(Summer 2014) Open Style Lab
Grace Teo, (G, HST)
Grace spent the summer working with Open Style Lab, an MIT-based summer education program dedicated to creating innovative clothing solutions for people with disabilities who often have difficulty dressing independently. Launched for the first time this summer, Grace brought together engineers, designers and occupational therapy students to form interdisciplinary teams that were matched with a client with unique clothing challenges. In addition to benefiting from each others’ specific skill sets, the student teams were exposed to exceptional mentors and speakers from industry and academia such as Eileen Fisher, Rhode Island School of Design, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network in Boston. The final products include a re-imagined rain jacket for a wheelchair user, customized protective sleeves for caregivers of children with autism, a magnetic clothing seam system for people with limited motor skills, a voice activated heating shirt and much more!
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Open Style Lab: Final Reflections
Sept 23. 2014
Our program ended a little over a month ago. Since then, we have appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe, spoken on a runway at New York Fashion Week, and responded to a steady number of people interested in collaborating. We have swum in a sea of congratulations while trying to find our footing on a clear path forward.
I’ve recently been challenged to think about how to responsibly share the results of research. It has been proposed that we should not only make research results accessible to the public (as an antithesis – think about dense scientific journals), but also measure and reward the impact of research results on the public to incentivize researchers to carry out ‘lean research’. Research that has real bang for buck. Open Style Lab was not technically research, as projects were carried out for a single user. However, in many ways Open Style Lab was still an experiment – an educational experiment, a cross-disciplinary experiment, a public service experiment. This is my attempt to share our results in a way that I hope will provoke thought and discussion in our community.
What our students thought. During our exit interviews, we came across a few themes:
- Our students loved the multidisciplinary teams and the chance to work on a solution that impacted a real-person.
- It took some time for OTs to be appreciated in their teams as people didn’t have a great idea of what OTs did.
- OTs generally seemed to find Open Style Lab a much more novel experience than the designers and engineers did.
- They wanted more ‘build time’ and less ‘talk time’ with their mentors. Typically, the first 30min of mentoring sessions were the most productive.
- Everyone wanted a dedicated Open Style Lab space that they could work in during the week.
To our students: Thanks for being our guinea pigs this year, everyone! We had a blast with you all. We couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic, warm and adventurous group to venture into our pioneering program together this summer.
To everyone else:
- Why is OT/PT/med school such a rigid and structured experience? Wouldn’t it be great if medical curriculum would afford students more flexibility in pursuing side interests? People on the forefront of healthcare who recognize the problems in healthcare need more opportunities to collaborate with folks from other disciplines.
- We need a makerspace of our own. Even better – is anyone excited about building an accessible makerspace with us? One of mentors this summer, a wheelchair user, is currently working with MIT students to create an adaptor for a foot pedal, which will allow him to use machines in the makerspace he spends most of his time with. Let’s get people of all abilities building together!
Open Style Lab is not a hackathon. We have had a couple of people suggest that Open Style Lab could be transformed into a hackathon. Hackathons have become somewhat of a trend in recent years. They are very short 24-48h events, typically drawing together diverse thinkers and tinkerers to pitch ideas surrounding solving a particular problem, then split into teams based on the ideas they are interested in to then hack together a solution. It is intense, energetic, and caffeinating is key to the process. Open Style Lab had various hackathon-like features, most prominently our small multidisciplinary teams focused on solving a specific problem. Could Open Style Lab have been a hackathon?
I would like to contend that many facets of Open Style Lab would have been lost in a hackathon. First, the main benefit of hackathons is in bringing together different disciplines in a short amount of time to collaborate. A small percentage of the teams do go on to collaborate further post-hackathon, but this is not common. On the other hand, the duration of Open Style Lab (10 weeks) asked our students to commit to making a finished product with their teams. Hacking together a concept or raw prototype often masks the true hurdles in prototyping, testing, getting user feedback and refining – something that can only be experienced with longer project durations. Further, the student client relationship was central to the Open Style Lab design process. And relationships cannot be built in a day. So to hackathon fans out there, Open Style Lab will have to remain a long and arduous 10 weeks long 😉
“Are you good at asking for things?” This were one of the first questions I was ever asked by Sally Susnowitz, director of the MIT Public Service Center, which gave Open Style Lab its first grant and propelled us into the unknown. Little did I know how prescient her words would be. From a location for our final presentations (Museum of Science), to fabric and craft donations, to a makerspace partner, to volunteer speakers and mentors, there were SO many asks. When we realized that most of our design student applicants were industrial designers not fashion designers, we had to ask local tailors and seamstresses for help. (Word on the street is that next year, costume designers will be involved too!)
