Easy to learn and effective to use
We tested the MOOd Buddy with Brad, an adult member with nonverbal autism at the Center for Enriched Living (CEL), by handing it off for a week of use.
Within a day, he was using the cow to communicate his emotions in stressful situations, such as when he and his therapist, Fran, were on a shopping trip.
After seeing Brad light up the cow, Fran was able to respond and mitigate his stress more quickly. This feedback proves that the MOOd Buddies system has the potential to make a substantial impact for our users.
Bringing an idea to life
After conducting our research, my team and I developed the MOOd Buddies system. We designed the cow to be a comfort item that affords quick communication and the app to be easily integrated into an existing AAC tablet.
To gain feedback about our first prototype, we spoke to a Northwestern communication expert and a pediatrician. They both agreed that the MOOd Buddy would work well to relate emotions in high-stress situations. Additionally, it could serve as a tool for doctors to demonstrate procedures, reducing fear of the unknown.
Although these specialists saw potential in our design, we were still waiting for user testing for direct validation.
Fostering communication when it seems impossible
Those with nonverbal autism have an especially difficult time during doctor visits -- every light, sound, or smell can trigger overstimulation. Many use AAC devices to express their feelings, but when overwhelmed, finding the patience necessary to type each word can be too much to handle.
Enter the MOOd Buddies system, consisting of the stuffed MOOd Buddy and a customizable social story app. The plush cow can light up to quickly express emotions, and the app allows users to rehearse stressful situations. These two designs give children with nonverbal autism both a quick way to communicate emotion and confidence in taxing environments.
From an opportunity to The Garage
Understanding our users
Accessing users was the greatest obstacle we faced. As a result, we were unable to conduct traditional ethnographic research; instead, we turned to social media to interact with as many .
We posted in Facebook groups for parents of children with autism and shared a survey on Reddit. Through these interactions, we found that these individuals struggled to express themselves in doctor office settings, and that coming up with a quick verbal response was stressful.
Validating and expanding our impact
In December 2018, our team conducted user testing at the CEL. Throughout the one-week prototype handoff, our user, Brad, communicated his emotions with the MOOd buddy throughout multiple stressful situations, helping his therapist respond more quickly than before.
After receiving this feedback, we realized that this project has the potential to make an impact in the lives of many individuals with autism. Driven by this success, our team moved to The Garage, Northwestern's startup incubator, to get our design to as many users as possible.