SuFu – Adaptive Clothing for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Team:  Mark Etem, David Lin, Konrad Krawczyk

Client: CereCare

Research Methods: Field Studies, Ethnographic Studies, Expert Interviews, Usability Testing

Roles: User Research, Adaptive Cloth Prototyping & Sewing

Duration: 2 months

SuFu is a series of adaptive clothing designed by me, Mark and Konrad for CereCare Wellness Center, which focuses on helping children who suffer from cerebral palsy.

The Challenge

This two-month project envisioned to help children with disabilities have a more convenient experience of wearing clothes.

The Process Overview

The project team conducted initial user research, created several prototypes and wrote a guideline to encourage volunteers and NGOs to make adaptive clothing using local resources in Shanghai. 

I was the user research lead of this project. The user research phase included ethnographic research, desk research, and feasibility research on the state-of-art. 

one of the users wearing the final design

the overview of the design process:

Problem Discovery

It all starts when we hear the volunteer mentioned:

It took the kids around 15 minutes to dress up and take off the clothes!

Market Research and User Research

We first examined the state-of-art in adaptive clothing. We studied the case study of Tommy Hilfiger’s and Under Armour’s adaptive clothing lines to understand the practicality of such clothing. We also looked into different research articles related to rehabilitation for mobility issues caused by brain injury. 

We then conducted one-month user research. The user research consisted of ethnographic studies on the children with disabilities at CereCares and interviews with volunteers at CereCares and therapists in Shanghai. Here are 4 major learnings from the initial research:

After the initial research, we did some sketches for possible solutions. We revisited the CereCare to validate our design with the caregivers. 

some initial sketches we used for validation

Through the conversation, we realized that it would be hard to design an adaptive clothes that could be applied to every kid. Thus, we finally decided to focus on 4 out of 16 children at CereCares, whose condition could be significantly improved by adaptive clothing. Here are the analysis of the 4 children’s conditions and possible solutions.

When designing the solutions, the team considered the different mobility restrictions, kids’ sensitivity to color, and the sustainability of solution:

 Prototype and Iteration

Based on the user research, we generated four ideas for the prototypes, which aimed to provide ease-of-use and safety to the children. 

We visited 4 fabric markets to search for materials that could be used in our design, and we ended up with a bunch of velcro and different types of magnets.

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different material options we have explored

We made several cuts in the original clothes to help the children dress easily, which needed new materials to close the cuts. We tested materials including velcro, nylon strings, and magnets, and finally decided to use a combination of velcro and pocket magnets. Considering the fact that the children are sensitive to color, we added color aid to help them as well.

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making the prototypes

Final Design and an Open-source Guidance

The final design included 4 unique prototypes for the 4 targeted children:

Potential Impact of the project

To encourage volunteers and NGOs make adaptive clothing for children with disabilities using local resources, the team synthesized the research insights into an open-source guidance.

Link to the guidance:

I was also invited to Zaojiu Talk (Chinese version of TEDx) to share our design process and introduce adaptive technology to more people:

I was invited to the Zaojiu Youth Talk to share our adaptive clothing design process with the public