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Filisia: Working with users to design products to support people with disabilities

Author: Design for Europe
Published Date: 8 April 2015

Background

Filisia creates playful interactive experiences for people with disabilities using music, games and sensors to help their rehabilitation. What started as an arts and research project and has evolved into an expanding, seed-funded startup.

Back in 2013, the company organised a series of arts workshops and observed how people with special needs such as cerebral palsy and autism were really responsive to music and interactive media. They noted that numerous neurological rehabilitation studies had shown that active musical engagement can significantly benefit users’ therapy.

The challenge however was that people with musculoskeletal problems and cognitive challenges often find it difficult to express themselves musically, as traditional instruments can be difficult to handle and present a steep learning curve.

"It was then that we started developing accessible music and gaming solutions that would enable disabled people’s creativity but at the same time provide exercise, motivation and support for their sensory integration." - Georgios Papadakis, Founder & CEO, Filisia

How design helped

In mid 2013, Filisia’s team started collaborating with rehabilitation centres, therapists and people with musculoskeletal and cognitive challenges.

Georgios Papadakis, Filisia’s founder, and a music and interaction designer, led a qualitative research study of potential users – this involved interviews, focus groups and user observation.

"Our vision is to empower disadvantaged people to lead creative and productive lives. As we developed our product we discovered that it would be more meaningful if it was designed by and with our clients, and not for them." - Georgios Papadakis, Founder & CEO, Filisia

Beginning with visits to rehabilitation and care centres, the team worked to understand users’ needs, their daily activities and the contexts in which they were going to use the product.

The team then developed a range of concept solutions and presented them to the users, therapists and carers.

Based on this feedback, the team refined the core elements of the proposed solution working in an agile and iterative fashion to pinpoint the aspects that best fulfilled their users’ needs. Focusing on “users as designers”, led to a product that was ergonomic, simple, flexible and useful to people with very different sets of needs. Designing for a broad spectrum of abilities increased the commercial use and value of the hardware. It has also helped differentiate Filisia from other companies working in this area.

Outcome

2 major awards for social innovation, 60 therapists involved in product research, 50 users involved in product design...

"Our goal is to make our system affordable and accessible to people with different physical and cognitive abilities. It engages users, adapts to their needs and offers precise data on the evolution of their capacities." - Georgios Papadakis, Founder & CEO, Filisia

In 2014, Filisia was given the Social Impact Award by the Athens Impact Hub, and the ‘Innovation in access to healthcare’ award by social entrepreneurship network Ashoka.

In March 2015, Filisia began accepting pre-orders for its newest assistive technology product Monoma. Monoma is a touch-sensitive interactive device designed to be used as part of occupational music therapy and special educational needs training.

As well as being fun to use, the device gathers data on users’ speed, width and smoothness of movement and reports these to therapists and parents, allowing them to track the evolution of users’ capacities. The product is scheduled to launch in early 2016.

Care centres and parents in Europe and the US have expressed interest in piloting Monoma. Filisia is also discussing research partnerships with academic institutions in the UK.

Read more, including other Design for Europe case studies.