by Eleanor Blum

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:

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Nynika Jhaveri April 13, 2020 - 2:10 pm

Really appreciate this idea – especially in terms of how it answers your client’s needs super specifically. I wonder if it could have a optional add-on app alongside the bands that further highlight what you were doing wrong – provides suggestions for how to better your posture (shows a silhouette raising her hand/straightening her knee/etc) and even further exercises/routines that could allow you to correct what you need over time.

Margaret Sun April 13, 2020 - 3:56 pm

The compressible sports band is very attractive, and I like that the same device can apply to multiple parts of the body. The breakdown of how you derived the product from interviewing the professional ballet dancer instructor is very clear, and I’m sure she would appreciate the product. I think this could really take off, especially in the medical field. Buzz could be integral to physical therapy, particularly in recuperating healing joints and other parts of the body. With devices that help with recovery, the less clunky and heavy they are, the better they work (both physically and mentally for the person healing), and Buzz works well here. I also think because of the wide applicability of the product, most people would purchase more than one. Lots of market potential with more research!

Kate Travis April 13, 2020 - 7:31 pm

While I am not a dancer, I could totally see myself using this product either for my at-home workouts, or even for practicing karate! For so many exercises, form is so important for getting the best workout possible, and I’m sure this is even more important in dance. As I mentioned in class, it might be cool to integrate motion sensors into the band, so you can look at how you were moving after you dance or workout. This could take the form of “here’s where you pointed your toes,” or “here’s how fast your arm was going” (this would be super useful for karate!). It could also share data like this with instructors, so they can get updates on how their students are doing. Overall, I think this is a great idea!

Adam Moqrane April 13, 2020 - 10:18 pm

Idea was really cool but i think maybe one thing which would make this maybe more desirable is refining the design interface to see how to use the products will be used in real time– whether it’s on a HD TV or a laptop screen would be great to get sense of the scale in which people interact with the app/product

Wanxi Yang April 13, 2020 - 10:28 pm

I love to explore all kinds all fitness/dance options at home, so such an innovative idea of learning dancing online seems to be a very charming idea. I think integrating wearables is trending now and could appeal to many people. I like how you have a research study to support your design’s technological possibility. One thing to think about is the cost and price of your product. Are you going to try to reduce the cost or promote it as a more luxury product? I think both can potentially work in your case. Also, wearing so many parts of the wearables seems tiring and counterintuitive for people who want to learn dancing online (supposedly people preferring convenience). I think you should come up with a way to simplify the process.

Lauren Toman April 14, 2020 - 1:56 am

This is a very interesting idea that could be something all dancers use! It’s awesome to see how much research you conducted in order to learn more about what to design and how to implement it properly. I am a little confused if the dance teacher watches and buzzes when a student is misaligned or if the compression buzzes when it detects something is out of line. If it’s the latter, I worry if a dance requires an odd form that the device will buzz (I don’t know anything about dancing so this might not be a problem). Really cool idea!

Lucy Golub April 14, 2020 - 2:01 am

I could see how this product would be great for dancers who already have enough training to understand what correct form should be. This doesn’t seem like a tool to teach correct form (and I think that’s totally OK!). Often when I work out, I know what I should be doing, but I may fall into old habits without realizing. Wearing something so easy to use like Buzz would help me by notifying me when I’m doing something wrong, and I would use my knowledge to correct myself. Be well!

Zach Snyder April 14, 2020 - 2:34 am

Unfamiliar with dancing, but if the technology works, I feel like every dancer/ballet person would need to have this. I really like how it is made for in home use and does not require a large mirror or console (wii) in order to operate. Selling this separately will make it easier for people of all ages to use, and people will love to have it to cure their boredom.

Sally O'Keeffe April 14, 2020 - 2:45 am

I really love this concept. I think it would be cool if you expanded the line of products offered so you could also get something for your waist, back, thighs, etc. This would help a larger group of people because they can target what area they want and it might also help with mindfulness. I could imagine a really cool pairing with a mindfulness app where it will buzz certain parts of your body so you will focus on them and bring awareness back into your body.

Malila Freeman April 14, 2020 - 5:36 am

I really love the potential of this product, especially as I’m a dancer myself. I think that it would be really cool to consider expanding the design of the band itself to be more like a tape (I’m thinking KT tape) so that it could be more easily applied to whichever part of the body you’re looking to focus on. As a whole, each dancer generally needs to focus on different areas, and even individually, people like to focus on different parts of the body for different classes or styles. Thus, I think that making the band itself as adaptable as possible to different body areas would make it more accessible for dancers and athletes more generally.

Adam Gordon April 14, 2020 - 6:57 am

This is a really interesting idea! The product would definitely benefit with real time tracking so you can see your “path” after. Subscription based workout systems are becoming the new norm. I could see this being adapted into something similar.

YUNING ZHANG April 14, 2020 - 9:47 am

Glad to see the idea of introducing physical equipment to dancing and other activities at home for quarantine life. I’m not a professional dancer but considering the physical limitation of the device, I’m assuming it is not mainly designed for professionals-then beside the reminder you may also need something to show the correct postures for the users. Also, I would suggest having a record/history feature, which helps the users to track their progress.

Ana Maria Delmar April 15, 2020 - 4:04 am

As a ballet dancer, I know exactly how dancers are feeling through COVID, it’s a large physical, emotional and mental void, and when you are dancing at a professional level, you NEED that space to training correctly, and having eyes on you from a teacher is indispensable to your training as a pre-professional dancer. I am just thinking of how I would have felt in high school, had COVID hit when I was training 3-8 hours a day- there is no way to replace the feeling of being in the studio and having a teacher correct you. So I find this interesting, as a way for you to be reminded of proper form. But this is obviously extremely hard to put into practice, because the body is constantly moving in dance, and your corrections as a dancer are things that no form of wearable tech is able to detect. I think the idea of a recording mirror could be incredibly useful as well, because you can detect mistakes and issues through watching. Regardless, super cool and I’m so glad your group talked with dancers, because I was also thinking about dancers I know as potential clients for this project too!!

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