Shift is an adaptive computer pointing device that offers an intuitive and accessible way for users with hand tremors (as a result of Parkinson's Disease [PD] or Essential Tremors [ET]) to use a computer and regain their digital mobility.
A shifting dome provides precise translational control, and a pressure sensitive trackpad tracks large coarse movements while preventing unintentional clicks, improving accuracy that otherwise would be impossible with a traditional pointing device. These integration of existing technologies and features has potential in providing a better computer use experience for users with hand tremors. Shift's complementing design language also allows for greater adoption when compared to other accessible devices on the market that have a stigmatized appearance.
Shift - The name Shift is a homonym used to represent the 'shifting' dome feature, a 'shift' in computer interaction and an homage to the shift key on a keyboard.
Nearly 80 % of PC-users with PD have significant and severe difficulties using a computer due to their illness. (Begnum 2010)
Hand tremors as a result of Parkinson's Disease (PD) or Essential Tremors (ET) presents a unique challenge when using a computer. In an increasingly digital society that has been further accelerated by the pandemic - access to technology and the internet has become more challenged.
The problem is, traditional mouse depends on a higher level of hand dexterity and coordination to accurately move a cursor, hover at a specific objects on screen, and click to select. Motor symptoms like tremors, fatigue and muscle stiffness makes the simple task of opening an application impossible — while grabbing hold of the mouse their hand sway side-to-side, while dragging the mouse to the application their fingers causes accidental clicks and opens the wrong application, when closing it they open another wrong application. For users who rely on a computer for work, this can be extremely frustrating and can be a barrier to societal integration.
Part of the research for this project, secondary and primary research was conducted to help inform the design decisions for this product.
- A research article published in 2010 by a Norwegian design researcher, Miriam Begnum identified major issues users with Parkinson's Disease face when using a computer. This laid the foundation of this project. Her research found that existing products recommended to patients with PD have drawbacks as there is no device on the market that is designed specifically for the challenges of users with PD. For example, ergonomically designed equipment, while have some benefit, are designed to relieve strain injuries for non-disabled computer users. (Begnum 2010) Testing with users found that all participants had preference for trackballs mouses and joystick, however each had their own problems that made them difficult to use.
- While researching, online communities on Reddit and Facebook have garnered monthly post regarding suggestions for mouse alternatives, highlighting the demand for such accessible device. Many sharing valuable insights/painpoints of their current setup.
- Survey, interview and email conversations with users diagnosed with PD, and with ET provided better understanding of their challenges, their current setup, and adaptations they found helpful.
- Conversations with occupational therapist provided information on what is currently recommended to patients experiencing hand tremor, allowing me to benchmark what is currently offered.
- Issues such as availability of certain pointing devices and the stigmatizing appearance of recommended devices on the market were brought up in several conversation.
What is the solution and how does it work?
Shift aims to refine the three primary operations for better accessibility among users with hand tremors, by providing two different ways to move, a departure from the standard mouse.
Utilizing 3 existing technologies, when combined, could improve accuracy and ability to adjust their controls based on the task and the severity of their tremors — an innovation from research and user insights. A touch capacitor, adhered under the convex surface, allows for a trackpad like use, intended for large coarse panning operations. A 2D analog potentiometer, the technology found in sliding joysticks of portable gaming consoles, provide "shifting" translational controls. The circular spring mechanism within the potentiometer module creates elastic resistance with displacement, the foundation for a more accurate and precise cursor control. Haptic actuator emulates click feedback, coupled with a force sensor, allow click firmness/sensitivity to be changed and adapted to the user.
Programmable buttons on the side allow users to set up quick toggle for voice-to-text capabilities on their computer, which is greatly beneficial as keyboards are also a problem for users with hand tremors.
How does this design benefits the user and society?
The stationary nature of the device's operation provides users an object to hold on while using. Basic operations of the device are mapped to larger hand gestures rather than the finger, moving a cursor is easily achieved by swipe over the surface like a trackpad and/or using the dome to 'shift' for more precise control. Involuntary clicks are prevented with the force sensor as click sensitivity is adapted to the user, rather than a standard fixed click.
Shift has a significant social impact in terms of digital accessibility by improving computer access for users with hand tremors. This increased accessibility means greater societal participation — being able to work, to entertain, and have access to a larger online community of other PD/ET users in sharing helpful advice on managing their symptoms and improving their overall health and lifestyle.
An unanticipated benefit of this product, is its ability to be used by everyone. Originally designed with hand tremor users in mind, the accessible nature of the product allows other people regardless of their ability to use as well. Feedback during development have suggested possible use case for gaming, an alternative to mouse/trackpad, or for users with limb differences.
Design choices and user experience
Many pointing devices recommended to patents with hand tremors were described by many to be unsightly and undesirable. These products designed for special needs tend to have a medical or rudimentary design that is negatively regarded and often stigmatized; users who need such device for the office may not want to use it. Shift leverages design to make it more appealing so that it can be a product users want and to use publicly. To provide a familiar experience, design choices in form, colours, materials and finishes drew inspirations from consumer electronics and houseware design, allowing it to complement with the home and office use environment.
The dominant design element, the dome, allows the user to better manipulate and 'shift' the device. The convex form conforms to the neutral position of the hand, providing better affordance.
The 'squircle' silhouette of the device was an evolution from user feedback, the slight inclination provided a subtle orientation reference of the device which a circular shape would not allow. The subsequent form also allow for a more optimized fit of internal components.
To create a seamless user experience, a complimenting software integrates with the hardware to assist with device pairing and device management. The goal ofthis application is to help users understand how to use the device, and be able to make adjustments if necessary. Setting up for the first time, an interactive demo will teach users the basics operations and will begin to learn and auto calibrate click sensitivity through tests.
A problem with speciality products is its availability, often sold only in specialized shops and in limited regions, its niche market makes them expensive, costing upward of $400 with comparably less benefit and considered design. The unanticipated benefit of Shift means there is a secondary market for such device, allowing for greater distribution and thereby improving availability and a lower retail price.
Dome Assembly | Textured polycarbonate dome, PC/ABS blend dome support bracket
Unibody | ZAMAK 5 (zinc-aluminum alloy) body — provides a ridged structural frame and added weight to prevent device sliding. Fully recyclable at end of life.