MIT & Altitude

Designing for Dignity

  • Capabilities Used
  • Strategy
  • Industrial Design
  • Engineering
  • User Experience

Innovation has the power to reinvigorate entire industries. Today, companies are looking to Design Thinking for fresh and innovative ideas. But it’s not a “one and done” post-it note event. Instead, agile cycles of build, test and learn achieve a balance between what’s meaningful for people, and what’s profitable for companies. To demonstrate this process MIT and Altitude partnered to completely reimagine the ubiquitous walker for the elderly.

The real value was observed when we saw we were making a difference in the lives of the users


Human-Centered Methodology

Design Thinking looks at the world through fresh eyes. It’s a deliberate process of gaining insight into peoples’ behaviors, needs and values to uncover new opportunities. These ideas aren’t just incremental changes to the status quo, but provide an ability to imagine something entirely new.

The Innovation Challenge

Walkers have remained largely unchanged for a very long time. They’ve been cost optimized through manufacturing to the point where they can’t be made cheaper. Now we’re seeing a rapidly expanding elderly population with disposable income. This new audience desires, and expects, products that fit their lifestyle. They need a better solution.

Empathizing with Customers

As with any new challenge, to “jump smart” required coming up to speed on an ever-present, yet unfamiliar world (to us) very quickly. We read online product reviews. We bought, assembled and used walkers. Sales people guided us through the typical sales and purchase process. Physical therapists educated us on appropriate products and their proper usage. This hands-on research provided a richer understanding for the choices buyers and users have today.

Next, we turned our focus on people, the ones we’re trying to serve. Our ethnographic research immersed us in the world of aging adults. Getting into their hearts and minds and considering things from their point of view uncovered new perspectives. It was a process of putting the customer in control. How do walkers fit into their everyday lives? How do they feel about them? We heard about the stigma of feeling disabled. We saw small modifications that uncovered cues into unmet needs – baskets, ribbons, tennis balls. By observing people in all aspects of their lives, we revealed key insights that established a foundation to shape entirely new opportunities.

Discovering Opportunities

We developed a broad view into the hearts and minds of our aging customer, but designing for a group of people just isn’t possible. We created a persona of the people interviewed, and painted a picture of how the walker fits into their life by mapping their journey over time. Our research identified a wealth of opportunities, but we needed to prioritize. We carefully narrowed our focus to identify the real value for aging adults.

By clearly articulating our target user, and converging on their job-to-be-done, we set the functional and emotional requirements for the new walker. Ideally, we wanted to create something that you couldn’t even imagine today, but tomorrow would seem completely obvious. Current walkers are medical contraptions, and stigmatize people’s desired appearance. Functionally, they favor stability over mobility. Rollators are just the opposite, and faster than many seniors can safely manage. By reframing the opportunity, we created a lifestyle product to provide mobility with stability. We called this new product a “mobilizer”.

Innovating with Intent

Now it was time to tackle the question “how should we deliver it?” With a North Star defined, iterative cycles of brainstorming, prototyping and testing with users, we developed increasing confidence in our concepts. Here we tested to learn, and to understand, so ideas could be improved. We weren’t testing to see which concept won.

The final Mobilizer incorporates several key attributes, delivering an elevated user experience whether walking, sitting or stored. To deliver mobility with stability, dynamic rear casters allow freedom of movement, while locking in place as weight is applied to the handgrips. The telescoping column removes the visual barrier around the user, and a storage bag is an opportunity for personalization. An integrated fold-down seat provides the relief of a chair, while the lower base folds for transport. These key features along with Mobilizer’s distinguished appearance supports people’s desired perception, and overcomes the stigma of today’s medical walkers.

The real value was observed when we saw we were making a difference in the lives of the users.

See how we use Design Thinking to create innovations like the Mobilizer. Blue Altitude Logo