I always thought that asking for help would be burdensome to those helping out. However, our volunteers and donors were so excited to be a part of Open Style Lab, and continue to be avid supporters. I’ve learnt to never underestimate the generosity of the human spirit. As we bring more and more people into sharing our work of Open Style Lab, the joy of seeing fruit has also multiplied and our momentum has increased. When we create a need, we create a relationship. And relationships are what carry ventures through.
While debriefing with one of our students from the summer, she explained how she felt like she was ‘cheating’ when they had to outsource part of their project to a cobbler. It was nice to be able to tell her that I thought that successful outsourcing was a very good skill for solving most real-life problems, which often require far more than any college education can teach a single individual. School projects are usually artificially bounded to accommodate a student’s anticipated resources. Real-life problems are large, unwieldy, are rarely require the same set of skills and knowledge that are endowed upon the person tackling the problem. To students out there, it’s okay to ask for help! It’s not cheating to recognize people who can be of great help
The scary transition from bleeding hearts to business women. On that note, we’ve decided to explore the possibility of commercializing two of the summer projects with our students – a rain jacket for a wheelchair user, and a magnetic seam that can be incorporated into any clothing seam. The whole experience of assigning equity and ownership is new to us, but perhaps even more jolting was the realization that we might have to start talking about how much equity/ownership each of us thought we deserved to own.
Let me explain the Open Style Lab team culture. It is perhaps one of the best teams I have been a part of. It is all-female (not by intention), and giggling is known to feature in even the most serious of discussions. We joke that team meetings start with “Are you hungry?” which is then followed by some happy snacking. Personal updates are normal and welcome in team meetings. We are teammates, co-conspirators and mutual fans. Affectionate sarcasm are exchanged as freely as hugs.
Hence when it was time to figure out an equity strategy amongst ourselves, my largest concern was the impact it would have on our team culture, which had been so giving-oriented. A few sleepless nights later, a strategy hit as I was about to fall asleep. (Fortunately I remembered it in the morning.) What if we, irrespective of our contributions, all received an equal share equity – and then chose how we would distribute our portion among the rest of our team members? Irrespective of the result, we would start from a foundation of trust and understanding that what we owned was a gift.
After pitching it tentatively to the team, I’m happy to announce that everyone is onboard with the plan! So far no one we’ve spoken to has heard of such an equity agreement, but maybe we’ll start a trend – who knows? We’ll give you all updates as things progress (: Stay tuned!
Open Style Lab: Hellooo Mentors!
July 8, 2014
This week saw the beginning of a 6-week chunk of Open Style Lab: We’ll alternate 3 times between (i) educational modules & mentoring sessions and (ii) independent prototyping sessions.
Our first educational module featured a panel discussion surrounding Functionality & Aesthetics. We had 2 academics, 3 practitioners, 1 independent seamstress, 2 artists, 1 fashion designer, 3 teachers, 1 prosthetist, 1 entrepreneur and 1 parent of a child with a disability. More formally:
Sara Hendren: Artist, design researcher, and writer who has lectured at RISD, joining the faculty at Olin College of Engineering as Assistant Professor of Design in September 2014. Check out her work at ablersite.org.
Aimi Hamraie: Interdisciplinary scholar in gender & disabiltity studies, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University. Aimi previously sewed her own clothes in an effort to figure out why many people, including herself, don’t fit into mainstream cuts!
Jenny Lai: Jenny is a graduate of RISD and formed her own studio, NOT, in New York in 2011. She has also created custom performance-wear for musicians and dancers, and traveled to Mexico city, Rwanda and South Africa on a wide ranging projects. Check out her ready-to-wear line, NOT.
Jason Rizzo: Jason is an ABC certified American Prosthetist and Orthotist with 13 years’ experience working in orthotics and prosthetics at Rogerson Orthopedic, and is the prosthetist of our client, Barbara!
