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Thesis

With, Despite, Because

living your best life in chronic pain

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Duration: 2 15-week semesters

My mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia the same year that I developed chronic lower back pain. As we struggled separately with doctors, lifestyle changes, and the frustrations that come with a chronic condition, I wondered, was a good life still attainable for us? As it turned out, we were much less alone than I thought.

 
 

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans struggles with a chronic pain condition, whether it's lower back pain, carpal tunnel, arthritis, or fibromyalgia.

 
 

At the personal level, the question was mostly philosophical, but at scale, the question became: how can design affect chronic pain states where the medical field leaves off? Can design facilitate "the good life" for those in chronic pain?

 
 

At SVA's Products of Design program, everything is considered a design object - from industrial products, to digital interactions, to services and business designs.

 
 

My thesis took form in three parts: research, broad exploration, and the development of a suite of product offerings.

 
 

research

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Scope: Eight books, two workshops, fourteen expert interviews, three user interviews, numerous scholarly articles, literature review.

I began my research process knowing that I was interested in the field of chronic pain treatment from a holistic point of view. Medical doctors cannot provide a complete solution to creating a positive lifestyle in chronic pain, nor do they have time to - so it is often left up to the person in pain to determine what regiments work best for them.

Inspired by Martin Seligmann's "Positive Psychology" manifesto, I kicked off my research with a co-creation workshop at the New York Public Library. I recruited an interdisciplinary team of designers to imagine a process for empathizing with and designing for chronic pain lifestyles.

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Next, I partnered with Song Lee from SVA's Interaction Design program to put together a user-centered workshop: NOMO FOMO, a feedback session in the form of an intimate party in the Financial District.

While snacking on hummus and crisp vegetables, we moderated a conversation between four young women who had never met before. Though they each had different chronic conditions, ranging from cancer to binge eating disorder, they showed remarkable similarities in their experiences with the medical system, their journeys, and their new lifestyles.

 

Exploration

Scope: 100 concept sketches, 3 rough prototypes, screen design, service design, social enterprise, sustainable product design.

Format: 1-2 week sprints

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In process: advanced product development

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Over the break between semesters, I had the chance to synthesize the lessons I had learned from my brief forays into potential design directions for my thesis. VestMe in particular crystallized something that had been on my mind: that living well with chronic pain means both creating positive habits, and breaking down the barriers to them.

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I am now in the process of developing several concepts for final inclusion in my suite of thesis products. I am most excited about these: