Sep 2022 - May 2023
The digital age has revolutionized the way we create art and design, opening doors to countless possibilities. However, not everyone can fully embrace this digital transformation, particularly those with hand impairments. VoCreate is a ground-breaking project aimed at empowering artists and designers facing severe hand impairments, enabling them to express their creativity digitally.
Imagine losing the ability to hold a pen or manipulate a mouse due to a traumatic injury. The frustration of not being able to create art or design can be overwhelming. The challenge was clear: create an intuitive, accessible, and enjoyable drawing experience for individuals with hand impairments.
To address these challenges, I fulfilled the following roles:
VoCreate is a drawing app designed for the iPad that empowers artists and designers with hand impairments to draw with their voice. It was designed meticulously with the input of artists with hand impairments, to ensure that it meets their needs and allows them to express themselves freely.
Users can control the app using their voice, such as vowel sounds to move the brush and paint. By making the "EE" sound the user can move the paint brush to the left and by making the "AW" sound to the right. It's fun, but also useful when drawing longer strokes while maintaining artistic control.
The redesigned tool menu allows users to access drawing tools from anywhere on the screen, making it more accessible than a fixed toolbar. This reduces the need to constantly reach for frequently used tools, saving users energy and breath.
At the core of the project, we conducted Co-Designing Workshops with two users who had spinal cord injuries that were pivotal in shaping the outcome. Their invaluable insights ensured that our solution was authentically user-led and research-driven. We collaborated closely with them in the following key areas:
To gain deep insights into the experiences of individuals with hand impairments, we conducted remote interviews with six participants. These interviews revealed a common thread of isolation, dependence in setting up assistive tools, and fear of no longer being able to get back to creative work.
Our research delved into the nuances of spinal cord injuries (SCIs). By consulting with Subject Matter Experts, we narrowed our focus on individuals with SCIs ranging from C4 to T1. This critical decision was based on the fact that users in this category were not life-threatening and they respond better to rehabilitation.
To understand the landscape of assistive tools, we analyzed six existing products and services. We discovered that splints, though commonly used, had their limitations. Key user insights pointed to the importance of tools that could be set up independently, offer finer motor control, and remain affordable (costing less than $50).
While splints allow users to hold a pencil or a stylus, it does not allow them to control it accurately as users are mostly able to control their shoulders. Also, it takes longer to get used to.
Goal: Improve precision and ease of learning
University of Washington designed one of the first voice-drawing application for PC introducing the vowel-joystick. However, users said the interface was not user-friendly.
Goal: Test the viability of vowel-joystick
One key outcome of the research phase was the user journey map, designed to empathize with the user's recovery experience. Initially, medical assistance is paramount, but post-surgery during the recovery phase, individuals often feel isolated. Art therapy proves valuable, yet traditional tools used in therapy can be frustrating and challenging to learn.
Sam is an aspiring artist who suffered a spinal cord injury. Despite the challenges, Sam is determined to continue creating art and expressing personal creativity through digital drawing.
Alex is a professional designer who faced a similar injury. Frustrated with existing adaptive tools, Alex seeks a more effective and enjoyable way to design digitally.
We conducted experiments to test the primary hypothesis: Are users comfortable drawing using their voice? Visual stimuli, micro-adjustments, and conversation-style interactions were explored. Key insights included the value of visual stimuli in helping users focus on interactions being tested, the need for micro-adjustments for precision, and the challenges of conversation-style interactions due to cognitive overload.
Through user testing and observation, we explored two main methods of moving the paintbrush on the screen: directional method and the vowel joystick. After several user tests, the vowel joystick emerged as the preferred method due to its advantages:
Taking feedback into account, we iterated on the prototype. Changes included switching the device from desktop/laptop to an iPad for improved accessibility, reorganizing tools and features to align with users' mental models, and refining the user interface for better usability and feedback.
The second iteration was based on critical feedback from users. This version considered users' reduced lung capacities due to their injuries, their drawing environments with limited maneuverability, and an immersive interface that allowed users to have a delightful drawing experience.
VoCreate outperformed traditional splints, the standard tool used by artists and designers with hand impairments. Users reported increased joy and independence, highlighting the potential of accessible design to transform lives. Here are some of the key outcomes:
This project provided valuable lessons in user-led design, accessible design, and the potential of voice-first interactions:
Extensive user research and hypothesis testing were crucial to understanding the complexities of the problem space and making trauma-informed design decisions. This research-driven approach helped streamline research goals and provided benchmarks for measuring research success.
Designing for accessibility required a deep consideration of the needs and perspectives of the user community. It emphasized the importance of genuine connection with the people and communities being served.
The project opened up exciting possibilities for voice interactions in various applications. Beyond drawing, voice-first interactions have the potential to enable users with motor impairments to perform other complex tasks like driving wheelchairs or interacting with computers.
VoCreate is a testament to the power of user-centered design and technology's ability to empower marginalized communities. By understanding the unique needs and challenges faced by artists and designers with hand impairments, we were able to create a tool that not only empowers them to draw unassisted but also brings joy back into their creative lives. This case study illustrates the impact of accessible design and the potential of voice-first interactions in transforming the lives of individuals facing significant challenges.