This project was done through a course on human-centered design methods ME292C @ UC Berkeley. It began as an idea for a quick sewing alternative, but quickly through the phases of user research, interaction, and testing - it became clear to me that what people need may be different from what is expected. Throughout this project, there was a great exploration in design and human psychology. I developed technical skills in project management, product design, and 3D rendering.
With an increase in return-to-office policies in the post-pandemic era, many working professionals are forced to change their dressing habits. However, the recent decline in the dry cleaning industry leaves a gap in the market for a portable apparel maintenance solution.
After analyzing the social trends, economic factors, and technological advancements, many iterations of product opportunity gaps (POGs) were explored to clarify a niche market potential idea. User research through interviews and ethnographic studies helped the project realize a focus on answering :
How might we create a portable solution for working professionals to iron clothing during their commute?
The human centered design approach to lead the project on a design journey that included:
conducting 1-on-1 unbiased interviews, surveying young tech-savvy working professionals, performing ethnographic studies on traditional and nuanced 'de-wrinkling' methods, and literation reviews to gain better understanding on the product space and user interaction
culminating the data from the user research phase to build personas and journey maps that will help contextualize issues and clarify spaces for innovation and meeting user needs
analyzing existing solution space to understand areas of value that the product can bring to users
defining features, attributes, and functionalities that the product must have to meet user needs and fit user behavior. For instance, using personas to identify that busy working mother will only use a heated product if it has safety features to protect their children, thus our product must have an emergency stop
Concept Generation Cycles
using diverging and converging techniques to increase volume, quality, and creativity of concepts. Brain mapping, LLMs, 5-3-5, reverse engineering, and crazy eights
designing, rendering, and iteratively testing rough cardboard models and refined product concepts to define final main attributes of a portable iron for young working professionals
The Stratus cloud ironing solution addresses the concerns of the young working professional entering the work force during the post-pandemic era of ‘return to office’ policy changes. With out the ability to rely on the dry cleaning industry and/or familiarity with traditional home solutions - people now can rely on a portable and light weight ironing solution for on-the-go use.
The name 'Stratus' refers to stratus clouds which help allude a sense of portability by associating with something “light-weight like clouds”. Hence, to align the design with the theology, the system was adjusted to a cloud shape which also assisted with ease-of-use through the indented grips.
This product is a two part system. One part has a heated surface which sits on the outer side of clothing and connects to the other, which sits on the inside of clothing when worn, with a set of magnets. This design takes inspiration from the method of washing fish tanks - by dragging a set of magnets carrying a heated element the product is able to iron clothing on the go.
The extra cloud part serves as a barrier between the heated parts and the body - alluding the safety features incorporated into the design. There is intended to be an LED that allows light to pass through the silicone shell alerting users when the machine is hot. The cloud shape is from its name “stratus” which refers to stratus clouds. The shape allows for ridges that complement the human grip and allow for greater ease of use which was determined to be an important product attribute in after user research and competitor analysis.
The final concept was validated through user testing on transit and in cars. The prototype scored highly in portability, safety, and ease-of-use, but users also expressed areas for improvement in:
Haptic Feedback: Users appreciated the emphasis on safety, however they felt that there could be redundant safety features to ensure a sense of safety. For instance, a red light in addition to a haptic feedback to let users know that the product is heated
Digital User Interface: the product concept was based on an analog on/off heating functionality, but users suggested having more tech-savvy features such as temperature control in a user interface would be more appropriate
Completing this project on the Stratus Portable Iron was an invaluable learning experience for me. As one of the first projects I have fully led from start to finish, it challenged me to hone my skills in envisioning, planning, collaborating, and executing.
A key takeaway was the importance of the initial project definition and opportunity gap identification. Taking the time upfront to carefully outline the user needs, problems, and potential solutions ensured we stayed aligned to a meaningful problem space with potential for innovation throughout the process. I also gained great appreciation for extensive user research; though tedious at times, it provided pivotal insights that shaped smarter, more empathetic design choices in our prototypes.
On a personal level, guiding team brainstorms and consensus building around design concepts enabled me to improve leadership abilities. The hands-on rapid prototyping also expanded my maker skills in working with various materials and building functional proof-of-concept models. And enhancing the final vision through detailed CAD, appearances, and an integrated heating circuit gave me greater admiration for the role of industrial design.
Moving forward, I am eager to apply the human-centered techniques and cross-disciplinary perspective I have developed through this project experience. Key areas of improvement include practicing more disciplined documentation throughout a project, and allotting greater timeliness for incorporating user feedback between refinements. I believe integrating these practices will enable me to develop innovations that deliver outstanding value to users. Overall, the human-centered methodology and holistic view of product creation I have gained provide an invaluable framework for impactful design.