Interview with designer GIZEM ONCU (GO), regarding views on design, and for the award-winning design Vitalink Smart Glove.

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Interview with GIZEM ONCU at Wednesday 20th of April 2016: DI: What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
GO : Since worker safety should always come first, mine conditions should not only be checked through environment sensors as in existing techniques. As a wearable smart device, VitaLink hopes to address to communicate problems in cases of emergency such as a decrease in oxygen level of blood, dramatic changes of pulse value and inactivity of miner. Also via VitaLink, it is aimed that every miner can send an emergency call directly to operator, and with the data obtained, operator can define the location of miner in order to send rescue.

DI: What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
GO : In the first place, I want to achive to increase awareness among society about hard working conditions in mines. Also, I believe that the health conditions of miners should be considered more important.

DI: What are your future plans for this award winning design?
GO : I hope to bring into action this project because due to the mine accidents, world obliged to face dramatic results regarding human lives. Since worker safety should always come first, mine conditions should not only be checked through environment sensors as in existing techniques.

DI: How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
GO : It was my graduation project which lasts 5 months. it started in January 2015 in Ankara, Turkey and finished in June 2015, and was exhibited in The Culture and Convention Center of Middle East Technical University in June 2015.

DI: Why did you design this particular concept? Was this design commissioned or did you decide to pursuit an inspiration?
GO : When I examine the control systems and measuring devices used, I have noticed that ensuring the safety of workers and the control of health conditions of miner are inadequacy in coal mines. In terms of the potential disaster and emergency scenarios, I have concluded that not enough information such as the number of miners inside and the location of them is available. I thought a product in order to bring solutions to all these problems should be designed.

DI: Is your design being produced or used by another company, or do you plan to sell or lease the production rights or do you intent to produce your work yourself?
GO : My design is not being produced or used by another company. I plan to lease the production rights.

DI: What made you design this particular type of work?
GO : I designed this particular type of work because I wanted to deaign a product for real world problems. In addtion, day by day technology is included in our lives so I would like to use the positive impact of technology on one of the important issue. Especially after so many mine disesters happened around the world I felt very sorry about miner, and as a designer I wanted to draw attentions to this topic.

DI: Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
GO : This is my graduation project. Therefore, during my design process I got so many critics from my professors.

DI: Who is the target customer for his design?
GO : The focus group includes coal miners who are face workers, overseers, technicians, engineers, rescue crew members and miner operators. They are working in extreme conditions such as 6-8 hours shift in health-endangering environment with insufficient warning systems. High humidity, narrow, dark and slippery working paths are the problematic facts about environment, which creates health problems for workers, and paves the way for mine accidents. Since the equipments are heavy and not properly fit to each miner, they limit the movement ability inside the coal mine.

DI: What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
GO : There is no other design like as Vitalink. Vitalink is the only smart glove design for coal miners. . The most innovative point is, instead of making general measurements over the environmental requirements, Vitalink is a mobile smart device which provides overall system control by transferring private health information collected for each of employees, which gives advantage to quick response. During project, several mock-ups were made to refine the concept; also, these mock-ups were tested with the target users in terms of ergonomics and user interface. One of the main target was to create a user interface which is easy to understand and to use because the target group includes people from a wide education range. Another important question was how should the feedback notifications be? Visual? Audible? The main aspect about mine environment is darkness. It is dark, wet and sounds get blurry because of echo. Therefore, illuminated visual indicators are used instead of audio ones; in addition vibration is used to warning. As materials, cast silicone membrane is used for electronic parts, which provides flexibility, and thanks to casting, all electronic components stays together as one piece, which provides convenience for production and assembly. As multidisciplinary approach, it can be said that Vitalink is designed with the technical consultancy of one of the world's leading technology providers firm in terms of mobile tracking systems.

DI: How did you come up with the name for this design? What does it mean?
GO : You can read the name in several ways such as Vita-link, Vital-ink. The design is all about to provide communication between the coal miner and the operator of mine in cases of emergency. So, the logic behind the name is to care coal miners and to link them to relevants.

DI: Which design tools did you use when you were working on this project?
GO : I followed the methods for the realization of the project idea, which are making the problem definition, monitoring closely the field research and user groups, determining of the useful ideas in the first place, to decide the constraints, objectives and directives. Secondly, according to the constraints, objectives and directives of the project it was essential to finalize the ideas. In the final stage, the various software programs (Rhinoceros, Keyshot) were used to obtain three-dimensional images of the product and product parts, and to create possible usage scenario. 1/1 scale prototype was made with original materials. During the project period, the first time I have met with my user group was the beginning of user research period. To observe closely, I visited the coal mine which is called “Üzülmez İşletmesi” in Zonguldak, Turkey. -300 meters deep, I spent whole day with coal miners, which was the most important moment for me and for my project; because I had chance to make interviews with different working groups which work in different working conditions. When I started to work on my mock-ups, I regularly tested my mock-ups with user group to see problems and to improve.

DI: What is the most unique aspect of your design?
GO : It is smart, wearable and unique.

DI: Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
GO : Since Vitalink is my graduation project, I spent full-time effort to design it in 6 months period. Therefore, time to time I took some technical support from several people with specialized skills. For example, after I came up with my design proposal, I started to arrange some meet-ups with coal miners. With this arrangements, I worked with "Türkiye Taş Kömürü Kurumu" which is Coal Institution of Turkey. In addition, Arvento, which is is the one of the top leading fleet telematics companies offering wide range of technology products and solutions worldwide, helped we while I was researching new technologies.

DI: What is the role of technology in this particular design?
GO : The role of technology is great in design of Vitalink. I got inspired of so many new technologies and I tried to use them to improve and to integrate my design.

DI: Is your design influenced by data or analytical research in any way? What kind of research did you conduct for making this design?
GO : I started with field research to design process by visiting a coal mine where is in Zonguldak in Turkey. During the field research I find a chance to make user research and several interviews with miners and employers of different organizations.

DI: What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
GO : First of all, it was really unique experience to me to design a product for coal miners. During my field research, user research and my interviews with coal miners, I had to understand better daily work routine of workers, so first thing that I did was going into one of the coal mine which has 300m deep chanels with coal miners to observe them and their routines. In this period of project, one of main challange was limitation of movement area inside the coal mine, which encouraged me to study more about hand gestures of workers. The other important challange was total weight and number of equipments that they have to carry. According to my own field experiences and worker's feedbacks, I decided to design a product which they have already had to carry; however, that product should be innovative in terms of bringing solutions for communication, and should be easy to use for every coal miners without any exceptions.

DI: How did you decide to submit your design to an international design competition?
GO : I believe that worker safety is global and one of the real world problem, so each of person on ground should take care of these kind of issues. When I finalized my project I felt responsible to anounce it to public via an internationally influential platform which is A' Design Award and Competiton.

DI: What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
GO : To design Vitalink it was essential to build whole design process as user centered; therefore, I needed to improve my user research and user experience design methods and techniques. I learnt so much about new technologies and new materials, which I can use in this design process.

DI: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
GO : Vitalink is supported under the “Support Programme for Industry Oriented Undergraduate Thesis” by TUBITAK (Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey)