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Game Controller for People with DMD
Theria is an adaptive video game controller designed for gamers with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Its ergonomic design enables extended gameplay without discomfort and it is styled to seamlessly integrate into the gaming lifestyle.
Research: User Experience, Ergonomics, Circular Product Design
Product Styling & Visualization
Prototyping: Silicone molding, 3D Printing
Next-gen adaptive game controller
Duchenne (DMD) is a type of muscular dystrophy that affects boys starting at a young age. As DMD causes muscle loss and contraction, rapid movements, lifting and pressing buttons become more challenging over time. While adaptive controllers exist, these are rarely usable for people with Duchenne.
The split design of the controller allows for greater freedom of movement. The vertical mouse inspired body allows for ergonomically favorable hand placements for extended sessions of gaming. Due to its unique shape, Theria can game like a conventional game controller, or docked to a desk or wheelchair.
The mechanical buttons and joysticks are replaced by capacitive touch sensors with high sensitivity. This way, gamers at advanced stages of DMD can continue playing.
The design of the Theria controller combines futuristic and retro gaming elements, creating a visually striking yet familiar aesthetic for gamers. Unlike many current adaptive controllers that consist of multiple, distinct parts that both look and function differently from traditional game controllers, Theria features a sleek and cohesive unibody design.
Designed for nonstop gaming
The controller provides a customized gaming solution tailored to meet the specific needs of a niche group of gamers. By utilizing cost-effective manufacturing methods for small production runs and employing a modular design, Theria enables individual component update without requiring a complete replacement.
All electronics are encapsulated in a 3D printed pod. SLA printed clear resin makes the pod transluscent, allowing light to shine through the controller to achieve its signature look.
SLA 3D printed housing gives structure to the controller and further diffuses the light.
The TPU construction provides a level of softness that makes it particularly comfortable for gamers with DMD who have sensitive skin. Additionally, the TPU body's elasticity applies gentle pressure that can help to open up contracting muscles and improve grip.
Configure as you like
The internal LEDs of the controller change color to communicate its state, but the rest fo the components can be configured to achieve different looks.
User Research - Styling - Ergonomics - Sustainability
At the heart of the Theria controller is a design process that was informed by the experiences of real gamers. Through interviews with gamers with DMD, we studied the emotional outcome of each product/user touchpoint to better understand the current gaming experience. Key findings were:
The gamers became very frustrated when their hands got tired as they had to stop gaming.
The PS4 controller is ubiquitous, gamers with Duchenne feel as a part of the gamer culture when using this controller.
The design vision encapsulates the key opportunities identified in this process:
"Enhance the competence and autonomy of gamers with DMD to facilitatate social connection and stimulation through gaming"
This controller aims to level the playing field by creating a platform equally as inclusive for gamers with different abilities, rather than making people with DMD adapt to an existing culture that excludes them. I defined the visual elements of the contoller to fit with this product vision.
Theria has both retro and futuristic elements, which makes it visually novel, yet familiar to the gamer. This allows the controller to still be connected to the gaming culture without imitating the current designs. Semi-transparent shell lets light through, reminiscent of game consoles of the 90s. The all-white look, organic curves and the soft body add futuristic elements that carry the retro design into contemporary culture.
I collected references from retro gaming consoles, the newest trends in gaming, as well as the PC gaming culture.
I explored various forms to inform the shape of the controller body based on different gaming styles. The rounded shape was both the most ergonomically favorable and distinct in style.
This design based on the Wii Nunchuck would require the user to lift the controller, which is not possible at later stages of DMD.
The vertical mouse style designs are the most comfortable for the wrist.
When designing for gamers with DMD, ergonomics is a primary concern. The controller can be used in multiple configurations corresponding to different stages of disease progression. Gamers can start using the controller handheld, like any other. As they lose muscle function, the controller can be used docked on a desk, like a keyboard, and lastly docked on their wheelchair.
The soft and flexible controller body positions hands in an ergonomically favorable state. The springy structure applies light pressure to stretch hand muscles that are contracting due to DMD.
Sustainability is increasingly more important for consumer electronics designed to be used in the EU. The design tackles sustainability in production, repair and recycling stages.
> Snap fit connections are prioritized over screws and adhesives to increase the ease of recycling and allows repairability without specialized tools.
> Making the battery easily removable decreases the use of hazardous chemicals by 60% over 10 years. The fully-digital electronics pod is estimated to have a 2-year lifetime with daily use, whereas batteries usually last 4-5 years. This way, the gamer can change or update components as they like without scrapping the rest of the parts.
Iterative Design Process
At every stage of the design process, we put our ideas to the test with target users. Using a variety of tools and techniques, including functional prototypes, interviews, and care packages, we were able to gain an in-depth understanding of what gamers wanted and needed in a controller. As a result, the final product is something that gamers are genuinely excited about, and that meets their unique needs in a truly compelling way.
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