I was invited by Matt Dexter from Sheffield Hallam University to lead a team as part of the 24 hour Design Challenge at the 2015 Design4Health conference, organised by Matt and led by Julia Cassim of Kyoto Design Lab.


The group who had applied to be part of the design challenge were divided into 3 teams. Our team consisted of three industrial designers, two visual designers and two service designers. The focus of this year’s challenge was Parkinson’s Disease and the organisers had arranged for each team to have input and support from people with lived experience of Parkinson’s. Our team had Ali and his wife Jane, who both have Parkinson’s, and Clare, a Parkinson’s nurse. Ali has had Parkinson’s for ten years now so we began by asking him about his life and everyday experiences, and what the biggest challenges were that he faced on a daily basis.


While providing us with valuable insights into the lived experience of Parkinson’s, Ali said:

“The biggest challenge is freezing – it is public and embarrassing and a huge, huge emotional thing.”

The Parkinson’s Society explains that

“Freezing is when someone stops suddenly while walking. It can also happen during a repetitive movement, such as cleaning teeth or writing. People with Parkinson’s have said that freezing is like having your feet glued to the ground. Episodes of freezing can last for several seconds or minutes.”

Read more here.

Ali, Jane and Clare all said that freezing was the most intractable problem associated with Parkinson’s and that many approaches had been tried to enable people experiencing this to get ‘unstuck’ and break the freeze. Current solutions include the use of metronomes, chants or mantras to help people relax and reset their mental state through a calming or set rhythm. Ali said that he would value,

“Anything that allows you to regain control – allows you to rebalance, relax and breathe.”


The design team took the detailed information about daily experiences gained from our discussions with Ali, Jane and Clare and developed some themes including, sensory stimulation; environmental cues and crowd sourced data; medication administration and monitoring; and education and simulation. We explored the four themes, brainstorming ideas associated with each, then identified two to explore in more depth. Following a discussion with Ali, Jane and Clare, we decided to focus on developing something that would helps unfreeze through prompting relaxation by setting rhythm and pulse via multi-sensory input through:
a)   replicating the feeling of someone gently squeezing your wrist in a rhythmic and reassuring way;
b)   playing a personalised playlist or tone linked to an underlying metronome set at your preferred rhythm.


The industrial designers in the team worked very hard through the night to create detailed CAD models of what the device would look like (including 3-D printing a hard copy prototype) and also to mock up a rough, working prototype. The visual designers then took the images and worked with the service designers to mock up some screen shots of what a supporting app would look like. We demonstrated the prototypes and mock ups to Ali, Jane and Clare in the morning and Ali was delighted with the proposed solution, asking,

“Can I have a working version to take with me on my journey home tomorrow?”


Having been involved in a few of these hack type events, it is always amazing to see how ideas can be developed into quite detailed prototypes in 24 hours with the right attitude and the right team. The team for this event were certainly the best I have worked with, including staff and students from Sheffield Hallam, and designers from Waag Society and uscreates. We presented our design concept to a large audience of attendees at the Design4Health conference who voted us winners of the People’s Choice award. The team are so enthusiastic about the idea that we are now looking to work with Sheffield Hallam to apply for funding to develop the concept further.