This was my thesis project for my graduate program at ITP. I was responsible for the whole project which involved Product Design and Production. Some activities included stakeholder interviews, research, strategy, prototyping, user research & testing, and product design. I took an iterative approach for this project in order to allow for the testing of different materials, experimenting with alternative approaches, and incorporating the feedback from user testing into the final designs.
Asking the right questions
For these products to make an impact, it was important to understand how they would be helpful to emergency responders as well as the people who would be preparing. I was able to conduct interviews with the following groups that helped to inform my design decisions:
- My targeted demographic of those least likely to prepare (18-24 year olds who live in urban areas, source: FEMA, Preparedness in America)
- New York Legal Assistance Group (provides legal assistance to those affected by disasters in NYC)
- New York City Office of Emergency Management (prepares and educates the city about emergencies and coordinates emergency response and recovery)
- National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (provides immediate relief to pet owners and animal victims following disasters)
- The Field Innovation Team (an emergency response group that works to create solutions to the problems caused by disasters)
Understanding the motivations of those least likely to prepare for disasters
Interviews helped to give context to the project, but I still had to find the extent that this was a problem and who was most affected. The interviews with my target demographic helped to understand some of the problems, but research filled in the rest of the picture. I found that for every $1 invested into disaster preparedness we save $7 in disaster relief and that for most people, the largest barrier to disaster preparedness is the cost to prepare. This information alongside my research on disaster psychology, helped me to create an elegant solution that specifically targeted the barriers to preparedness. By incorporating emergency provisions into objects that people carry every day, these products can piggyback on already existing habits without expecting people to spend money on supplies that they believe they will never use. By giving these products a daily use as everyday objects, people should feel that this is a worthwhile investment that fits seamlessly into their everyday lives. In my designs, I have maintained the original lifestyle value of accessories like wallets, zippers, and scarves while granting them a greater purpose as a Trojan horse for life-saving devices.
Prototyping solutions with an iterative approach
A big part of this project was experimenting with different materials and methods. My focus was on the quality of each object, its functionality as an everyday object and as an emergency object, and the appeal that it would have for my target demographic. I also wanted to make sure that while I was focusing on my target demographic I wouldn't be neglecting other demographics that would find these items useful and appealing. I like to think I came as close as possible to a universal design. Below are some of the work-in-progress pictures.
Finalizing the collection
I settled on five products to be part of this collection based on their life-saving potential and portability:
- Dust mask wallet: allows users to breathe in situations like a building collapse
- Emergency blanket scarf: helps users to keep warm in situations when there is no electricity or heat
- Whistle zipper pull: helps users to be rescued in emergency situations
- Can opener belt: helps users open canned foods
- Match comb: can provide light and heat
Below is a gallery showing the final designs. All photography by Julie Jamora.