Goal: Researching Parkinson’s Disease and leading a team in designing and building an integrated system

A class of ~35 people worked as a group to design and build a tool for helping people with Parkinson’s Disease, with that group split into several more focused teams. As a member of the Interactions Team, I worked to conduct research, define the project scope, and assist in designs.

More specifically, as a Co-Research Lead and Product Manager, I scheduled, designed, and conducted interviews with clients, distilled findings into scenarios and requirements, and met with other subteams to ensure that they upheld those requirements.

affinity diagram

Understanding Parkinson’s: Secondary Research, Semi-structured Interviews, Affinity Diagramming

As a foundation for understanding Parkinson’s Disease, my team and I reviewed existing literature on the disease from a variety of sources, including academic articles, websites for caregivers and patients, and documentaries. In particular, I took ownership of viewing documentaries and first-hand accounts of people with Parkinson’s and communicating my insights to my team.

I then led the team in client interviews. Though all client contact had to be made through our professor, I scheduled the calls such that I would be able to attend the majority of interviews. To prepare for these interviews, I wrote semi-structured interview guides for each of the clients. In this first round of interviews, we had 8 calls in which we spoke with 2 people with Parkinson’s, 1 caregiver, 1 neurologist, and 1 general practitioner.

With my research co-lead, I introduced the Interactions Team to affinity diagramming and guided the team through three synthesis sessions. Though my teammates came from a variety of different backgrounds, everyone was able to get the hang of synthesis fairly quickly.

Defining the Scope: Scenarios and Functional Requirements

Through synthesis, my team and I identified the primary needs of our stakeholders. I then led the team in defining 30 functional requirements for our system to best meet those needs. The goal of this was to provide each team with expectations for what they should deliver by the end of the project.

Next, I led the team in writing baseline and visionary scenarios. With a baseline scenario, we hoped to express the primary pain points faced by each of our stakeholders in their current situations, such that the rest of the class and any third parties interested in the project could empathize with the needs of our clients. With a visionary scenario, we aimed to present our vision for the ways in which our proposed system could improve the lives of our clients. Everyone on the interactions team drafted sections of the scenarios, and I consolidated and revised these drafts into cohesive stories.

project management

Product Management: Sticking to the Scope

With the brunt of background and generative research complete, I shifted into a Product Management role. In this role, my goal was to ensure that all teams followed the direction that the Interaction Team had set. This involved ample communication between myself and members of other teams -- I became one of the most active members on our communication platforms.

Of note, I served as the primary point of contact between the Interactions Team and the Data Visualizations Team, and I facilitated communication between these two teams and all other teams in the project. This was necessary because the Data Visualizations team relied on data provided by all other teams to create and display visualizations. Thus, I outlined the data that should be displayed and how that data could be displayed. To make sure that teams met these requirements despite rapidly changing and evolving subsystems, I had to maintain constant contact with other teams through meetings, e-mails, Slack messages, and social media posts.

Evaluative Research: Designing the Thing Right

After the first stages of research, we continued research meant to guarantee that our solution would be as helpful as possible. We reviewed the needs we had found with our two medical professional clients. I also presented different versions of symptom questionnaires to our clients to determine their comfort levels with each. This allowed us to include the most easy-to-understand version in our final system. In a similar way, I assessed our clients’ preferences in data visualization types to ensure that our graphs would be accessible to medical professionals, people with Parkinson's, and their caregivers.

Result: An Integrated System

At the end of the semester, the class had designed and built all elements of Plume, a system for assisting people with Parkinson’s disease, their caregivers, and doctors. The system includes wearables for detecting blood pressure and motion abnormalities, games for assessing cognitive function and improving motor function, voice assistants for detecting mood, dashboards for displaying this data to patients, caregivers, and physicians, and the hardware to make this all possible.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 and the necessity for remote work prevented the total integration of these systems, but they were all designed and built such that integration is possible.


I am certainly proud of what my team and I accomplished. This project allowed me to take much more initiative and ownership than many others. There were some obstacles, of course. The structure of the class shaped the direction of the project in that, in order to give everyone in the class something to do, we needed to design a system that addressed all major issues faced by our stakeholders, rather than focusing on understanding and addressing one issue comprehensively. Even so, I am satisfied with the work that we did and the tangibility of our deliverables!