post by Serena Midha (2017 cohort)
As someone whose journey so far has been straight through education, from school to BSc to MSc and PhD, exposure to life outside of the education bubble has been fairly limited. So, for the internship, I was keen to work in industry!
With the arrival of the pandemic in my third year, there was a fair amount of concern that the opportunity for an internship was sparse. Around the time when I was starting to mildly panic, there was an advertisement for a virtual internship as a UX/UI Designer. The company was a start-up called Footfalls and Heartbeats and they had developed a technology that meant that knitted yarns could act as physiological sensors. The internship was focussed on one product which was a knee sleeve designed to provide physiological feedback to physiotherapists and athletes during training. The product was still under development, but the prototype looked just like a soft knee brace which weightlifters wear and the data it could measure included the range of motion of the knee and a squat repetition counter; the product had potential to measure velocity but that was an aim for further in the future.
The description seemed tailored to my idea of an ideal internship! It was related to my PhD as my research involves investigating effective ways of conveying brain data to users, and the internship project investigated ways of conveying the physiological data from the knee sleeve to users. The description of the project also suited my interests in sport (and weirdly knees and sewing). I applied and was lucky enough to be accepted. The application process had a few stages. The first stage was the submission of a CV and personal statement. After that, I got asked to do a practical task which involved a UX task of evaluating where I would input a certain aspect of the knee sleeve connection within the app, and a UI task of making high fidelity wireframes on Figma (a design software) based on low fidelity wireframes that were provided. The task had a 5-day deadline and I had no UI experience. To be honest, I had never heard of Figma (or high fidelity wireframes or basically anything to do with UI), so I basically spent all 5 days watching YouTube videos and doing a lot of learning! An interview with a director and data scientist/interface designer followed the practical task and they liked my design (somehow I forgot to tell them that I had only just learned what Figma was)!
There were two of us doing the internship; I was supposed to be designing the desktop app and the other person was to design the mobile and tablet app. We were supervised by the data scientist who interviewed me and he was a talented designer which meant he often took on design roles in the company. He wanted to create an office-like atmosphere even though we were working remotely so the three of us remained on a voice call all day (muted) and piped up when we wanted to discuss anything.
With the product still very much under development and its direction ever-changing, our project changed during every weekly team meeting for the first 4 or 5 weeks. I think this was because the company wasn’t really sure where the product was going and thus they would ask us to do something, like display a certain type of data, only for us to find out the next week that the product couldn’t measure that type of data. The product was supposed to be a business to consumer product and thus we started designing a detailed app fit for end users, but the company’s crowdfunding was unsuccessful so they changed direction to create a business to business product. This meant that our project changed to designing a tablet demo app which showcased what the product could do. They definitely didn’t need two internship people for this project but we made it work!
The most stand-out thing to me about the whole internship was the lack of market research within the team – I don’t think there was any! The product was designed for professional athletes and physiotherapists, yet I really couldn’t see how the two main sources of data it could measure would be useful for either party. I was pretty sure athletes wouldn’t want an app to count their reps when they could do it in their heads and I was pretty sure that physios were happy measuring range of motion with a plastic goniometer (and patients with swollen knees wouldn’t be able to fit on the knee sleeve). I raised these points and the company asked me to speak to my personal physio and his feedback was that he would have no use for the knee sleeve; however, the company decided to carry on with these functions as the main focus of the knee sleeve measurements and I think this was because measuring this data was most achievable in the short term. The whole thing was proper baffling!
However, by the end of the internship we had produced a really nice demo app. I had learned a lot about design in terms of how to design a whole app! We generally started with sketches of designs which then were digitised into low fidelity wireframes and then developed into the high fidelity end version. I also learned about some really helpful tools that designers use such as font identifies and colour pallet finders. We produced a design document which communicated in detail our designs to the engineers who were going to make the app. And I had a very valuable insight into a start-up company which was chaotic yet friendly.
My supervisor on the project was great to work with. He made sure we got the most out of the internship and had fun whilst doing it, and he created a very safe space between the three of us. The company had a very inclusive and supportive atmosphere and they made us feel like part of the team. I think the product has a lot of potential but needs developing further which would mean a later release date. I’m most looking forward to seeing what happens with the knitted technology sensors as they can have many potential applications such as in furniture or shoes.