Industrial design students improve PPE for construction work, healthcare, hospitality, education, and more.

Designs for the Portable Environments Studio by Thomas Chen, Leo Zhang, and Daniel Jones

Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and questions about how best to design for health and safety remain, such as how to move forward the quality and effectiveness of the masks and ways to protect hospitality workers as some cities return to indoor dining. At the same time, there is a need to create sustainable solutions that can be adapted to changing demands, be it potential future epidemics or the annual flu season.

Last fall, the Portable Environments Studio led by Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, Assistant-CCE Professor of Industrial Design, explored functional clothing, wearable devices and personal protective equipment (PPE) that could help reduce the spread of the COVID-19. Viewing clothing as a wearable environment where their engineering and design can have built-in functions such as disease protection, they developed designs that would be mobile and use flexible, textile-based materials.

“This studio class was the perfect platform for students to use their design skills to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pailes-Friedman said. “By studying how people communicate and interact, students have found unique solutions that not only provide protection against the spread of the virus, but also promote clearer communication and increase interaction between people, leading to a better quality of life. Their work shows how the most important problems can be solved with good design. »

Design a better mask

The need for as many people as possible to wear effective masks is as crucial as it was last spring, but a large part of the population is still wearing the cloth masks which were intended to be an interim design. There is an opportunity for high-quality, accessible masks designed for the specific needs of individuals and their work. Thomas Chen, BID ’21, prototyped a voice-amplifying mask for healthcare workers that would allow them to be audible to colleagues and patients, a critical need when being understood can be a matter of life and death . Using recyclable, non-toxic, durable, and moisture-resistant materials, Chen’s mask meets Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements while containing an internal microphone.

Leo Zhang, BID ’21, has also studied improving masks, focusing on the needs of an active lifestyle. Most masks currently available can be difficult to breathe in while exercising and can trap sweat. Zhang focused on making a mask that was more comfortable and allowed for easier oxygen intake while putting safety first. A modular design with an outer PLA shell, an interchangeable polyester filter and an inner silicone shell provides a convex shape that prevents the mask from changing shape when running or cycling.

Daniel Jones, BID ’21, also explored how a mask might be better designed for physically demanding situations. Recognizing that construction workers are often in close proximity for long periods of time and that many masks can cause goggles to fog up, Jones created a lightweight mask with an elongated nose piece and an adjustable metal bridge to provide a spatial barrier between the mouth and the fabric to prevent fogging. A filter pocket, adjustable features for all-day comfort, and high-visibility materials further meet the needs of construction workers.

Solutions for social distancing

Designs for Portable Environments Studio by Alena Gukova and Tia Hrubala
Designs for Portable Environments Studio by Alena Gukova and Tia Hrubala

One of the best measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is to stay away from others, but this can be difficult in situations that require in-person interaction. Alena Gukova, BID ’21, had a playful idea to encourage staying six feet apart without the anxiety and embarrassment of verbal discussions: social distancing guys. The leg covers have arrows sticking out to clear space around the wearer, with the eye-catching fashion also being a dynamic way to visualize what six feet of physical distancing looks like.

With both outdoor and indoor dining, restaurants have reconfigured their seating for social distancing and to meet occupancy guidelines. Tia Hrubala, BID ’21, created a personal environment for physical distancing in this context. Hrubala’s COVID-19 Catering Barriers are portable items with acrylic side panels allowing customers to isolate themselves from other parties and protect restaurant servers.

Face shields for work and fitness

Designs for the portable environments studio by Veronica Markey, Andrew Lee and Seamus Gilmore
Designs for the portable environments studio by Veronica Markey, Andrew Lee and Seamus Gilmore

Face shields can provide another layer of protection when worn with a mask, but there are currently few options designed for specific settings. For example, Veronica Markey, BID ’21, noticed that face shields for physical activities such as jogging and biking had been mostly overlooked. Markey’s face shield is specifically designed for outdoor exercise and is shaped like a hat for ease of wear with layered fabrics for comfort and airflow.

Andrew Lee, BID ’21, looked at how a face shield could help workers in the hospitality industry. Since indoor restaurant employees interact directly with customers, they need to be able to communicate easily while being protected from virus transmission. Using 3D-printed PLA plastic, a voice amplification kit, and an anti-fog coated PET material, Lee prototyped a comfortable face shield that could be worn with a mask and improve the communication, with an amplifier designed to be attached to a belt or carried on a sling.

Seamus Gilmore, BID ’21, also designed a face shield that would facilitate interaction, focusing on a ‘bubble’ device for early childhood teachers. The sealed face shield would allow the user’s features to be clear so their students could see their facial expressions and verbal cues which are especially important for young children. Gilmore’s model features a large vacuum-molded plastic shield for facial visibility at various angles with fabric vents top and bottom for easy breathing.

Promoting health and safety in the future

The concepts presented by the students in the wearable environments studio were meant to be rapid responses to current COVID-19 needs, but their visions for better health in a multitude of settings offer insights that can extend far beyond. of the pandemic. From acknowledging that certain groups are frequently left behind by traditional design, to the meaning of play can call attention to serious health guidelines, their prototypes suggest solutions to current needs while anticipating future scenarios where improving personal protective equipment can contribute to greater safety for everything.

More student work from the Portable Environments Studio is available to view onlineincluding footage of the design process and audio of students discussing their work.

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