Luna Lights is a project that started at the DFA Summer Studio 2013 at Northwestern University. It focuses on providing a way for older adults to safely and conveniently navigate through their homes at night and therefore prevent falling. Check out the intense process they went through to get to their concept!


How did you guys get started with the project?

Our initial challenge statement was “how can we prevent older adults from falling?” In the beginning of the project, we learned about why this issue was important to us and what the final product would be. It was great to know that we all had a genuine sense of respect for the older adults and were sincerely trying to solve this problem.

What was the process like? 

We started out by conducting a lot of research. All of our interviews were set on the first week, so we jumped right in! We went to the Clinical Biomechanics and Rehabilitation laboratory at UIC to learn more about the science behind falls — the biological, psychological, environmental reasons behind them. Then, we interviewed the staff and residents of our community partner, Mather Lifeways. We observed physical therapy facilities both inside the Mather and other PT facilities in the community to see how people recovered from their falls. The interviews with older adults were the most informative because we were able to interact with the potential users of our design in their various living environments.

We had to do a lot of synthesis to pull out insights from our research. We developed a “Life Cycle of a Fall” model to understand how the problem perpetuated itself. This helped us visualize our problem areas, and we decided to focus on shifting older adults from resisting change after a fall to making a more subtle habit change that did not force them to compromise their lifestyles. We generated a lot of insights from this model!

We found that many of the current aid tools have an “old” stigma. People absolutely hated using their canes and walkers for this reason despite needing them. Another important insight was that people were very afraid of the outdoors, yet many of their falls happened indoors. Many physical therapists said that the biggest change someone can make to prevent a fall is a change in their home environment.

At the UIC Lab, the researcher gave us a list of falling factors of the patients, and the top 3 indoor locations where people fell were bathrooms, bedrooms, and dark rooms. We started to interview more people about where they fell at home and noticed that many had problems at night when they got up to go to the bathroom. They would get up without turning on lights and stumble over objects they couldn’t see, or fall because they didn’t have a visual point of reference.

Our biggest struggle was narrowing down our area of impact. We initially had two areas we wanted to go into: physical therapy or home environment. We did a lot of research and brainstorming, and it took a lot of patience to get past this point when we felt like we were going nowhere after arguing for so long. Our design coach recommended that we analyze the pros and cons of each idea. After a grueling but fruitful process, we came to the conclusion that there were aspects of physical therapy that would not be accessible for us to change, and we found our direction in home environment.

Where do you hope to take the project from here?

We hope to have a working prototype by the end of the school year that we can use in summer testing. Currently we are focused on trying to figure out the exact technology behind the product, such as different ways to turn the lights on. Once we have a working system, we will focus on aesthetics and usability. We hope to test in institutions such as skilled nursing facilities and assisted living centers to determine if our distribution channel could extend into the health care system. Continuing a project requires hard work and dedication, but we really see the potential in our project and hope to see Luna Lights make it into the real world!