Radial keyboard


Several years ago, I took part in a Speak Your Mind prototyping session at Brown University. The foundation tailors communication devices for patients who are "locked in," i.e. they are significantly paralyzed and can't speak. These users need interfaces that are operable via the small movement capabilities they have; usually that means eye or head movement. We improved the then-current version of Speak Your Mind's digital keyboard. Users wear eye-tracking glasses or a red dot placed on their forehead to interface with the keyboard.

Speak Your Mind exists because there is a shortage of appropriate communication devices for those who are paralyzed. The current market doesn't make device design profitable and existing devices are too expensive for most users. The foundation fills this gap by providing affordable communication devices designed especially for user comfort.

The pictures below are arranged in chronological order. This is an image of the existing interface that Speak Your Mind was using at the time of our meeting. They asked for an industrial designer's perspective, so I addressed possible user pain points and proposed a new keyboard arrangement.

After some mental jogging and dialogue between engineers and designers (see first picture below), it occurred to me that from a user's perspective, the original keyboard would be awkward to use because it would require diagonal and full radial head movement to access the alphabet. Diagonal and full-circle precise movements are more tiring and less natural than simple left to right movement, so I sketched out my idea for a friendlier left to right radial interface (the second picture below). The first image is the result of sketching with a group as part of a problem-solving discussion.

I suggested that a smaller cursor be used to promote higher user confidence in the accuracy of the interface. The existing cursor was a large red dot, and thus was difficult to clearly "aim" between buttons. In addition, rather than irregular buttons with varying border levels, I proposed a simpler, cleaner arrangement with either no borders, or with all buttons aligned.

Following are Speak Your Mind's digital interpretations of the interface arrangement I proposed (above), which worked much better for users. Over time, they refined and tested the structure, refining the components and style through testing and prototyping cycles.

I'm thrilled to have contributed my own mind and way of thinking - to help others to speak their minds! These innovations truly make a difference for those who are paralyzed or otherwise unable to function as many of us do. Design really can make the world a better place.