Cornelia Gruber & Elena Keller


Physical communication for people who are limited in their ability to speak. On the basis of knowing people who are suffering from Parkinson’s disease and gradually losing their ability to speak, we want to create a communication aid.

Parkinson is a neurodegenerative disease. It causes people to lose step by step activity, such as walking or speaking. Leading syntoms are muscular rigidity, slowed down movement, muscle shivering and posture instability. The disease is incurable. Once the patient reached to the 5th state, where he is no longer able to walk, therapies end.


1. communication

What is communication? Communication is not a synonyme for speech or words. It is the color of clothes you chose, the meal you order, the movements you make and the mimes and gestures your doing.

Though the thoughts we communicate may be unseizable, communication itself never is. It is always concrete and manifest. It means forming words in your vocal chords or tipping in your laptop.  Pressing the button to take a picture or using a pen to draw. Pointing in a direction, smiling or having question tags all over your face. You can just say: The very basis of every communication are motor skills.

What does it mean to lose all dimensions of communication – oral functions same as body language? Which kind of communication would we like to help provide for those people?



2. experiments

To get a deeper understanding of what it’s like not to be able to speak and to find out how we might communicate instead, we did an experiment: We spent 40 minutes to experience everyday things together without speaking.

— permanent misunderstandings: Conny tried to tell me that she likes collecting driftwood; what I understood instead was that she’d like me to pick and throw the wood into the river.

— other people don’t know how to deal with the situation: When seeing me gesturing, the iceman was first irritated, than switched into english.

— strong need to speak out loud
— feeling invincible walls between each other
— no meaningful conversation


How do we communicate without speaking, but with the aid of scripture? In this experiment we exchanged 99 words within 33 minutes – the conversation spoken out loud afterwords took one minute!

— it takes a lot of time: searching for the right letter, picking it and placing it is highly complex!

— banal conversations: during the experiment, it feels like it was a deep conversation; afterwords you realize: It wasn’t at all.

— you start helping each other completing words
— you do not need grammar, punctuation marks,…

3. motor skills

motorik_3_ motorik_2_

To understand and measure the capacities of people in different states of the disease, we explored motor functions of arms and hands.

We will visit two PD patients to live through one day to identify problems and needs in their daily life. There are three main topics we want to explore together with the PD patients as a basis for reasonable product develepment.

— movement spaces
— physical effort
— dexterity




  1. Let’s not just reduce the design task to the design of an input object! You basically want to design a form of communication. This includes first and foremost the communication process. Who communicates with whom about what, when, why and how? What objects are involved? This input device seems to be connected to some screen device isn’t it? What can we see on that screen? How are these objects integrated in a meaningful (or playful) communication?

  2. Thank you for the comment! yes, you are right…. we went a little bit astray. One main point for us is to make an communication aid with different communication levels, such as humor, familiarity, mood, …

    1. Conny I would be interested personally in your process of creating this shape nevertheless. How did you come up with this exact shape?

  3. I wouldn’t say that you went astray. You explored one important aspect: the physical interface. And this object might remain the central part. I just want to point out that the context – the whole communication process – is vital for its function.

  4. I think Ralph suggested the game factor! maybe you can explore a game that makes These People Train their ability to move Hands and fingers! I really love the aspect of sharing an experience while doing this (maybe also via Internet when relatives cant be with them in Person) cause the main Problem i think is that you cant hold a conversation or dont know what to do.
    when i visited my grandpa that was already suffering from dementia and a form of Parkinson, i never knew what to talk about and how (he could barely hear) and what to do (he used to Play chess but at a certain Point that was to hard to manage).
    I think a big Problem why People disconnect to their affected loved ones is this reason, they feel uncomfortable while being with them but not able to really spend the time with them. It doesnt have to be a complicated game but there has to be a motivation behind it i think!

    1. I could imagine that is because people start to act different from our usual behaviour. Maybe they start “talking” a diffeeren (body)language.
      A game could bridge the barrier that is building up, maybe this is a way that helps us communicating with them… I think giving them the ability to communicate conciously, without the circumstances of a game situation, would help them better.

      Maybe you can think of a certain situation when the interaction takes place.

  5. I agree with Daniel ! I think a game can help us to communicate with them. And with a game it get’s easier because it’s “just” a game. The gap might be smaller and smaller with it. Do you want the people to communicate with their families? Maybe this is one point who would be interesting for you.

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