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High Impact Sports

Rendering of Final Prototype

Image: Solidworks rendering of the final prototype assembly. A partial exploded view is shown to highlight one of the "modules" that gave the product its unique name.

High Impact Sports


In my Spring 2021 semester, I took a "Design Methodology" course at Cal. Throughout the course I collaborated on a semester-long human-centered design project that aimed to mitigate the pain and injuries that came from playing high impact sports, like rugby and football. After a semester of user experience research, concept generation, and rapid prototyping, our final product was a modular foam roller that could adapt and change to fit the needs of various athletes during the recovery process.

Phase 1: Identify

We began this project by doing background research on all-things sports, from athletic injuries, to workout regimes, to current products on the market. I read several research papers on biomechanics, discussing the causes and long term effects of joint pain on the human body, as well as looking up statistics, news articles, and personal anecdotes of teenage and professional athletes and their experience with injuries and pain.

    I used this background research to help establish a list of social, economic, and technological factors, as well as identifying key stakeholders of a potential product. With this in mind, as well as narrowing down our scope to high school and college-aged rugby players, we were able to generate 25 Product Opportunity Gaps (POGs), and select a final POG that we would proceed with through user interviews.


Phase 2: Understand

Through contacts within our group, I was able to set up interviews with two college-aged rugby players. I had the opportunity to ask them about their experience playing rugby, as well as their injury history and what methods they used to mitigate pain and injury. After completing user interviews, my team and I were able to identify a key market in which we could develop a product from - focusing on reducing muscle pains by aiding the post-workout recovery process.

    During this process, I also helped establish a Value Opportunity Analysis (VOAs) with our solution and competitors on the market. This helped the team discover core attributes, and later develop a series product requirements for our product.

Phase 3: Conceptualize

After completing and analyzing our user research and product requirements, we started the fun part of the course - designing potential products. My team and I each generated 10 rough concepts of products. My creativity ran free on this one - sketching wild ideas ranging from a portable massaging vest to a robotic massaging spider buddy. 

    After initial concepts, our team worked to categorize and narrow down our ideas; in a group concept generation meeting, we came up with six new concepts that expanded on our initial ideas. After narrowing down to two, I came up with detailed sketches of what each product would do, including its features and a rough design of the product.


Phase 4: Realize

After even more deliberation, our team finally settled on the ‘Modul-Roller.” As the name suggests it is a modular and multi-functional foam roller that can adapt to fit the needs of athletes. During this process, I was able to design preliminary and final Solidworks models of the roller, including the modular mechanism that gave the product its name. 

After a lengthy 3D printing and fabrication process, I was able to create a final prototype of the “Modul-Roller” and present it -  in the form of a live infomercial -  at the Jacobs Design Showcase.

The “Modul-Roller” was met with a lot of praise from professors and guests - eventually being voted as “Best Overall” at the Showcase.

My Experience: What I Learned

This project was my first experience with the human-centered design process, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. The project was a roller coaster from start to finish. From the start my team and I already anticipated challenges. The largest one was the remote format of the course, and as a result, we were working from various time-zones and vastly different schedules. We had to make individual sacrifices and adjustments to find times to meet up and work on various assignments, as well as maintain an open line of communication throughout the semester. There were a lot of emails, facebook messages, and google calendar invites exchanged throughout the semester, along with a side helping of asynchronous work in order to meet deadlines and prepare for the various presentations and meetings we held. 


Despite the challenges, I learned a lot of human-centered design and design methods in general. As a mechanical engineering student, I don’t get exposure working with stakeholders and consumers of the projects I work on, nor do I get to think about problems from a user-experience perspective. I think one thing I will really take away from this course is knowing the different roles and responsibilities within a project team. During this semester I had to wear many different hats and take on responsibilities that I wasn’t expecting to do going into the project. Overall, I think the course and the project was truly a rewarding experience in helping my growth as a designer and engineer.

For more information about our research, please feel free to browse the slides below. If for some reason they do not work, you can access the slides here.

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