For our need-based design challenge, we sought to design for Jennifer Milner, a professional ballet dancer and instructor, and design something useful for her business as she deals with the changes to status quo brought on by COVID19. Jennifer is a ballet teacher who instructs advanced and pre-professional teen dancers. With the introduction of shelter-in-place guidance, she has faced challenges in not being able to interact with her students in person. Jennifer along with the broader dance community have sought to press forward during this period with various remote training and teaching tools. We began by interviewing Jennifer to better understand the difficulties she faces with her current circumstances. 

Jennifer Milner,
Ballet Instructor

In the initial interview, Jennifer expressed that her main difficulty was in giving students feedback without being able to closely observe them and physically demonstrate corrections on the dancers’ bodies. We synthesized the three primary problems she described as:

  1. Concern that dancers don’t have enough access and attention to cross-training, which is critical for strength and injury prevention
  2. Danger that students can develop bad habits while taking classes online without the supervision and expertise of instructors who know them and what to look out for
  3. General uncertainty of how the space will look post-COVID19, with a lot of potential for more integration of dance with online platforms.

We proposed to Jennifer three potential products designed to address each of the three problems we identified from the initial interview. For Problem 1, we proposed: A. a product to monitor form B. a mirror that can record, save, and play back and C. a hub for dancers to track progress and teachers to review, we imagined it could have an extension that pops up reminders for common mistakes and bad habits that dancers are at risk of developing. For Problem 2, we proposed A. a package of starter equipment that is sufficiently space-efficient and affordable to serve most students at home B. a compilation of acceptable household substitutes that dancers could make and demonstrations of how to use them C. a collapsible mirror for space efficiency. For Problem 3, we proposed A. a hub that aggregates and presents a variety of training options which encourages building a diversified class schedule B. a schedule-building tool which facilitates a customized class schedule C. a circuit writing and storage library for workouts. 

Design Proposals Presented to Jennifer

Upon thinking of these nine concepts, we got back in touch with Jennifer for a follow-up interview. While a few of the ideas struck her as useful and achievable, she was most excited about form-correcting hardware, as she has become increasingly concerned about the habits her dancers are developing on their own. With this direction, we set out to aggregate precedent research on the product space. We found that wearable technology for physical corrections exists broadly in the market for athletic clothing, but not explicitly for dance in the sense we had envisioned. We found such existing products as attachable devices designed to improve posture, and yoga pants which vibrate to facilitate proper form. Along with the development of such products, has been highly useful academic research into the effectiveness of these corrective tools. We were very encouraged by such results as the Journal of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation found in 2019 on Posture Science Active Wear tested on division one collegiate athletes, and as the Advances in Ortho & Sports Med Journal published in 2018 on the impact of dynamic apparel technology. With our research in mind, we moved forward with our product: Buzz.

Precedent Research
Buzz Prototype

Buzz is an easy-to-wear, compressible sports band which can be fitted around ankles, knees, elbows, and other critical points. The band features a built in technology which emits vibrations at adjustable frequencies. The concept is linked directly to Jennifer’s idea that she wants to remind students of key points remotely, so that they don’t lose focus and develop bad habits. We also feel that Buzz fits into the greater context of high-stakes performers training remotely. We hope that while using Buzz, Jennifer’s students can be reminded to pay attention to their feet, for example, while dancing, so as not to slip into the practice of sickling their feet—a common issue for dancers, for which teachers know to look out. We have included sketches and an advertisement campaign we feel conveys the spirit of Buzz. Be well!

Link to full presentation: