Donovan Morrison, Matthew Wilcox, and Wesley Youman

Donovan Morrison, Matthew Wilcox, and Wesley Youman

In a sleek downtown Chicago office, three Northwestern students anxiously looked down an endless conference table to a panel of established design innovators.

It was the day of the big pitch. After nearly a year and a half of brainstorming, prototyping, and building and testing the product, the team of Donovan Morrison, Matthew Wilcox, and Wesley Youman was set to unveil Luna Lights.

The automated lighting system was envisioned as a way to safely guide older adults at night from their beds to other destinations. After rigorous research at a DFA six-week summer studio program, the team found that most elderly people injured themselves at home in the dark.

Back in the conference room, the three students proposed the Luna Lights solution to decrease the number of these incidents. Colorful PowerPoint slides condensed months of work into a digestible product and filled the space with a warm glow.

Youman, a 20-year-old civil engineering major, said the pitch went well because the team did a great amount of user testing, research, and reworking of the initial concept. All three members had their own slice of work in preparation for the day of the pitch. She said each contributed to the prototype, design, business model, and formulating of the presentation.

The team’s community partner, Mather Lifeways, assisted the students in understanding the problem of older adult falls. The user testing that Youman spoke of was key to the project. They realized their lighting solution needed to fulfill the two main things for the elderly.

One, the product had to foster a sense of independence despite it being an assisted living tool. No older adult wanted to feel as if he or she was unable to be self-sufficient. Secondly, Luna Lights needed to offer caregivers and emergency personnel a way to identify when an adult had fallen. Hence, the light’s software includes a tool that sends notifications if an older person has not returned to his or her bed for an extended period of time.

Besides user testing, the team also utilized the vast resources and knowledge of their mentor, Northwestern Alumni Billy Banks.

Youman noted that without the local businessman’s help, the pitch probably wouldn’t have even happened. Banks assisted them in reaching out to other members of the design and investment capital industry. Three of the community representatives they contacted were the attendees of the pitch.

“[Banks] really helped us with our business model and connecting us to people of interest,” Youman said.

The junior said the process was enlightening. The team quickly understood that a pitch is not at all the same thing as a school project presentation.

“You have to get people in the industry excited about what you’re doing and… willing to invest,” she added.

Evidently, while the three students stood solitary the day of the pitch, they certainly couldn’t have completed the prototype without a brigade of support. The Luna Lights team had to work with its mentor to fine tune the final concept and face the real-world dilemma of making investors passionate about the product. Unquestionably, the team’s collaboration with Mather Lifeways was also key to uncovering the needs of the elderly and finding the optimal design.

Now for the next step: what’s in store for Luna Lights? With plans solidifying as we speak, hopefully the team can soon shed some light on that question.

By: Kendra Mayer, DFA Media Intern