Minna (literally meaning “everyone” in Japanese) was inspired by our desire to make the benefits of massage therapy accessible to everyone. Influenced by the art of kintsugi, we hoped to transform people’s perception of damage and imperfection through our product.
Whether it be anxiety, body aches, or something else, the challenges people face are a natural part of life. We want to help everyone enjoy the flaws which everyone finds in themselves and learn to independently build an environment which helps them flourish as a whole – without stifling any aspect of themselves.
The grip is one of the most unique aspects of our design; shaped specially to ensure comfort and ease of use for older adults. The symmetrical curved geometry can be easily held by either hand and the straps are an added feature to cater to older adults with weaker muscles.
We ensured commercial viability in two ways. First by designing for mass production: specifying everything from the assembly process to the casing dimensions. Secondly, we created a brand which was balanced to appeal to both younger and older age groups.
By 2040, it is projected that one in seven people will be over the age of 75 in the UK. Our society is ageing, and we need to start designing for it. Our goal through this project was to create a product which fit the unmet needs of older adults. Our mission was to empower older adults, encourage them to live healthier lives, and to build a relationship founded on trust. We identified a massaging tool as the perfect product opportunity because it fit this criteria and has strong potential for inclusive design. Research shows that massage therapy can not only alleviate symptoms of chronic pain and other physical ailments, but can also help improve mental well-being and delay the onset of mental illnesses such as dementia. We wanted to develop an inclusive experience that can make the benefits of massaging accessible to all - empowering older adults and everyone else to take their health into their own hands.
We were a team of four students – each with set responsibilities. I was the creative lead and we also had a technical, organisational, and research lead. Each team member was responsible for ensuring the tasks within their domain were complete; whether they did them themselves or with other members of the team. As the creative lead, I had a chance to delve into creating brand identities, final renderings, and human factors design. The length and intensity of this project taught me how work with people who have differing opinions and styles to my own. I found compromising and communicating your differences is invaluable for any productive team. Furthermore, working with such a talented group gave me the chance to strengthen my skills in mechanical design and research by learning from my colleagues. I found that projects can often be as much about learning as they are about creating.
The first task we faced in this process was understanding our user’s needs in order to choose the ideal product opportunity. Following the Human Centred Design process, we began gathering data. Without a definite product outcome in mind, at first this proved difficult, but overtime we grew comfortable with ambiguity. By seeking advice from researchers and experts, we learned how to ask the right questions and identify personal biases. Once we decided that a hand held massage tool would be the ideal product, we conducted more research, interviews, and tests to branch out then narrow down our design options at different stages in our process. It was challenging to ensure our interviews were as open as possible so we could get honest results to justify our design decisions; however in the end, I learned a lot about building relationships with research groups and communicate with people from backgrounds disparate to my own.
Due to the all-encompassing nature of the project, we had the chance to develop our knowledge of mechanical components, branding, and communication for product design. We started our journey by trying to understand what issues older adults faced everyday and their mindset towards them and we realised that one of the biggest problems is society’s perception of ageing. Therefore, we wanted to create a product which empowered older adults to challenge those stereotypes. A massaging tool was the perfect product opportunity because it improved older adult’s quality of life but was also relevant to a greater market. Branding our product to fall into this category was difficult. We worked through many prototypes and ideas, investigating both the issue we were trying to solve and how our competition handled it. Through multiple iterations and stages of research, our final product Minna was realised.
Reflecting on this design project, I found areas of improvement not only regarding the resulting product, but also concerning the process we followed. I learned that a design project is not something that can ever be completed. There will always be some sort of improvement, iteration, or additional feature that hadn’t been considered before. Understanding when to stop planning a design was something I struggled with in this project. I realised that building a basic functioning prototype before addressing additional features should have been done sooner. This would have allowed us to have a fall-back to building our minimum viable product by the deadline. On the more technical side, we found it difficult to match the feasibility of our prototype with our aesthetics and ergonomics. Finding components to fit in the desired casing was difficult and something which would need continued improvement in further iterations of our design.