Senior Thesis: Walking Crutches

Hey guys,

I am currently working on my senior thesis–concentrating on designing walking crutches for children ages 6-9 years old. I’m a big advocate of the type of criticism students receive on Core and it’s a great way for us to document our process, so here it goes. Also, any feedback or criticism is always welcomed!

So far I have developed my initial problem statement and design criteria (which I have listed below). Keep in mind that this will be constantly evolving as I move forward with the project. Currently, I am conducting research to get a better understanding of the types of issues and problems that are experienced while using crutches. I will post my progress soon.

Problem Statement
Design walking crutches for children aged 6 to 9 years old that help alleviate the social stigma associated with walking disabilities by maximizing style, comfort, and most importantly, functionality.

User Criteria
This user group consists of children, both male and female, who’s ages range from 6 to 9 years old. At this stage in life, children are very concerned with peer approval and place a high priority on “fitting in”. Children at this age also place emphasis on succeeding in physical ways. Any type of disability that hampers their physical appearance and/or ability to perform physical activities may be detrimental to their self-esteem.

Physical Criteria
The walking crutches must be designed, ergonomically correct, around the body’s shape and size of the user group. Since different ages are being taken into consideration, a reasonable amount of adjustment should be included into the design to accommodate for different heights and arm lengths. The design and use of materials should be durable, sturdy, and somewhat flexible (comfortable) to support the user’s body weight and movement in a natural way. Due to the limitation of strength within this user group, the design should be lightweight, easy to handle while walking, and easy to pick up. The crutch to surface contact point must be durable and stable under different types of conditions (dry, wet, etc.)

Communication Criteria
The overall design of the walking crutches should be simple and intuitive, with a focus on the adjustability and maneuverability of the crutches by the user. This can be represented through a visual language that is easy for the user group to relate to and understand.

Aesthetics Criteria
Walking crutches typically look like some type of inexpensive medical equipment that only brings more attention to a person’s disability—this is what this redesign must avoid. The design needs to convey a sense of style that not only blends in with the users own aesthetic, but the aesthetic of his or her surroundings. The design should appear confident—creating a sense of comfort within the user.

Cost Criteria
The cost of the crutches should be a reasonable price ($80-100) due to the fact that they will only be used temporarily.

how often can someone throw away $80-100? Be very careful about price points. There is much involved in pricing strategy, as some medical devices are covered under insurances and some aren’t. What if the individual doesn’t have insurance? many of these people can’t afford crutches. Outside of the functionality, you have to investigate how current crutch systems, ie. wheelchairs, splints and all that sort, flow economically into the health care system. This will build a stronger back story for your reasoning behind your design decisions and how the user can end up “acquiring” your design.

I also suggest you go to a pediatric ward and see how kids in your age interact with existing crutches. Have them design their aesthetic. It will be much more appealing and more user-driven design. Plus it’s a great morale builder for them.

Great concept otherwise. Your next post should have a supporting images with plenty of sketch development. Good luck.

Sounds like an interesting and pretty well thought out project. Only thing I didn’t read in your brief was if this was for a temporary type solution (ie. kid broke his leg) or more permanent (ie. kid has some disability that he will need the crutches for an indefinite length of time).

This I think is key. It has affect on who pays for them (ie. hospital vs. personal or HMO), how long they should last, how personal they should be, how adaptable they should be (ie. grow with the kid, or return to hospital), etc.

Also would be good to further define the market. I’m assuming you are talking about US health system, but perhaps clarification might help. For example a private health care system like the US might be different than public like Canada or much of Europe in terms of supply, costs, distribution, etc.


Also would be good to further define the market. I’m assuming you are talking about US health system, but perhaps clarification might help. For example a private health care system like the US might be different than public like Canada or much of Europe in terms of supply, costs, distribution, etc.

That’s a good point, because other countries may even foot the bill for further R&D, which could lead to a broader design program in different “crutch” categories…

@ masood

Great point about examining how assistive products like crutches, wheelchairs, etc. flow into the health care system from an economic view point. I will be interviewing a pediatric physical therapists this weekend, which should help answer some of those questions. Same with the price point. I took a look at what current pediatric crutches cost and it ranges from roughly $60-180. So, I split the difference, but I plan to learn more about this from my interview.

I would love to get into a pediatric ward, but we’ll see. It seems pretty hard to gain access as I am finding out.

@ R

Under my cost criteria I mentioned that they would be designed for temporary use (probably should have mentioned that in my user criteria as well :wink: ), which will obviously greatly affect how expensive and personal they will be. I am a little unsure if I should concentrate on a user who has a permanent disability or a temporary disability/injury–I plan to touch on this during my interview with the physical therapist. I’m sure she will give me a lot of great insights in this regard. But, there are some major design opportunities with the current walking crutch that can easily apply to both markets, so I’m not too concerned about changing from temporary to permanent a little into concept development if need be.

