Lex is a toy that helps non-verbal grade school students improve their communication skills by expanding their vocabulary.
To work with special education teachers, speech therapist and occupational therapists at a special needs school in Toronto to design a product that encourages independent learning and play.
Design Research, Concept Development, UX Design, Rapid Prototyping, Project Management, Visual Presentation
Solidworks, Illustrator, Photoshop, Plastic, Fabrication
At the initial stage of the project, I conducted observational research of a group of students with non-verbal autism ages 9 to 11 years old to capture the context within which they interacted with the teaching staff, their environment and with each other. From there, I was able to gain insights into their day-to-day school life and identify problem areas.
I used the AEIOU framework to visually map my observation of the students and developed an actionable insight.
The teaching staff and caregivers use assistive tools like pictogram cards and Proloquo2Go to communicate with non-verbal students. However, students can only access these tools’ through their teachers and caregivers due to their fragility. As a result, students have limited opportunity to communicate without first receiving prompts, the ACC tools and the aid of adults.
How may we help students with non-verbal autism communicate independently and effectively?
Communication is fundamental to a child’s development. Numerous research recognizes communication as a crucial tool for learning, play, social interaction, and their overall cognitive growth. All children have the right to express their thoughts and feelings and communicate their wants and needs. It is equally important for them to understand others and participate in the world around them. However, this is not easy to do for children with autism. Many of them have very limited verbal communication skills, or non-verbal. For them, communicating may be among the most challenging
things they have to do.
Choosing a set of target users allowed me to focus my design solution to their specific needs and the context within which they would use it. I used their product requirements as the benchmark for the solution throughout the design process.
Market research was conducted to find hidden gaps and needs that are not being met by current products.
The current products were two-dimensional and served a single function. The market was missing a product that has the functionality of an AAC device, the durability and playfulness of a toy and the benefits of a teaching tool.
To generate a range of alternative design solutions, I used a morphological box to explore different combinations of form, material, and functionality. Breaking down the problem into a number of components helped widen the search area for solutions.
To complete the ideation process, I translated the abstract ideas generated from the morphological box into sketches and narrowed them down to nine concepts.
LOW FIDELITY PROTOTYPES
The current products are flat or two-dimensional and I wanted to offer a three-dimensional yet portable alternative.
Preliminary user testing proved that the first prototype (revolving cylinder) was difficult to use for hands with limited dexterity. For this reason, I changed the form into a dodecahedron.
This new form has a sense of playfulness and the flat surface I need for the pictograms. It also provides a better grip. I kept the interchangeable pieces to keep it customizable.
To refine my concept, I spoke with the school’s occupational therapist to get her feedback on my prototype. She cautioned that the interchangeable pieces can be a choking hazard for the students.
Based on the feedback I received from the occupational therapist, I switched to a single, solid form to make ball safer for the students to use.
Through further user testing, I discovered that the size had to be reduced to fit smaller hands. Additionally, the vinyl skin had to be reinforced to prevent the students from biting it or picking on it with their fingers.
WHAT IS LEX?
Lex got its name from the word lexicon which means “the vocabulary of a person, language or branch of knowledge”. Lex helps non-verbal students with autism grow their vocabulary with practical words that they can use to express themselves and interact with the world around them
HOW IS LEX DIFFERENT?
Lex is a toy, a communication device and a teaching tool all rolled into one!
Its shape provides a comfortable grip, especially for students with limited dexterity.
It incorporates play into learning.
It is a durable, portable, and affordable!
USERS JOURNEY MAP
I used a user journey map to demonstrate how Lex can be used in school and at home with a seamless transition, facilitating learning anytime, anywhere. Most importantly, this map shows how the user can gain agency and control over this tool.