Low-Tech High-Tech
Exploring Solutions for Sports Recovery

These are solutions that I developed for this opportunity. The first is a reach extender, which makes it easier to stretch by giving the user a handle to grasp that also pulls them into the stretch. The second is motion tracking gear which detects a user's motion and movements track their stretching progress.

My goal for this project was to develop two solutions to a problem space that I identified and was not yet filled with an existing product.

  • A Low-Tech solution entailed a simple, non-complex product that employed physical or mechanical innovation.

  • A High-Tech solution utilized existing or developing technologies to create a new type of product.

The purpose of designing for both of these cases was to develop a comprehensive and deep understanding of our problem space and craft multiple approaches to innovate around this self-identified space.

Not only was designing the right solution a goal for this project, but finding the right solution to design for was equally as important. I began this project with weeks of research and exploration into physical activity and recovery to validate hypotheses I had about problems and opportunities. The entire 15 week process consisted of:

  • Research into a problem space
    • Questionnaires
    • Observational research
    • Existing product analysis
    • Generative surveys

  • Developing solutions
    • Opportunity space analysis
    • Prototyping concepts
    • Testing prototypes and ideas
    • Refining high fidelity models

Design for the Right Thing, before Designing the Thing Right:
Identifying a Legitimate Problem Space

Before I could even dive into developing solutions, I needed to make sure I was designing for a proper need, and not just what I thought could be good for the world. I began approaching the first phase of this project with these types of questions:
  • Who actually has problems?
  • What are their needs?
  • What is keeping from their goals?
  • What do they do now?

Without the answer to these types of questions, I wouldn't be able to validate the effectiveness of my design later. I began with employing methods to gain discover answers to these questions.

The workout itself breaks down muscle tissue. It’s the recovery period between workouts, in which the biochemical processes responsible for muscle-fiber repair and synthesis, that is critical to getting stronger.

L.T. Davidson (Livestrong)

My secondary research revealed that often, there is an over emphasis on the activity alone. Train harder and you'll be stronger. However, training hard wears down muscles by making micro-tears. No one feels stronger after working out; a person actually feels more tired. It's only when we allow ourselves to rest and recover that we can mend the micro-tears to build more robust muscles.

Researching and Understanding the Problem Space:
How can I Research What People Do, Say, and Make 

Thus began the first phase of research for this project. To identify opportunities, I would first need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the current state of the practice. I would need to understand how people currently treat physical recovery and post-workout routines.

What People Do: Observational Research

What can I observe about people's behaviors? What do these behaviors and actions tell me about their needs and goals.

The first part of my research revolved around observing behaviors. This consisted of going to the gym and fitness areas around my college campus. I was able to follow a few of my active friends after their workouts and observe their routines.

Although they did devote time to things like stretching, they didn't spend much time doing that activity. Furthermore, these people often gravitated to specific areas for these activities such as a large porch if it was warm enough, or the open areas in the gym. However, these places didn't always seem to be the best to do such activities as they either lacked equipment or space.

What People Say: In-Context Interviews and Polling

Along with my observations, I conducted a number of interviews in people's fitness spaces right after they had finished a workout. Performing these interviews in the proper contexts made our job much easier, as we were able to call upon not only physical things in our environment, but also the interviewee's current physical and emotional state post-workout. Again, my goal with these interviews was to understand what people say as part of my goal to understand the current state of my problem space.

I would ask questions about:
    • The activity they just performed?
    • How they transition to the rest of the day?
    • What works best for them?
    • When they have their best/worst workouts?
    • What their goals were?
    • What obstacles they have?

Through these interviews, I gain valuable anecdotes that I almost hadn't planned on gathering. This is another benefit of doing these interviews in context, it is easy to get sidetracked in a good way. It is helpful to understand the people you design for not just as numbers but as stories.

Some of these things included talking about past injuries and why they could have happened, general livelihood, and even the philosophies behind leading a healthy life.

Even though I just said it is important to understand people as more than just numbers, I did still need to gather a baseline of objective information. I sent out google forms to runners, lifters, soccer players, swimmers, from varsity athletes to casual athletes.

What People Make: Generative Methods

Anyone can be creative if they have the right tools

The final part of my research revolved around generative methods, probing users to create their own solutions. What do people want? What would their dream days look like? I designed a number of opened ended prompts to gain answers to these types of questions. These packets consisted of a number of questions about the person’s current state, ideal state, obstacles, descriptive words, ideal contraptions, and awards to self. Upon providing the interviewee with icons and pens, I would guide them through the questions allowing them to collage, craft, and create their answers.

Concept Mapping Existing Solutions
What Affordance Already Exist in Practices/Products That People have Mentioned?

Since many needs are already taken care of by existing products, I wanted to analyze what already exists. I took any method that was mentioned in my research from stretching to icing, and mapped out all the components involved in the activity, reveal affordances or lack of affordances.

Comparing Recovery Tools and Identifying Opportunity Areas
Where can I fill gaps between existing products?

I created a few 2x2 matrixes to analyze where current products stand. In one diagram, I mapped out products by the amount of time and effort. In orange, I plotted where I interpreted the products existing and in blue, I mapped opportunity directions; ideally a low effort products would be better, but activities like stretching and stick rolling take more effort and time. I also plotted product versatility and effectiveness, similarly annotating possible opportunities for better products in blue.

I looked at the practice of stretching which is in many ways fundamental to an athlete’s upkeep. However, stretching often times is the most time consume post workout activity one can do, and reaching to touch your toes isn’t always the easiest thing to hold.

