THINC: April 2021

Design THINC-ing for Complex Solutions
by Denise Sullivan
HURLEYVILLE– Design Thinking is a solution-based approach to solving complex problems, and a methodology that is used constantly at the Technology Hub and Incubator (THINC) in Hurleyville.
It is extremely useful in tackling the types of challenges presented by staff at The Center for Discovery (TCFD), an internationally renowned provider of research and programs for children and adults with complex conditions. A small wrist talker, a tool grabber, or a wireless switch interface device created at THINC for an individual at TCFD could be a small part of a big solution, or a major game – changer for someone working towards independence in daily living skills. By understanding the human needs involved, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, by creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and by adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing, design thinking embodies the skills needed to succeed in an organization centered on the care and success of people with disabilities.
“A solution is never perfect when it is first created and tested”, says Mark McNamara, Design and Fabrication Coordinator at THINC. The results generated during the testing phase are often used to inform the understanding of the users, the conditions of use, how students think, behave, and feel, and to empathize. Even during this phase, sometimes called “torture testing”, alterations and refinements are made in order to rule out problem solutions and derive as deep an understanding of the device and its users as possible.
In the design of the Wrist Talker, an augmented and alternative communication device adapted and recreated by McNamara at THINC for children at TCFD, eight different iterations of the device were tested. “The Wrist Talker was being used and broken, and staff requested that we revisit the design to see if it could be worn on another part of the body so that it wouldn’t be in the line of fire each day”, McNamara said. He used a 3D printer to recreate the back of the device so that it could accommodate a clip that can be attached to a belt or other sturdy article of clothing.
A new design creation at THINC is the Bluetooth Cause-Effect Learning Tool. This device helps educators, clinicians and caregivers increase children’s participation in cause-effect learning by using their own motivating digital content, like a favorite video or piece of music. The device connects with a phone, tablet or computer, and by pressing a simple button or switch, the child can control video or sound functions. It features a novel timing element (5, 15, 30, and 60 seconds) which after setup, allows a child to control their content for specified durations of time, chosen by the clinician.
After designing and 3D printing the box that holds the device’s electronic components, the THINC team chose to source and purchase a smaller, prefabricated box, that Mr. McNamara customized using a CNC router to machine through-holes, and laser cutter to create a template for labels and graphics.
Testing and reiterating efforts are all part of the design thinking process, fostering innovation and creativity that ultimately and hopefully leads to the learning and success of the students.