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2014 "Getting Wireless" Student design challenge

In 2010, the Wireless RERC began offering industrial design students an opportunity to participate in a brief project to explore application of Principles of Universal Design to mobile wireless technologies.  Faculty of the ID programs of Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) have embraced the challenge and incorporated this project in their spring curricula ever since.

Students who have participated in the project have noted that universal design is not only “the right thing to do”, but an important ingredient to their success as professional designers.  Experts in industry and design have agreed.  Student work in this project has received international recognition, including a first-place award for a Virginia Tech team in LG’s “Design the Future” competition and selection of a Georgia Tech team for a Social Design Award from the Victor J. Papanek Foundation.

Our largest class to date

During the 2014 spring semester, 83 industrial design students at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech participated in the Wireless RERC’s fifth annual “Getting Wireless” design challenge. This year, 29 sophomores at Virginia Tech participated under the direction of Assistant Professor Akshay Sharma.  At Georgia Tech, 19 juniors under instructor Wendell Wilson, and 35 sophomores under Assistant Professor Young Mi Choi and instructor John Lau participated in the project.

The assignment – wearable wireless technology

In each class, teams of 3-4 students were assigned one of four customer personas based on findings of the Wireless RERC’s user research projects.  Each persona presented a real-life scenario which might be addressed through wearable wireless technology.  Students were introduced to Google Glass as an example of this emerging technology and encouraged to consider it the starting point for developing design strategies to meet the needs of their persona.

In the interest of universal design, each team was expected to consider the impact of their design strategies on the other personas and on wireless customers without disabilities. “Evaluating the Universal Design Performance of Products”, a tool developed by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, was used in assessing students’ universal design approaches.  Students were encouraged to refer to this guide throughout their design process.

Final presentations

At the conclusion of the project, each student team presented their 3D study model and described their research and strategy to meet the needs of their persona and the impact of these strategies on the other wireless customers with and without disabilities.  On April 22, the student teams presented their work at the Healthy Environments and Active Lifestyles (HEAL) Open House on the GA Tech campus.  Technical professionals who provided feedback during the project and served on the review panels included:

  • Maureen Carroll, Founder and Principal of Creature, a product development consulting firm in Atlanta
  • Brian Jones, Senior Research Engineer at GA Tech’s Interactive Media Technology Center (IMTC) and Project Director of the Wireless RERC’s “Building Research Capacity” project, which sponsors the “Getting Wireless” student design challenge
  • Mike Jones, Vice President for Research and Technology at the Shepherd Center, Co-PI of the Wireless RERC, and one of the authors of the Principles of Universal Design
  • Jim Mueller, Project Director of the Wireless RERC’s App Factory, and one of the authors of the Principles of Universal Design
  • Tom Schnetzer, Owner of HIMformatics, a healthcare information technology consulting firm in Atlanta
  • Brian Vanhiel, Principal Engineer at Enginuity Works, an Atlanta-based consulting firm specializing in design, prototyping, research, and manufacturing management

Students’ opinions

As in previous years, students participating in the “Getting Wireless” design challenge were surveyed about their opinions concerning universal design at the start and conclusion of the project.  Most felt that a universal/inclusive approach to design is not only the “right thing to do”, but will also help them in their careers.  All agreed that considering elders and people with disabilities improves the usability of design for everyone.

The 2014 class impressed the Wireless RERC staff and industry professionals with thorough and insightful research regarding their personas, as well as awareness of emerging wearable technologies to meet their needs.  Each team enthusiastically explored a broad range of creative concepts.  Their polished final presentations conveyed confidence in applying universal design principles to real-life challenges.  All of us who use wireless technologies, with and without disabilities, will benefit when these students pursue career opportunities in the wireless industry.


The Wireless RERC extends thanks to all the students participating in the 2014 “Getting Wireless” challenge, and to their instructors, who devoted additional time and effort to make this project so successful:

2014 personas and team designs

Anna is the mother of Andy, an eight-year-old with mild autism.  Anna would like to help Andy learn to handle social situations better - he often doesn’t realize when he’s not acting appropriately, or recognize when he’s doing well.  She would also like him to complete everyday tasks without persistent prompting or hands-on supervision.  After reading several articles about Google Glass, Anna envisions some ways this new device might help Andy.  But she’s also read about public concerns over privacy with this new type of technology.  She worries whether wearing it would call attention to her son’s problems and make his difficulties worse, rather than helping him.

Carolyn found out two years ago that she has Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).  Now retired on disability at 50 years of age, she is grappling with what this means for her future.  Besides her finances, she keeps track of her diet, symptoms, and treatments daily.  But it’s getting complicated, and the specialist treating her seems too busy to do more than monitor her medications.  Lately Carolyn has noticed that her right (dominant) hand is becoming less useful than her left, and her gait is deteriorating.  Her friends and neighbors are beginning to notice and worry about her.  Carolyn lives alone, and her primary goal is to remain as active and independent as possible for as long as possible. 

Morrie, 85 years of age, has recently moved with his wife June from their large house to an apartment in a new neighborhood.  With his declining vision and limited mobility, the move to this walkable community made good sense.  But Morrie misses his familiar surroundings, including his photography darkroom.   Always a very social person, June is enjoying meeting new friends while Morrie becomes more sedentary and isolated.  She encourages him to exercise, but he just can’t stay with it and resents her badgering.  She suspects that Morrie’s short-term memory problems play a part in his difficulties in adjusting to their new life.

Warren is a 30-year old man with progressive hearing loss that makes face-to-face communication difficult and phone use nearly impossible. His previous experiences with wireless devices make him worry about electronic interference with his bilateral hearing aids.  Trying out a friend’s iPhone, Warren found that SIRI doesn’t understand his speech, and he wonders whether any voice recognition system would work for him.  Warren feels increasingly isolated from hearing and understanding the world around him.  



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The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies is sponsored by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under grant number 90RE5007-01-00. The opinions contained in this website are those of the Wireless RERC and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or NIDILRR.