Final Project — Digital Fabrication

For my final project, I wanted to take inspiration from my life. I thought for a long time about what needs in my daily life weren’t being met, or what could be made easier in the ways I moved through the world. I thought about my traveling, my studies, and one of the most important things in the world to me, my family.

When I finally thought about my family, it was an easy step to the heart and soul of my project.

My grandmother — we call her Nonnie — was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease (阿兹海默症) around 8 years ago. Since then, she has been living at my mother’s house. When I was still in high school, we all lived under the same roof, and my mother continues to take care of her at home to this day.

Nonnie’s disease is a difficult reality of our life. She is a wonderful woman, and she handles it with grace. She stays chipper most days, and has an incredibly sharp sense of humor. However, as time progresses, her memory and ability to function on her own continues to go, and at this point she cannot be left alone for any period of time longer than a few minutes.

It was with this in mind that I started to design. I wanted to make something simple and relatively easy to construct that would help my mother and Nonnie. I had no idea what form this was going to  take, but I started to research.

In looking at sites with goods specifically made for people suffering memory and cognitive losses, a few things became apparent. First and foremost, most of the products that already exist are extremely expensive, and are most likely not affordable for many people. Secondly, many of them were simple, or designed to look simple. Third, they attempted to engage a person’s motor skills and creativity.

Another phase of my research was looking at art created by people with Alzheimer’s/Dementia. Not a ton of this made it into my product, but here’s a photo of a self portrait done by William Utermohlen in his last few years living with the disease for reference.

From here, I moved on to design. I wanted to work with a few principles in mind.

1) Affordability
2) Simplicity of Design
3) Long term usage — something that works for someone at multiple stages of the disease
4) Durability

At this point, I was picturing some kind of case that you could put an alarm inside of. The intention would be that as the alarm goes off, the person using it has to work out how to open the case (it’d be quite simple), and once they opened it and turned off the alarm, there’d be simple reminders or rewards inside the case with the alarm.


These simple drawings were my launching ground.

With these ideas in mind, I reached out to my family to get their thoughts on the process. My mother gave me a harsh reality check (albeit in a gentle way). She told me that an alarm/schedule based object would probably be too complex for Nonnie at this point, and suggested instead I create a rewards based system that would engage my grandmother for a short amount of time, and would offer a reward.

With this, my idea shifted, and it was back to the drawing board.

Though rough, this shows where my thinking headed. I was now looking to create a simple box, where the person using it could see whats inside. I wanted it to be simple, with a few extra steps that could be added to make it slightly more complex if the person found the original version too simple.  The tabs crudely drawn would hold the box closed from all four sides, and the person using it would have to remove all four tabs to open the box.

I started designing in Rhino, 3D modeling a rough version of the box:

The person would be able to see into the box! At this point I hadn’t designed the top.
At this point, Marcela walked over, stopped me, and informed me that laser cutting a box would be far easier. This led me to:

A simple box, made with Added are the slots in the side where the person using the box could see into it, and four holes on the top that allow for some sort of peg mechanism to be used (which I hadn’t yet worked out).

Upon construction, we had a box!!!!

Next up was to design the tabs and pegs that would go into the slots on the box, holding it closed.

I modeled into rhino, 3D printed, and here’s what I got:

MISTAKES. The left two both printed incorrectly. The one on the right (which i printed on its side) was better, but didn’t line up well with the peg holes I had made in the initial box.  Back to rhino!

This tabs printed like a beauty, and also fit well with the holes on the box!

Last up was to design the tabs that would go in the holes on both box and the pegs. This was simple, just had to make sure I got my dimensions correct.

What you are seeing in the photo is two pegs hot glued together (making them easier to grab), with tape on one end to make the fit a little tighter when inserted into the box.

Put all together (with a golden arrow cut from vinyl sticker to make sure the lid is always on correctly, we get:

The Box in Action

(video link above)

There is still much work to be done on this process. The box, though semi-functioning, is hardly a complete product. It is far too simple, the dimensions aren’t quite right, and the construction of certain elements — mainly the tabs and pegs — could benefit from being done in higher quality.

However, I think that this project serves as a better prototype for my concept, than for a marketable product. My box is simple, easy to construct, and cheap to manufacture. It is easy to understand, and with small adjustments could be quite easy for someone with limited mobility to grab and take apart. The concepts behind it show through in the design, and I am happy that this model can serve as inspiration for further iterations of this product as I continue to develop it.

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