Innovating the Therapy Experience through Storytelling

Jing He, a design lead at ART+COM Studios. 

Jing He

Design Lead at ART+COM Studios

Jing is creating interactive audio stories to make physical therapy more engaging.

IDEO U COURSE COMPLETED:

Storytelling for Influence

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“All of these elements of the story came together. And the power of story got kids motivated to move.”

 

 

Could you tell us about yourself?

I'm a design lead at ART+COM Studios in Berlin.

Our team works on exploring and creating compelling use cases for emerging technologies. My recent projects are about using technology for health—for example, using mixed reality to create therapeutic training for seniors with high blood pressure. In each project, we practice human-centered design, where we begin with contextual research to understand our target audience, define our challenge, ideate solutions, and then build prototypes.

The current project I'm working on, TheraTex, is for patients with hemiparesis, which is a condition where there is weakness or inability to move on one side of the body. We are using smart textiles to innovate the therapy experience. With current therapy, trainings are often highly repetitive and strenuous. That's our design challenge—how might we make a training process that is inherently repetitive more fun and motivating?

 This is where storytelling comes in. We created an interactive audio story concept, where the patient performs an action that is part of the narrative in order to move the story forward. The exercises are framed in the context of a story. 

 


“That's our design challenge—how might we make a training process that is inherently repetitive more fun and motivating?”
Jing He


 

What’s an example of a story you created?

As an example, one of our patients used to like rowing. Rowing is actually an exercise that is very good for motor control of the arm, so we have a story where once you row, you get to hear what is happening around you. There are recordings from a lake, where there are birds circling in the air and people chilling by the lakeside in the afternoon sun. When you row, you hear the splashing sound of the water. These soundscapes really give you that context. Instead of just doing a motion, there's now meaning to the movement.

A person in a kayak rowing on a lake.Audio stories can help hemiparesis patients imagine that they are rowing on a lake as they perform therapy exercises.

We tested different content. We tried a mystery story where you're solving a crime and it's really intense. For example, somebody is hiding behind a half-open window, and you have to open the curtain. But it was pushing it a little too much. It was engaging, but not therapeutic enough. We needed to create a context that was just right, and that was part of our iteration.

 

Were there any insights from Storytelling for Influence that you used?

One interesting thing for me was understanding your audience. In our project, we have two different audiences—we have stroke patients and children who were born with the condition.

We had to think about how to create a story that's appropriate for each kind of audience. For the kids, we did a co-creation workshop where we created stories about monsters. They each designed a monster, then we came up with an adventure journey. So, what is your monster? How does your monster move and how does it sound? And what's a superpower it has?

All of these elements of the story came together. Your journey might be that you'll have to cross a river, and your monster's power is that it can beam itself over. Then, we found appropriate sounds to match the story. The power of story got the kids motivated to move.

 


“One interesting thing for me was understanding your audience. In our project, we have two different audiences—we have stroke patients and children who were born with the condition.”
Jing He


 

Why did you decide to take Storytelling for Influence?

One of the reasons I was drawn to IDEO U courses is that in health and innovation, our problem space is often ambiguous. We build prototypes to learn and refine our design approach.

A healthcare researcher standing in a lab.

User research and prototyping can help to refine designs in the healthcare space.

 To do this interactive audio story, we have to understand what the user is doing. Within our research group, I'm the person who is the users' advocate, and I needed a stronger framework and more systematic approach. In our research, we are very much about solving people's problems in their daily lives. I try to also get our developers and designers to be involved early with our contextual research, as well as user tests so that they can gain empathy. And that's usually a high point for them to see how their ideas manifested in prototypes being used by somebody else.

 

What was your favorite thing about the course experience?

I'm so grateful I joined the IDEO U community. It really feels like a community. The whole Teaching Team makes the course come alive. If you just look at the recorded materials, you can go through it as if you have done it, but you have to really learn it by doing it. Every time I joined a Community Conversation, there were people from all around the world. The feeling of connection was very rewarding. I found that IDEO U outshines any other learning experience.

 


“I'm so grateful to have joined the IDEO U community. It really feels like a community.”
Jing He


 

What advice would you give other IDEO U learners?

It's crucial to follow along the timeline. Sometimes life happens, but if possible, stay on track each week. Typically, I go through the course material before the Community Conversations, so I can get some context for that week. Then on weekends when I have a bigger chunk of time, I would work on the assignment. Join the conversations, because that's where you can practice with other people. Another alum also happened to be living in Berlin, and we met each other in the real world. I just love feeling this sense of connectedness.

A Zoom room with 17 smiling people.

Smiling faces from the IDEO U community.

 

What’s next for you?

To do this interactive audio story, we have to understand what the user is doing. We are training our machine learning models to detect motion and working with physical therapists to define good benchmarks for specific movements. We have many groups working together—people doing the fashion design of the smart textile, people doing the electronics, and us focusing on integration of the interaction experience with the hardware. I'm very much looking forward to making this a reality and creating an integrated solution for the therapy.


Check out Jing’s work at ART+COM Studios, dig through more stories from our IDEO U learner community, and learn how to craft a story to motivate and inspire audiences in our online course Storytelling for Influence.


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