What I Learned From My Research:
People expressed desires to:

  • Take better care of their bodies
  • Accomplish more goals

What tools can enhance a person’s ability to take care of their body and in turn accomplish their fitness goals?

What If Solo Stretching was Easier?
What if stretching could take less effort? What if I could take stretching from the top right quadrant and move it to the top left quadrant? What if I could enhance the activity of stretching, could athletes who don’t do it much start to do it more often?

Developing Low-Tech Concepts
Matching Low-Tech Affordances with Needs

What could Stretch Measurers Look Like?
I started by envisioning a few products that could be similar to existing yoga matts, elastic bands, and measurers. One idea that I wanted to play with was create some kind of metric scale for tracking one’s progress. While it is easy to track how far you run on the treadmill or how much weight you put on the bar, stretching is much more difficult to quantify and realize progress. While many people return to the gym for the hope of raising their weight limits, stretching lacks such subtle cues of improvement. These are some initial ideas on how I could create such a system.

Starting with 3 Distinct Concepts
When starting with concepts, I like to push myself to come up with 3 distinct ones. This approach keeps me from settling on the first idea that comes to mind, and often makes it easier to choose a path; the best answer normally steps forward. It becomes easy to compare each idea against each other, and it always makes discussions with peers easier if you have options.

User Tests and Prototype Development
Testing the Next Round Of Prototypes

After discussing with my peers the first initial ideas, I began revising my 3rd idea of some kind of measuring device. In addition, I considered how it is often harder to reach with hands than it is to grasp a handle. What if that handle could pull the user in enabling them to stretch further than they could themselves? After a few ergonomic adjustments and iterations, I developed these two stretchers/measurers.

I took these partially functional prototypes to a few people who I had previously interviewed to get their opinion of the idea and gauge their reactions. Although both liked “the idea” of the prototypes, it seemed like the lacking functionality in the prototypes was making them reluctant to the idea. I took these partially functional prototypes to a few people who I had previously interviewed to get their opinion of the idea and gauge their reactions. Although both liked “the idea” of the prototypes, it seemed like the lacking functionality in the prototypes was making them reluctant to the idea.

Constructing a Fully Functional Prototype
During tests, user wanted more functionality out of my crude prototypes, I constructed a fully functional reach extender out of plywood and and strong elastic band. By snaking the band back and forth within the footrest, I was able to create a strong force pulling the handle and helping the user feel a deeper stretch with less effort.

The “Reach Extender”
Assisting Hamstring Stretching and Tracking

The user places their feet in the foot rest and can pull the handle out of the rugs to allow the resistance band to pull them into a deeper stretch than they could on their own. If they wish to hold the stretch, they can dangle, allowing the resistance band to hold them in place or slowly pull them in more.

The user places their feet in the foot rest and can pull the handle out of the rugs to allow the resistance band to pull them into a deeper stretch than they could on their own. If they wish to hold the stretch, they can dangle, allowing the resistance band to hold them in place or slowly pull them in more.

Concept Mapping the Reach Extender
Comparing Unassisted and Assisted Stretching

Here I compare unassisted stretching against stretching with the reach extender. This concept map diagram shows the reach extender and how its touchpoints and relationships enable a better stretch

Developing High-Tech Concepts
Starting with 3 Distinct Concepts

How Can I Visualize Progress and Embrace High Tech Affordances?
Although I maintained similar goals for the high tech product in terms of enabling the athlete, I had to adjust the scope of innovation to not just revolve around mechanized and motorized components. With all the types of tech available, how could I adapt them to fit the athlete’s need in a new way?

I began conceptualizing other ways I could visualize progress. Again, stretching lacks smaller milestones in terms of ability. Could there be a way to better visualize this progress in a way that increase motivation, a push to continue and get a little farther than before. After conducting literary research, I found a strong consensus on the power of images and visualization in aiding mental sharpnesses, accomplishment, and overall enjoyment.

Above are some of my preliminary sketches of ideas. Again, I started with 3 distinct ideas and attempted to take into account many different considerations of video, images, and scenarios. Since the high tech format was not as easy to prototype as the low tech ideas were, I stuck with drawing and sketching longer to remain flexible with my ideas.

Developing Storyboards
How I could Test High-Tech Concepts

I brought these storyboards to several different people I had polled or interviewed previously to gauge their reactions and gather feedback.

As I mentioned before, it would be difficult to physically prototype each of these ideas in the same way I did with my low tech concepts. However, I still needed similar feedback from users to move forward. Rather than create each idea, I created a storyboard for each concept, explaining the features and story that each idea would entail.

Refining Motion Sensors

Based on the feedback from my testing my storyboards, people wanted to be able to actively see their progress, but not have to interact with additional items or gadgets. Many people were drawn to simply using their phone as a capture device while they would stretch.

In addition, however, I would need to have some means of detecting where the body was at certain places for the camera. I began iterating and developing different types of sensors that would inform the camera where it was in space and allow the phone to analyze positions.

Creating a Storyboard Timeline
Telling a Story

Once again, I would be unable to fully create a functional model, so I created a higher fidelity story; filming a video with props and using simple animation to show how this motion gear would work to track movements.

Motion Gear
The final product that I developed were motion sensors built into a pair of pants, shoes, and handles. The phone camera would detect where these sensors were and build an image of the human in its current posture as well as be able to track any motion thereafter. Using the capturing system, users can stretch as the normally would as the camera captured what they were doing.

To check how they are doing, the user can look how today’s session differed from the day before and how much further they have to go to reach their goal. This kind of gear could also be used for corrective purposes: to remedy running or lifting form. All in all, it helps users see and better understand their own progress.