I sat on the edge of my seat for most of the discussion, and you can read a great summary of it on Jenny’s blog! We’ll have the transcript of the discussion up soon too, you can re-live it for yourself
One of the topics MOST interesting to be me was about dependence vs. independence. I had been thinking about the intrinsic virtue of encouraging people to be ‘independent’. Is it just a cultural value, honed by movies of lone ranger cowboys riding happily through Hollywood deserts? Are we basically telling people that it’s not okay to ask for help? Sara brought this point up, and proposed that there was too much of a focus on assistive technology as opposed to ‘assistive people’. Have we created a culture where it’s much more acceptable to rely on a machine than on other people?
However, Maura Horton (CEO of MagnaReady), one of our mentors in the audience, offered her view that requiring assistance is perhaps more acceptable in some activities than others. Indeed, dressing is such a personal and intimate activity, hence independence is often desired. Emileigh, one of our occupational therapy students, followed up in agreement, pointing out that occupational therapists have done attempted to define the types of activities where independence is typically greatly desired, i.e. ADLs – activities of daily living. This includes dressing, eating, showering.
It was great to see everyone chipping in their opinions to create a truly energized and holistic discussion!
After lunch, it was finally time for students to finally meet their mentors! Like the student teams, the mentor teams comprise a engineer, designer & occupational therapist. Each mentor team works with 2 student teams.
You can check out all the mentor-student pairings on the Teams page of our website. Mentors hunkered down with the students, listening to the students present their clients & client challenges, go over their ideas for clothing solutions, and develop a focus for their projects for the next 5 weeks.
Some students had already started to develop prototypes, including Team Ryan with a bunny-morphable glove, and Team Mike with a mold of their client’s prosthetic hand (apparently dental mold technique is easily applicable to other body parts too). We can’t wait to see more!
Open Style Lab: Go Forth, Students!
July 1, 2014
This was a quiet week for the Open Style Lab team, but not for the students! It was time for them to go visit their clients’ homes, to learn more about their clients’ day-to-day lives. Here’s a snapshot of one of their visits!
Open Style Lab: A Day at the MIT AgeLab
June 25, 2014
What does a driving simulator, a cute robotic pet seal and a suit incorporating bungee cords all have in common? They all belong to the MIT AgeLab! Which is, as you may have guessed, the excursion site and playground of Open Style Lab for Week 2.
A quick introduction to the AgeLab. It’s a lab at MIT, headed by Prof Joe Coughlin, focused on policy, technology and services that help people to age vibrantly. One of the key takeaways: The aging process starts from BIRTH. So really, this is less about “old people” and more about addressing the challenges faced with the aging process across entire lifespan. Big retailers and corporations like CVS and Betty Crocker go there to figure out how easy their stores and products are navigated or used by people with functional limitations that come with age.
Ever wondered what it feels like to have the body of a 75 year old, particular one who wasn’t super into healthy living in their younger days? Well if so, the AGNES suit developed by the AgeLab is what you want to put on:
It simulates arthritis, loss of feeling in hands, poor vision, limited reach, shortened gait, reduced balance and spinal compression (spinal compression = what the hunchback of Notre Dame suffered from). 10 minutes in this suit will make you want to sit down for a breather – then realize it’s really hard to stand up again. This wasn’t an empathy exercise. This was an empathy WORKOUT.
Later, all our students got to put on two components of the AgeLab suit, and tried to do apparel-related tasks like doing up buttons, buckles and laces. Specifically, they got to put on goggles and gloves:
- Different types of goggles simulated eyes undergoing a normal aging process, diabetic retinopathy, scotomas, etc. And yes, they are all as scary as they sound. Eat your carrots, people!
- Gloves reduced haptic function – the ability to feel. Imagine trying to do buttons with blurry vision. Now imagine it with blurry vision AND the inability to feel the buttons. See the problem here?
But that’s not all! The AgeLab also houses Miss Daisy, a driving simulator which tests how well people drive under certain conditions, e.g. while text messaging. In the simulation, dogs can dart across your path, eye tracking devices determine if you’re suffering from driver fatigue, and YES, you can get speeding tickets. (One of our students, he/she who shall not be named, got 6 tickets within 10 minutes of driving. This was worrying.) And before you think this is just a fun game, Miss Daisy is the type of technology that goes into studies that influence policy changes in transportation. That’s a big deal.
We also had a fantastic talk forecasting the aging future of the Gen Y population by Julie Miller. Julie is a gerontological social worker, researcher in the AgeLab, and also teaches at Northeastern University. Among the many hard questions she had us thinking about, was “how do you define old?” 65? 80? When you get a social security check?