Thanks for the feedback guys!


Think a little more about the life cycle of your crutch. Temporary or long term, it will help if you design some modularity for reuse. Recycling is easy, but an easy out as well. This way, you don’t have to classify it as a temporary or permanent. Also, cultures in other countries have a far different views on temporary. One day it’s a crutch, the next day it will be a bike frame.

Glad to see your going to get some physical therapy interviews. Don’t forget to visit those inner-city clinics where there isn’t any money for those kid-crutches…maybe with yours, there maybe…looking forward to your progress.

Looks like you a have solid start. When I had to use crutches the problems I ran into where:

  1. Comfort- looks like this guy has been working on that

  2. Storage-When I would sit down in class there was no good place to put them. Kids would kick and trip over them while walking down the aisle. Clumsy getting in out of the car too.

  3. Stairs- Climbing stairs with crutches SUCKS. I never found a good and safe way of doing it besides hopping on one leg which got very tiring. When using the crutches to assist me in climbing stairs I fell forward once (up the stairs luckily) and almost fell backward!

One other thing that comes to mind is a kid that age has a high likely hood of riding the bus. I could see the skinny aisle being very difficult.

@ Nage

Thanks for the insights! I haven’t seen those crutches yet…looks like I have some similar ideas when it comes to comfort…

Crutch Foot
I have been looking at natural foot strides and wanted to mimic it with the foot of the crutch…

Or created a foot that helps dampen the blow when it makes contact…

Armpit Pad
I have been ideating on some type of skeletal system for the pad that allows it to conform to many different shapes and sizes, as well as, provide some movement and flex…

All these process threads popping up… great!

You need some context / people in those sketches… I have no idea what those are or how users interact with them.

Nice project. I look forward to seeing more of your ideas.

A couple a quick things. First, a lot of temporary crutches are rented and not purchased. You should look into that market and its needs. I would be interested to know how big is the rental market compared to the purchased market.

Also, the reason why it is difficult to observe kids, or anyone for that matter, is a law called HIPAA. You stand about zero chance to get into a private hospital. You do stand an excellent chance of getting into a teaching hospital, one that has medical students roaming the halls. These hospitals are very open to teaching students other than medical students, at least in my experience.

Finally, you need to prototype quickly. I see your sketches have some interesting ideas about flex and material properties. They look good on paper. Realistically, they cannot be evaluated without actual use. Getting materials and forms to function the way you want them to is 99% of the work, paper doesn’t cut it.

Finally, you need to prototype quickly. I see your sketches have some interesting ideas about flex and material properties. They look good on paper. Realistically, they cannot be evaluated without actual use. Getting materials and forms to function the way you want them to is 99% of the work, paper doesn’t cut it.

…I agree with iab. You need to build something very quickly. Perhaps this weekend spend a day in the shop and flesh out some real functioning units. You can then take them to your interviews for immediate feedback.

Tarn is right. Add more people into your ideation sketches. This is a very strong human factors project, so you need to present that upfront - A lot!

One other thing that comes to mind is a kid that age has a high likely hood of riding the bus. I could see the skinny aisle being very difficult.

@ nagelkirk, Excellent insights!

Looks like you have a solid start.

I agree with the other comments about initial research, I think a lot of your exploration is going to be done through observation, interviews, and mockups. Materials (with medical standards) and Human factors are going to be two huge drivers which will provide you with some concrete guidelines.

Also, for your user group of 6-9 I think the parents are going to play a crucial role/ are even a secondary user group. I would put a lot of time interviewing parents as well as kids to help you with your decisions, in the end they are going to have quite a bit of say in what type of medical gear their kids use.

Interesting ideas with the sketches, but I would focus much more on the research, observation, and market analysis first, then go to mockups and user testing.

Thanks for all the interest and feedback guys!

I really like the idea of designing these crutches for rental purposes rather than purchasing (will have to discuss that with the physical therapists). It would help lengthen the lifespan of the crutch and most likely cut down on cost for the end user.

It may be interesting to incorporate some customization aspect in the design as well. For example, you break your leg, go to the doctors, and pick out what color arm pad you want, hand grip, etc. It would bring a level of personalization to a product that the user will constantly be in contact with (and get to know pretty well :wink: ).

Also, the current adjustments on crutches are pretty bad. It would be nice to get them adjusted at the doctor’s office with pre-set length parts that create a non-adjustable crutch in the end that is “designed” just for you. Maybe this could create a more enjoyable/personal experience for the user, while straying away from the connotation of “one model fits all.”

