Making change with our bare hands – a hackathon to design for dementia

15 Apr 2019  •  13 min read

A look at how the OneMaker Group’s designathon brought ordinary people – from 9 to 68 years old – to design solutions for dementia patients and their caregivers.

Slippers that can be worn interchangeably on both feet. A board game, which enhances social and mental stimulation. A book of inspiring stories and engaging activities for caregivers to share with fellow caregivers.

All these products, meant for dementia patients and their caregivers, were designed by ordinary Singaporeans during a three-day designathon at the National Design Centre (NDC) last year. Thirty-six participants, ranging from 9 to 68 years old, had signed up for the intensive design marathon; many of whom were motivated by their personal encounters with dementia patients.

Their brief was: “How might we design solutions to enable caregivers and their loved ones with dementia to lead balanced lives during the long journey of caring?” 

“How might we design solutions to enable caregivers and their loved ones with dementia to lead balanced lives during the long journey of caring?”

It didn’t matter that most of the participants had no design background, said Robin Oh, from the One Maker Group (OMG), which had organised the event. He observed that “everyone always feels that they need a lot of experience to design your idea into a tangible product. The truth is that a good idea is sprouted by understanding the end-user and working with them.”

Participants rolled up their sleeves to make their ideas tangible during the three-day workshop.

Over the three days, OMG gave participants a crash course on basic design. To gain empathy, the participants watched videos on dementia patients to understand the illness and the challenges; they also learnt how to test their ideas through rapid prototyping and peer review.

For many, it was a thrill to get their hands on hardware like hand and power tools, 3D printers and laser cutters, and to begin turning their ideas into tangible forms. The event culminated in each team making a three-minute pitch to the judges, with their prototypes. 

Clockwise from top right: Slippers that are interchangeable for both feet, a board game to promote social interaction, and an interactive book for caregivers.

Ms Niki Lim, 40, a senior graphic designer, works at a healthcare company. She joined the designathon with two colleagues and a friend who had had decades of experience in caring for family members afflicted with dementia. They won the top prize with their board game idea.

To solve the problem of dementia patients lacking mental and social stimulation, and to tap into how old people like to tell stories, they had come up with a storytelling non-competitive board game called Ho Bo? (“Ho bo?” in the Hokkien dialect means “How are you?”)

In the game, players whose tokens land on certain squares have to pick up cards with topics like Rediffusion or Singapore Prime Ministers, which the players can then chat about.

Ms Lim said that the game would also benefit caregivers. She said, “The game creates a space where families or groups of loved ones can come together to have a fun, stress-free time, having conversations with loved ones with dementia, instead of being stressed about being a caregiver.”

The participants at the end of the intensive design marathon.

Post-competition, Mr Oh said 80 percent of the teams won’t just stop there. They want to continue developing their ideas and working with dementia patients. To that end, OMG will continue helping the teams to source for funds, put them in touch with people who can help them improve their ideas, and help them with end-user testing.

Said Ms Lim, “The next step would be to test out the prototype with our target audience—persons with dementia and their loved ones.”

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