Natalia's graduation project, called hemi, was created to help
children who suffer from hemiplegia, an incurable condition caused
by brain damage. Patients with hemiplegia have difficulties moving
one side of their body. For children with this condition, hand
therapy is vital to gain independence in their daily life
activities and prevent the disuse of the affected side of their
body. Existing therapy consists of repetitive exercises that
children often stop doing after a while, out of pure boredom. This
is a big problem since people suffering from hemiplegia need to do
therapy exercises for the rest of their lives.
Early stage explorative prototypes of
different theapeutic avenues for the 'hemi' design concept
At the beginning of this project, Natalia Ikebara says that her
focus was to explore how design can spark motivation and
playfulness in the field of therapy.
"These kids will have to go to therapy for the rest of their
lives. So, I wanted to see if there was a way to make hand therapy
more playful and engaging over time".
To set and maintain a rehabilitation plan for a child can be
extra tricky because they might not understand the therapeutic
benefits of it. Natalia's key question was therefore how to get a
child to willingly keep exercising at home, in addition to
scheduled rehab activities?
Designing with kids, for kids
The solution was developed through extensive field research as
well as interviews and workshops with specialists, parents, and
user testing with kids. Several different design directions took
shape during the process and finally focus landed on a hybrid
system composed of digital therapeutic games and physical
controllers. Its main component is a ball that uses IMU motion
sensor technology (the same sensors available in an iPhone). By
attaching different accessories to it, the child is able to build
different types of controllers to play with.
The final design concept, 'hemi',
"Hemi is a system created for children to use at their home
environment. The whole idea is that hemi seems fun and interesting
- but is in fact a very important part of the rehabilitation",
Natalia Ikebara says.
She explains how 'hemi' is created to help children improve
their hand motor skills while playing different digital therapeutic
games. The creative design makes small children do their therapy
without even knowing it.
"I wanted to develop a solution that creates a more engaging and
enjoyable therapy experience for hemiplegic children with arm-hand
motor impairment", says Natalia.
Reflections on the UID experience
Natalia Ikebara is from Argentina which differs from Umeå in
many ways, not least in terms of the weather. For her, the time
spent in the city of Umeå has been well invested. It has given her
the opportunity to connect with talented people from around the
"Being around a lot of international and talented people makes
you want to push yourself further to upgrade your skills", she
Being based in Argentina for
larg parts of her degree project, Natalia held remote workshops
with her MFA APD classmates.
Natalia compares the friendly and collaborative community at
school to a huge family supporting one another.
"Because we are so many international students spending a lot of
time together and working together, it is natural to build close