About accessing my user group–yes, it’s been pretty difficult. I am in contact with an associate professor of pediatrics at a children’s hospital located about 45 minutes from me. I really hope that doesn’t fall through–we’ll see.

Prototyping–fully agree with you and I can’t wait to get some solid feedback from those.

@ M3rik…
The reason I started sketching was to help get my initial ideas on paper so I can move on. Now I am in the research process, which I will get more into on my next post!

@ nagelkirk…
Totally–that is going to be a huge issue for my user group. Not to mention getting in between desks, crowded hallways, in & out of cars, and up & down stairs. Right now I am conducting some observational research with some classmates performing these certain tasks.

@ tarng…
Agreed–I just wanted to get some quick initial ideas I had about some specific details on paper.

Thanks again guys!

Here’s an update on how my research has been going…

Lately I have been asking fellow classmates to wear a full leg cast and use walking crutches to perform certain types of tasks that a 6-9 year old would experience on a daily basis. These tasks include:

  1. Locating their crutches & sitting up from a chair
  2. Picking a backpack up off the ground
  3. Walking with the backpack on
  4. Placing the backpack from their body to the ground
  5. Walking up a set of stairs
  6. Opening a door
  7. Using a water fountain
  8. Walking down a set of stairs
  9. Laying down & getting up from a couch (simulate getting in & out of bed)
  10. Sitting down in a chair

They perform these tasks in order as listed above while I record their process with a flip video camera. Once they have completed all the tasks, they are given a survey where they mark on a human body illustration where they experience the most discomfort during each task.

So far I have gained some valuable insights and have taken screen shots from the videos so that I can make annotations of certain observations.

I plan on comparing these results with the information that I gain from the my pediatric physical therapist interviews. Also, I am working on getting a few opportunities to observe and possibly interview my user group–it’s been difficult though.

Laying Down & Sitting up from Couch
Sorry for the weird text in the images by the way. It’s filler text for right now (these images are from my in process thesis book).

I found it interesting different people held the crutches in different areas to assist themselves to get down/up. There were even moments of pause where the user would examine the crutch to see how he should hold it. Also, the crutches were very unstable as people applied weight on them to get up.

The crutches need a way to be connected together for storage when not in use or when used with one hand. Some of the pictures show how they can easily become hard to manage with one hand or when laying down.

Picking Up, Walking With, & Placing Down a Backpack

When picking up or placing the backpack down the user experienced a loss of balance and had to hold both crutches with one hand. Once one strap was taken off, the user had to switch crutches from one hand to the other to take off the other strap. This also created a moment of instability.

When walking with the crutches, the user experienced discomfort from the strap pinching into their armpit. This was caused by the user applying weight on the armpad.

Using a Water Fountain

Again, I noticed an opportunity for the crutches to be designed to clip together in some fashion that allows them to be managed easier with one hand. This design could also “assemble” the crutches in a stance that makes them more stable when placed against a wall.

Walking Up & Down Stairs

Sitting Up & Down from Chair

Good to see you are researching. Quick (hopefully obvious) point however-

Testing on full sized adults is less than ideal. Adults have different body proportions and more importantly much more developed upper body strength. You need to use real kids, or change your target market. Doing the majority of research on adults will really skew your results and I think be an obvious negative in a portfolio piece.


@ R

I agree and this has been one of my main concerns. I am actively pursuing potential opportunities to observe my user group, but with no luck so far.

I was planning on taking the results from observing 20-23 year olds and applying those to my user group, while obviously taking into account the physical and proportional differences between the two. For example–if it requires noticeable upper body strength for a 20-23 year old to support himself/herself when sitting up then it will be a much larger burden on a 6-9 year old–making it an issue that must be addressed.

With prototypes–I was planning on scaling them to a full-sized adult for initial testing. Then after a few iterations scale it down for 6-9 year olds and have my professor’s son (who’s 6) test them out and give me some feedback.

What do others think of this approach? Obviously it would be ideal to only observe and test prototypes on my user group.

Honestly, doesn’t sound good to me. Can you just change the target to better fit the population you have access to? Given that this kind of project is very heavy on research, ergonomics and testing, I think it would really be a complete waste to do everything for adults, then just scale up in the end after making so many assumptions. It would be a huge red flag for me a a portfolio, like doing a project for the blind and just testing everything with a blindfold on normally sighted people (Unfortunately, I’ve actually seen that in a portfolio).

Just being honest. Hope you can find a solution. You don’t have any cousins or neighbor kids you can borrow?