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Collaborative Wearable Therapy

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How might a piano teacher with osteoarthritis engage in ulnar and radial deviation exercises through educational and playful therapy exercises that expose her young students to preventive care?

Project Overview

Design an interactive product that encourages pianists to engage in ulnar and radial deviation exercises. The device should cater to the specific user needs as a custom product and introduced by a physical therapist for in home use. 

role: interaction designer
duration: 3 weeks
team: independent


Carried out the primary research including persona definition, secondary research, and needfinding. The project focus was on fabricating and programming the interactive experience. 

This project was made possible with the immense help of the CCA Hybrid Lab and pushed me to push my coding skills to create two interactives that communicated wirelessly using transmitters. 

Project chosen for CCA exhibition in the fall of 2018. 

Research and Discovery

We had a limited amount of time for the research portion of this project and interviewing users was not part of the scope. Therefore, I took it upon myself to research pianists and musicians suffering from ostheoarthritis online who could provide contextual insight into their experience. 

This phase also consisted of understanding the condition of ostheoarthritis and familiarization with ulnar/radial deviation physical therapy. 

  • How do you map the territory of physical therapy?

  • Who is the target user and what is the vision for the project?

  • How do you create a working prototype for the experience?

understanding ostheoarthritis

When you have OA, the cartilage between your joints wears down and causes your bones to rub together without a cushion. The rubbing causes inflammation, stiffness, and pain.  Hand arthritis is coming in the:

  • Wrist

  • Basilar joint that connects your thumb and wrist

  • Fingertips

  • Middle knuckles of fingers (PIP joint)

Pain management, splinting, and activity modification that incorporates joint protection techniques. Instruction in range-of-motion exercises along with strengthening of the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the hand will help to prevent deformities

ulnar and radial deviation

Radial deviation, otherwise known as Radial Flexion, is the movement of bending the wrist towards the radial bone (thumb).

Ulnar deviation, is the movement of bending the wrist towards the Ulnar bone (pinky finger).

While performing the exercises, it is critical to maintain a neutral wrist position. 

Ulnar and radial deviation exercises can be used to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis. 


defining a persona

While researching I came across Machiko Yamane's Youtube channel where she describes her ostheoarthritis condition and how it impacts her piano playing ability. 

Her profile and videos provided a great insight into her needs and helped me develop a persona around her that could potentially benefit from the wearable device.

I was also inspired by her drawings and educational books meant to share her piano skills with younger musicians. This inspired to question the possibility of a wearable that incorporated both education and physical therapy. 

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Machiko's Daily Routine

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What if Machiko could incorporate her physical therapy to her piano lessons? In doing so, she could potentially educate her younger students on the importance of preemptive care while performing her ulnar/radial deviation exercises? How could a wearable craft an experience that is delightful and immersive for both the student and the teacher? 

Piano Lesson Contextual Research

I went on Youtube to watch videos of piano teachers running their lessons to gain a better understanding on the context and the interaction between teacher and student. Some of the insights I found are: 

  • Teaching happens side by side - usually with two pianos in the classroom

  • There is a lot of interaction between the professor and the student - especially when teaching technique

  • The lesson usually consists of stretching exercises and technique exercises

  • Teachers usually do demonstrations to correct or direct the student

Machiko's Piano Lessons

In order to craft a design proposal around the Machiko's lesson, I decided it would be appropriate to create a student persona and an overview of her lesson approach. 

During her lessons, Machiko, due to her condition, likes to combine teaching with a healthy dose of preemptive exercises. Because she wants to share her experience and help practice prevention - she prefers working with younger pianists.

She puts a large emphasis on stretching and playing properly by employing her personal experience and best practices. She also uses content and books that she has authored.

Engaging Piano Warm-Up Techniques for Children

When dealing with young and transfer students, piano teachers need to help hone their student's technique while they learn how to play the instrument.

These technique exercises include warm-ups that prepare the wrist and fingers before playing which help prevent health conditions later in life. 

In the video, a piano teacher goes over the "monkey swing" technique that she employs to engage younger children like Emily when performing their warm up exercises. The "monkey swing" was very inspiring for the wearable I created. 

Design Considerations

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  • The device should double as an educational tool that helps with prevention and therapy

  • The device should be flexible and allow her to take it to her lessons, to therapy, and to various places in her house

  • The device should help her remember the exercises

  • The device should be aesthetically pleasing so she can share it with her students

  • A memorable experience


The ideation phase for this project encompassed concept sketches as well as planning for the fabrication of the prototypes. Since my goal was to create a collaborative wearable between the student and Machiko - I faced the challenge of building two prototypes.

I wanted them to be related to one another through a gammified experience so I began sketching a banana glove and monkey concept. 

Monkey and Banana Glove Interactive would allow Machiko and Emily play a game powered by the ulnar/deviation physical therapy exercises and the piano lesson warm-ups. 

In order to achieve this interactive communication with the devices I needed to create the prototype with digital fabrication, hacking existing objects, using sensors, and programming them using Arduino. 

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prototype schematic

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Fabrication Process

Final Prototype



  • The project was exhibited in the Oakland Interface Show and the NASAD exhibition at CCA.


  • Make prototypes as durable as possible! This project was extremely challenging to create because I was learning to code as I built the prototype. In addition, I was familiarizing myself with digital electronics, soldering, and wiring. Because the two objects communicated wirelessly, everyone wanted to wear it and play with the monkey. Unfortunately, the prototype was not able to withstand the wear and tear and ended up breaking. :(

  • Challenge yourself! This project was very intimidating at first considering that the it was complex to build and I did not have the skills to do it. However, I pushed my coding and electronics skills and was able to pull it off without compromising my original idea. Persevere and believe in yourself!

  • Sound is important! Finding a haptic response for the monkey was difficult, especially one that did not feel silly or distracting. Sound plays a role as important as haptics and the wrong sound can throw off the entire experience.

  • Collaborative Interfaces are Challenging! The goal of this project was to orchestrate an educational experience between teacher and student. However, programming two objects to interact with one another is very complex. This is why collaboration is so important and if I could’ve worked with an engineer the project would’ve been more successful.

  • Mastered Arduino, Digital electronics, and prototype.