Team/Roles: Stuart Giles: Secondary research, designed final poster and process presentations
Avery Bell: Project management, designed final UI and documents, video editing
Sara Buyers: Visual art, designed final presentation and process UI
Date: March - August, 2015
Skills used: Slide design, ideation, presentation, poster design, videography, secondary research, interviewing, user testing, interview coding
Warning: The following contains discussion of women's reproductive anatomy.
Our final presentation consisted of three parts: a video (shown below) edited by the indefatigable Avery Bell, a poster designed by me, and a presentation to accompany our talk about the product designed by the massively creative Sara Buyers. Special thanks to Mai Bouchet for being our lead actress and model, and Steven Bell for acting in our video.
As this project was our capstone in the MHCI+D program at UW, we spent a long time on it. Roughly half of the spring quarter was dedicated to working on research, while the entire summer quarter—about equal to a full time job, 40 hours per week—was spent on ideation, prototyping, iteration, and preparing the video, poster, and presentation for the final show. Detailed summary of the research done during this period can be found in the process book above. After each major step we would confer with Robin Elenga, our sponsor at Revel Body.
Initial research for this project was necessarily vague, given that we were not to ideate to an actual solution until the summer. We began by researching possible uses of sex toys to help bedroom communication, and from there came upon the topic of pelvic floor dysfunction and vaginismus, a topic which often causes communication trouble between women and their partners. Our research from there focused on pelvic floor pain and vaginismus: I compiled a bibliography of peer-reviewed medical and psychological research on the topic, which can be found in the process book, and as a group we interviewed a number of specialists in the area, including pelvic floor physical therapists, a sex therapist, a sexologist, and the CEO of Comingle, a startup developing a programmable sex toy.
Our ideation for this project bounced all over the place. We didn't want to limit ourselves to the concept of a "therapeutic sex toy," so we explored everything from an app to help partners communicate about pelvic floor pain to an augmented reality body tour to help women learn to perform pelvic floor physical therapy exercises on themselves—many of our ideas can be found in the gallery below. While that second idea seemed somewhat outlandish (and earned it the playful internal nickname "Robosex"), it actually ended up being the closest initial idea to our final product. We axed the AR aspect, but recreated its instructional aspects in a companion phone app to the wearable. Said wearable, a wristband connected to two silicone finger pads, would serve as both a muscle tension sensor and a platform for relaxing or therapeutic vibration, to be used while performing physical therapy exercises.
As none of us had the knowledge to actually cast a silicone prototype, we decided that our initial model would involve some Wizard of Oz prototyping: we purchased a JimmyJane Hello Touch X vibrator, as it was very similar to our planned form factor, hid all branding on the item, and pretended in user tests that it was operational as a muscle tension sensor. We also confirmed with a local electromyography and sensor expert that our fingertip sensor concept was possible to manufacture with current technology. Following that, we conducted a card sort of visual and audial muscle tension feedback and visualization methods (such a ball of paper that crumples more as more muscle tension is sensed, or a ball of color the grows larger for more tension, etc.) with both general audience participants and women with vaginismus.
After narrowing down feedback methods from the initial card sort, we recruited a number of women with vaginismus for confidential interviews with them and, if applicable, their partners. Interviews were selected as the medium because, given the nature of our project, usability testing was not exactly an option, and we wanted to gather the most honest and realistic feedback possible. We recruited these women from communities such as Reddit's r/vaginismus and a private Facebook group for women with vaginismus we had been allowed to observe. Each interview involved some general questions about treatment experiences, a run-through of our product, and questions about how useful each feature may be to each woman, as well as features they may want to see and how they think the product would interact with the vaginismus community. Interview results were then coded and taken into account for final iterations.
As mentioned above, the final presentation was made up primarily of three parts: a poster for the initial poster session, a slide deck to accompany our presentation, and a product video that would be part of the slide deck. Regarding the poster, each of us was involved with the design and collecting feedback, but I primarily took the lead in creating iterations and making decisions on layout, type, etc. Sara was responsible for the slide deck, though Avery and I chipped in with feedback. The video was somewhat more complex to attribute: All three of us wrote the script together, while Avery and Sara did the storyboard and shot framing and I was responsible for coaching and recording the voice actress and editing her audio. The three of us all filmed together, and Avery was our hero and edited the video together herself.
In the end, I'm truly glad I was involved in this project. I've always had a passion for issues of sexual liberation and communication, and such topics are often pushed down in the tech community, especially those focusing on women. The project was an absolutely superlative amount of work, given all the skills the three of us had to rapidly learn to complete it, but it was extremely valuable to see a full project all the way from initial research to just before when production would begin.