Komal Javed

@komyjaved

How a traumatic brain injury made me a more empathetic designer

A journey on how design thinking inspired me to make things possible

October 26, 2016 — that’s when it all happened. It was the last few minutes of a semi-competitive co-ed soccer game. The stakes were high. It was go big or go home. We needed to make it to the finals.

I was running full force towards the opponent, just as he was about to shoot into the net, when it all blacked out. I woke up seconds … maybe minutes later, to realize I was lying on the ground with people surrounding me. I sensed panic.

After two trips to the emergency room, countless appointments with doctors, neurologists, physiotherapists, psycho-physiotherapists, chiropractors, and optometrists, I knew things were bad. I had suffered a severe concussion, to the point doctors called it a traumatic brain injury. I struggled to read and write. I had double vision alongside with vertigo. I suffered from personality disorders and struggled to formulate sentences.

As the weeks went on, new symptoms would arise; from palpitation to depression. The list goes on. I was informed that it would be at least a year long recovery.

Grand River Hospital and Grand River Sports Medicine Clinic —Kitchener/Waterloo

What made the recovery process worse was the waiting game between each appointments. I didn’t get the ongoing help I needed to aid in the process. Fast forward a year later, when the time came to resume school and work on my Fourth Year Design Project (FYDP) I knew what problem I wanted to solve.

Mental health issues are heightened when a large element of a student’s life is drastically altered, in particular, after a student athlete endures an injury. Student athletes who suffer from depression after an injury illustrate the relationship between physical and mental health. In turn, they require assistance in their recovery process.

Most of us view technology as something that makes things easier. For many people however, technology makes things possible. This is my story on how my team and I designed ‘EDIFY’ — a platform that empowers and connects high performance student athletes with student health professionals.

EDIFY was inspired by this traumatic experience. EDIFY is intended to make things possible; to help athletes such as myself, recover and seek the constant support they need on the road to healing.

Edify is a collaborative connection that pairs ever-learning kinesiology students with injured athletes to provide hands-on customized care.It started with an intention, a desire, a need, a yearning towards improving my situation. Design Thinking enabled me to use tools to explore What Could Be.

What Could Be the case if I got the ongoing help I needed to recover.

A deep desire to create a better situation for the world around us, starts by creating a better world for yourself and the world.

The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives. — IDEO

With the support of an amazing team, we where able to craft a solution that enabled us to solve a critical problem.

Immersive Learning through Participatory Design:

Our lack of domain knowledge in health care meant we needed to understand the nature of health care service provision thoroughly and quickly. We approached all aspects of the project collaboratively and spent most of our time working on‑site alongside varsity athletes, coaches and respected individuals in the therapy profession.

“It’s very tough for athletes to sit out when they get injured— sport is their structure. They like to compete, they miss the adrenaline rush of competing” — Jacqueline Beckford Varsity Soccer Coach

Ideation and Wireframing:

In order to help understand many of the complex processes involved in matching kinesiology students with varsity athletes, we mapped workflows on a whiteboard. Doing so helped us understand the particular points where our system could help minimize some of the pain athletes experience as well as highlight opportunities where we could really try to innovate.

We realized the biggest dilemma in usability is the common gap between designers’ and users’ mental models. Designing an intuitive user experience requires you to deeply understand people’s motivations and behaviours along with the emotional and philosophical landscape in which they are operating.

Mental Models guided the design of our solution and helped us make good user and business decisions by focusing on what users actually need.

This project challenged us to create, tinker and relentlessly test possible solutions on our users — and to repeat that cycle as many times as it takes — until we come up with solutions that people will actually use.

What I’ve learned from all this, is that as a designer its our job to solve problems everyday and create alternative solutions. We can’t let our problems be our story. Applying design principles to my own life, made things possible.

What problems do you see in our world that need solving?

Interested in learning more about EDIFY? View the full case study:

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