06:58
TEDxDelft

Mileha Soneji: Simple hacks for life with Parkinson's

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Simple solutions are often best, even when dealing with something as complicated as Parkinson's. In this inspiring talk, Mileha Soneji shares accessible designs that make the everyday tasks of those living with Parkinson's a bit easier. "Technology is not always it," she says. "What we need are human-centered solutions."

- Product designer
Mileha Soneji believes that having empathy and being able to put yourself in another person's shoes is what makes for great design. Full bio

In India, we have these huge families.
00:12
I bet a lot of you all
must have heard about it.
00:15
Which means that there are
a lot of family events.
00:18
So as a child, my parents
used to drag me to these family events.
00:21
But the one thing
that I always looked forward to
00:26
was playing around with my cousins.
00:29
And there was always this one uncle
00:32
who used to be there,
00:34
always ready, jumping around with us,
00:35
having games for us,
00:37
making us kids have the time of our lives.
00:39
This man was extremely successful:
00:42
he was confident and powerful.
00:45
But then I saw this hale and hearty person
deteriorate in health.
00:47
He was diagnosed with Parkinson's.
00:53
Parkinson's is a disease that causes
degeneration of the nervous system,
00:56
which means that this person
who used to be independent
01:00
suddenly finds tasks like drinking coffee,
because of tremors, much more difficult.
01:03
My uncle started using a walker to walk,
01:09
and to take a turn,
01:12
he literally had to take
one step at a time, like this,
01:13
and it took forever.
01:17
So this person, who used to be
the center of attention
01:20
in every family gathering,
01:23
was suddenly hiding behind people.
01:25
He was hiding from the pitiful look
in people's eyes.
01:28
And he's not the only one in the world.
01:32
Every year, 60,000 people
are newly diagnosed with Parkinson's,
01:35
and this number is only rising.
01:40
As designers, we dream that our designs
solve these multifaceted problems,
01:44
one solution that solves it all,
01:49
but it need not always be like that.
01:52
You can also target simple problems
01:55
and create small solutions for them
and eventually make a big impact.
01:58
So my aim here was
to not cure Parkinson's,
02:03
but to make their everyday tasks
much more simple,
02:06
and then make an impact.
02:09
Well, the first thing I targeted
was tremors, right?
02:12
My uncle told me that he had stopped
drinking coffee or tea in public
02:16
just out of embarrassment,
02:21
so, well, I designed the no-spill cup.
02:23
It works just purely on its form.
02:27
The curve on top deflects the liquid
back inside every time they have tremors,
02:29
and this keeps the liquid inside
compared to a normal cup.
02:35
But the key here is that it is not tagged
as a Parkinson's patient product.
02:38
It looks like a cup that could be used
by you, me, any clumsy person,
02:44
and that makes it much more comforting
for them to use, to blend in.
02:48
So, well, one problem solved,
02:53
many more to go.
02:56
All this while, I was interviewing him,
02:58
questioning him,
03:01
and then I realized that I was getting
very superficial information,
03:02
or just answers to my questions.
03:06
But I really needed to dig deeper
to get a new perspective.
03:09
So I thought, well,
let's observe him in his daily tasks,
03:13
while he's eating, while he's watching TV.
03:16
And then, when I was actually
observing him walking to his dining table,
03:19
it struck me, this man who finds it
so difficult to walk on flat land,
03:23
how does he climb a staircase?
03:29
Because in India we do not have
a fancy rail that takes you up a staircase
03:31
like in the developed countries.
03:35
One actually has to climb the stairs.
03:37
So he told me,
03:39
"Well, let me show you how I do it."
03:41
Let's take a look at what I saw.
03:43
So he took really long
to reach this position,
03:48
and then all this while, I'm thinking,
03:51
"Oh my God, is he really going to do it?
03:53
Is he really, really going to do it
without his walker?"
03:55
And then ...
03:58
(Laughter)
04:02
And the turns, he took them so easily.
04:08
So -- shocked?
04:13
Well, I was too.
04:14
So this person who could not
walk on flat land
04:19
was suddenly a pro at climbing stairs.
04:22
On researching this, I realized that
it's because it's a continuous motion.
04:25
There's this other man
who also suffers from the same symptoms
04:30
and uses a walker,
04:33
but the moment he's put on a cycle,
04:35
all his symptoms vanish,
04:37
because it is a continuous motion.
04:38
So the key for me was to translate
this feeling of walking on a staircase
04:41
back to flat land.
04:45
And a lot of ideas
were tested and tried on him,
04:47
but the one that finally worked
was this one. Let's take a look.
04:50
(Laughter)
04:57
(Applause)
05:00
He walked faster, right?
05:05
(Applause)
05:06
I call this the staircase illusion,
05:11
and actually when the staircase illusion
abruptly ended, he froze,
05:14
and this is called freezing of gait.
05:18
So it happens a lot,
05:20
so why not have a staircase illusion
flowing through all their rooms,
05:21
making them feel much more confident?
05:25
You know, technology is not always it.
05:29
What we need are human-centered solutions.
05:32
I could have easily
made it into a projection,
05:34
or a Google Glass, or something like that.
05:37
But I stuck to simple print on the floor.
05:39
This print could be taken into hospitals
05:42
to make them feel much more welcome.
05:45
What I wish to do
is make every Parkinson's patient
05:48
feel like my uncle felt that day.
05:51
He told me that I made him feel
like his old self again.
05:54
"Smart" in today's world
has become synonymous to high tech,
05:59
and the world is only getting
smarter and smarter day by day.
06:03
But why can't smart be something
that's simple and yet effective?
06:07
All we need is a little bit of empathy
and some curiosity,
06:12
to go out there, observe.
06:16
But let's not stop at that.
06:18
Let's find these complex problems.
Don't be scared of them.
06:20
Break them, boil them down
into much smaller problems,
06:24
and then find simple solutions for them.
06:27
Test these solutions, fail if needed,
06:30
but with newer insights to make it better.
06:33
Imagine what we all could do
if we all came up with simple solutions.
06:36
What would the world be like
if we combined all our simple solutions?
06:40
Let's make a smarter world,
but with simplicity.
06:44
Thank you.
06:47
(Applause)
06:49

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About the Speaker:

Mileha Soneji - Product designer
Mileha Soneji believes that having empathy and being able to put yourself in another person's shoes is what makes for great design.

Why you should listen

Mileha Soneji is a trained strategic product designer, originally hailing from the city of Pune in India. She currently works in the Netherlands as a strategist. Her work entails combining the fuzzy front-end of the design process with emerging technologies to answer the question of what needs to be designed in the future.

Even as a child, Mileha had a keen interest in (re)designing things around her, even though she had little knowledge about it as a profession. This led her to take up the Bachelor in Product Design at the MIT School of Design. After graduation, she got a couple of years of work experience in India, where she quickly realized that apart from the actual tangible design, a successful product needs a backbone of thorough research in user needs and market analysis. The need to study this further brought Mileha to Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to study Strategic Product Design for her Masters.

More profile about the speaker
Mileha Soneji | Speaker | TED.com