And finally, we met Paro. He looks like a regular plush toy seal, but Paro is actually a super advanced interactive robot, classed as a medical device. Weighted to feel like a baby, and making cute squeals while batting its eyelashes and twitching its tail in response to your stroking or cooing, Paro serves to reduce patient and caregiver stress. If Paro represents our aging future, I am ALL FOR IT.
Open Style Lab: Announcing the student-client matches!
June 20, 2014
The astute among you will have realized by now that I did not talk about what happened on Saturday (aka Day 2 of Week 1) in my last post. Have no fear, here it is!
We kicked off the morning with Nancy Lowenstein, from the Boston University School of Occupational Therapy, who gave a wonderfully interactive and insightful talk on how occupational therapists think. She let us try some empathy exercises (wearing a shirt with your eyes closed or putting on a jacket with one arm), and experiment with some adaptive equipment that people use to dress!
Then came the big reveal: ANNOUNCING THE STUDENT-CLIENT MATCHES! There was no crying or wailing involved, so we assume everyone was very pleased with their matches.
- Barbara, our client with an amputation, shows her prosthetic to her students!
After lunch and bonding with their new teams, came some intense class discussion time – how do we talk about disability, and how do we go about client interviews? Happily, we had the Museum of Science and our teammates Tom and Lynde, to come up with a bunch of real-life scenarios to discuss with the students! Lynde also led a great workshop on ethnographic research techniques. Every team got a picture of processes involving people, to observe where user-centered design principles might help!
Then came more fun – a showcase of adaptive clothing! We had various items generously donated by MagnaReady, Cleverhood, Therapeutic Systems, BeTH and Magzips. The students were not told what the items were designed for, and got to go from station and station to figure them out! A great session led by Alice.
Finally, to cap the day off, we had Will Lautzenheiser, previously a film professor at Boston University and a quadruple amuputee, come share film documentation techniques with the Open Style Lab fellows.
And after a long day, it was finally time to take a group picture..Will suggested the ‘fresh face’ technique of getting everyone to smile right. First, everyone look away…
And then, FRESH FACE!
You can judge if it worked 🙂
Open Style Lab: Creating clothes for people with disabilities!
June 18, 2014
Hello! I’m Grace Teo, a recent MIT PhD graduate in Health Sciences and Technology. I’ve been working on establishing Open Style Lab for the last 1.5 years with my team, and this past weekend, it finally sprang into action!
Before I go into how it Week 1 went, let me give a quick intro: Open Style Lab is a 10-week program at MIT, that teams up student designers, engineers and occupational therapists to create clothing for people with disabilities.
Who are our clients? 8 regular people with a range of disabilites – paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputations, autism, sensory processing disorder and arthritis
Who are our fellows? 24 fellows – 8 engineers, 8 designers and 8 occupational therapists. They’re either in school, or have graduated within the past 2 years. They come from MIT (yay!), Harvard, Tufts, Boston University, Rhode Island School of Design, Fashion Institute of Technology and others
How does it work? 3 fellows (an engineer, designer and occupational therapist) will be matched with each client. Over the course of 10 weeks, they will meet their clients in their homes/workplaces to get to know their client & identify a clothing challenge. Fellows then design and make a prototype of a clothing solution. Mentors (also an engineer, designer and occupational therapist) work with each team of fellows to refine their ideas and prototypes. We’ll have a final presentation at MIT on Aug 16, and will also present the student designs at the Museum of Science (MOS), Boston in October! The MOS presentations will be in conjunction with Boston Fashion Week and National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
So, how did Week 1 go?
First of all, our fellows showed up (one did get stuck in Europe – but she’s coming next week!):
They seemed to like each other, and the icebreakers seemed to work to shatter any glacial remnants after dinner. We passed out strips of paper with phrases from their application on it, and got them to find each other:
We then did a quick intro of who our clients were for the summer, and everyone got down to listing their top choices for clients:
By the time Day 1 was over, it was 9pm and everyone was ready to get some sleep and come back the next morning! But not the OSL team, which still had to go through the matching forms…fortunately, the matching process only took 15min and everyone got their top choices! Alice holding the paper with the matching results victoriously at 9:15pm:
For more pictures, or to follow along in real-time, check out our website and other social media channels!