for parents and let us to modify our research plan to further explore the emotional underpinnings being exposed.
Pivot: Surfacing Underlying Themes
When our team began conducting interviews, about mid-way through, we began to repeatedly hear parents describe the struggle they encountered when trying to help their children.
We realized that parents were facing barriers and we wanted to identify and understand more about the nature and impact of these barriers. To this end we modified our directed storytelling prompt toward a singular focus on parents.
To gain a shared understanding about the primary data we collected, our team elected to affinity diagram our findings. This process got a bit physical; the black foam board took up a bit of space and the post-it note system was color-coded, ultimately the interpretation process involved externalizing, sorting, identifying, and naming themes.
Key Research Insights
Parents lack support in navigating the massive amount of information to identify necessary interventions.
Parents struggle to identify a support network until one entry exposes a wealth of community and resources.
Parents experience a sense of loss at identification that hinders acceptance and responsiveness.
Advice from more experienced parents is valued above recommendations received from professionals because it allows new parents to identify and prioritize interventions that reduce the burden of trial and error.
Synthesizing revealed many pain points all of which can be found in the full report.
After synthesizing our research and to further drive alignment, we formulated a set of design principles, directly mapped to key insights, to take with us to ideation, prototyping, designing and testing.
Accessing and forming support networks eliminates isolation and leads to a community that insulates families from societal misconceptions and exposes many resources. The design should provide opportunities to build and link users with other people who have a common understanding or similar experiences.
Circulate stories of success
Give parents’ stories that show them what thriving kids with constantly evolving sensory processing needs looks like. The design should circulate personal stories of success that catalyze the user towards trying new and creative solutions.
The design should expedite the process of finding effective interventions and deliver efficient use of the system to the user. New parents, in comparison to the recommendations received from professionals, are more likely to experience success when trying out an intervention received from the advice of a more experienced parent.
Accept and encourage
Parenting a child with sensory processing needs is a life-long adjustment and parents react differently. To support acceptance of this identification and advance providing necessary treatment the design should anticipate and acknowledge the user’s emotional journey.
We’ve identified 5 major design opportunities that can assist parents on the journey of managing sensory processing needs. We designed for the three highlighted below.
Our product could:
1) Assist parents in finding members of the sensory needs community who have first -hand experience with sensory processing interventions.
2) Capture and share the success stories of more experienced parents with families new to this journey.
3) Facilitate the exchange and sharing of information to reduce the trial and error process.
To free our team to generate as many potential ideas as possible and to consider ideas without the constraints of our research, we stepped away from our previously defined design opportunities and principles; and in doing so, we were able to sketch over 150 ideas in all.
We spent time sketching on our own, did brainstorming activities together, and led an ideation workshop with some of our studio colleagues.
We refined these ideas by comparing the form and function of each idea. The form of these ideas ranged from physical products to AI driven products and from events to interventions. The function of these ideas were based on perceived parental interest and need. Then, we clustered the sketched ideas into six themes/categories and translated them into storyboards, one storyboard representing a potential product offering from the following: education, leisure, communication, alleviation, tracking, awareness.
We further narrowed by using the Pugh matrix to evaluate each idea based on the following:
alignment with our design principles
desirability in terms of parental perception
viability in terms of product longevity,
feasibility in terms of how practical would it be for our team to design
prototype and test the idea.
Our evaluative effort resulted in the combination of aspects from each idea into a micro-community concept, an idea in which parents would be paired with a small group of individuals, parents similar to them in order to facilitate exchange and support.
Before investing deeply into this concept, we wanted to know to what extent it resonated with actual parents of children with sensory processing needs. So we elected for a low-fidelity prototype, a storyboard depicting the user journey, that could quickly be shipped to parents.
I lead user testing. I reengaged previous research participants, recruited new parents, formulated questions and conducted concept testing. Participants included parents with children in the age range of 7-13 years old.
What we heard surprised us.
“I don’t need more friends, I have enough of those”
“Who are you sticking in my group?”
Interpreting reactions, attitudes and prioritized needs
Obtaining mixed feedback led us to a pit of despair where we would have to rethink why our initial concept did not squarely align to parent’s needs.
So we did.
After reviewing our notes and bringing the challenge to our studio to solicit their feedback about our initial prototype test findings we realized: While most participants had a positive first reaction, their perception and attitude toward being placed in a group is misaligned with their priorities.
Community is secondary- parents perceive the value of a micro-community because it presents opportunities to gain insights and share information. Thus, we inverted the focus from community to information sharing by means of community.
Medium Fidelity Prototype
Over the next several weeks we rapidly investigated online communities designed to facilitate the sharing of information, including quora, facebook groups, nextdoor, quounsel, among others.
We refined our design solution to: A secure and supportive web platform that connects parents with children with sensory processing needs to relevant information.
We each sketched paper-wireframes to represent the form and usability features needed and combined our sketches into a grayscale wireframe on Figma.
To facilitate user testing, both remote and in-person, I used InVision to build a clickable prototype and wrote up a scenario that we used to walk parents through the newly formed conceptualized website.
Through our medium fidelity prototype testing, we realized that we needed to:
Increase the visibility and functionality of the search feature
Demonstrate the value of advice being posted by incorporating an icon unique to the platform
Expose the activity and usage by other parents to showcase its liveliness
System Logic: Aru’s recommender engine is an intelligent system that personalizes users’ feeds based upon self-identified preferences at onboarding and analyzing users’ usage over time. The diagram depicts how Aru collects and uses data to improve user experience.
To preserve a representation of Aru and present a comprehensive view of it’s working capacity I created the following product specifications document.