I am Daan Sonnemans, a creative at heart. I have finished a bachelor degree in Industrial Design Engineering and started a small visual storytelling company at the start of 2020. During my bachelor, I worked on many projects, varying from designing and making wooden furniture to developing new ways of manufacturing affordable leg prosthetics. Last semester, I finished my pre-master in Industrial Design at the TU/e, where I learned first-hand about writing and publishing a research paper.
Because I am a quick learner, I have developed a broad set of skills over the years. I can absolutely say I am a generalist rather than a specialist. I thrive in multidisciplinary projects where I often take the role of mediator. I get involved in every aspect of the development process, working with people from different backgrounds. I make an effort to learn their professional language to improve communication and workflow.
Apart from designing products, I love to compose and tell stories. I tell stories by producing short films and taking photographs. However, these stories are also represented by the products I design, both physical and virtual. For example, during my Bachelor graduation project, I developed a new method of manufacturing prosthetic parts that could be manufactured cheaply in Sierra Leone. This process tells a story of war and insufficient healthcare, resulting in many amputees. During my Minor program at the HAN University of Applied Sciences, I spent half a year living in Hanoi and working at The Friendship Village Vietnam. On this compound, physically and mentally disabled kids live and receive education and medical care. I used 2nd and 1st person perspective design methods, like Participatory Action Research (PAR) and co-creation, to help improve the standard of living at Friendship Village. I grew very fond of these inspiring individuals, especially a group of deaf kids, who remained happy and positive, no matter how poorly their circumstances were. During this period, I developed my drive for global development and interest for the sensory impaired and their perceiving of the world. During the first semester of the Master, I worked in the Vitality Squad on a haptic wearable that helps visually impaired people explore more. I learned a lot about visually impaired people and how they perceive the world differently from us. Currently, we are in the process of transforming our findings into an academic paper to share their story with the scientific community. Scroll down to find a deep dive into my competence profile.
During my internship at Joris de Groot, I worked with him on Project In4nite and developed the Weld Pillow. Project In4nite is a cooperation between the multinational Low&Bonar, which produce Colback®, and ten designers. Using techniques from the R&D department of Low&Bonar, we developed the 2000N Pressed Concept Shoe made out of tufted car upholstery. We presented the collection at the Dutch Design Week 2018 in Einhoven. During this internship, Joris taught me about entrepreneurship. How to work with different stakeholders and approach manufacturers to realise ideas. It taught me a new approach to design, Design from Manufacturing, starting with a material and manufacturing method and working towards a product.
In the 3rd year of my bachelor, I developed a Guiding Environment for the elderly with dementia that helps them maintain a healthy way of living as part of the Empatische Woning Living Lab. Our student team, consisting of six Design Engineers, two Embedded Systems Engineers and two Industrial Power Systems Engineers, worked on Buddy. As a small robot-help, backed by a system of sensors integrated into a user’s home, Buddy is always there to support the resident. I developed the robot 3D printing its casing and programming it using C++ and Arduino.
Buddy was the first long-term project I worked on with different disciplines, teaching me much about multidisciplinary cooperation. I cooperated directly with the electrical engineer getting to know their side of the project. We worked closely with the target users conducting interviews and user-testing lo-fi prototypes in cooperation with a care home. Touching on many expertise areas during this project, I mainly improved T&R, building a working robotic system.
During my Minor, Global Awareness, I lived in Hanoi for ﬁve months and worked at The Friendship Village. This compound houses about 100 kids with a variety of mental and physical disabilities caused by Agent Orange. My goal was to seek out something that needed improvement in which I could act as a catalyst. I worked closely with the teachers, housemothers and other volunteers. Using Participatory Action Research I developed a guide, to help newcomers do a better job working with the kids. We wrote signalling plans for every kid to hang in their classroom. I built several games with the kids, to play during the physical education class. I improved my expertise in User & Society greatly during this time. But most of all, I had a blast hanging out with these amazing kids, playing, cooking, teaching them English and learning Vietnamese sign language. This trip showed me the world of global development, and how it needs large improvements. I fell in love with exploring new cultures and working together with people who need a push in the right direction. That is why as a designer I aspire to work globally on sustainable solutions to social issues within lesser developed countries.
Verbind is a project I worked on during the last semester of my bachelor. While I was starting my graduation internship, I felt like I hadn’t done an artisanal project during my education. That is why I chose to dive into the craft of wood joinery. I tasked myself with designing and making two pieces of furniture using wood and its material properties.
In my parents shed, I was able to ﬁnd all the tools necessary for making a stool and a chair. Woodworking without the proper tools like a table saw table was challenging. It took a lot of patience to make sure everything fitted well.
Because my interests in design do not stop at products, I wanted to involve graphic design, film and photography in the project. That is how I came to make a short film about connecting (verbind) my passions into one project. To conclude, I made a magazine about the results. Outside interest in this film started my career as a part-time filmmaker.
(Creativity & Aesthetics, Reflecting)
Research estimates that only 5 to 15% of people in low-income countries who need assistive technologies – such as external prosthetics – have access to them (Matter et al., 2016). During my graduation internship as part of 3D Sierra Leone, I conducted this research to develop possible alternatives to the relatively expensive lower leg prosthesis parts currently available in Sierra Leone.
The result of this project was a method of casting aluminium prosthetic parts in the sand. This project challenged and developed my professional skills immensely as I graduated from home in an international context. I needed to be proactive in contacting stakeholders all over the world. Creating organised planning kept me on track during working in isolation.
I constantly reflected on my work as no one worked closely with me on this project. It was a challenge, but it though me a lot about self-sustained design.
External Human-Machine interfaces (eHMIs) are typically proposed to facilitate explicit communication of vehicle intent to pedestrians. However, implicit communication through vehicle kinematics or movement patterns is shown to be the primary indicator of driving behaviour and intention in traffic, for both manually-driven and automated vehicles. Unfortunately, subtle changes in kinematics are often hard to perceive and make it difficult to comprehend a vehicle’s consequent intention. We created a novel eHMI concept by using fluid movements to highlight and exaggerate the movement of the vehicle and therefore emphasize this movement-based implicit communication.
This is part of the abstract to the work in progress paper I published together with my pre-master team. Writing this significantly improved my academic writing as well as my general knowledge of the scientific community. Presenting this during the AutomotiveUI 2021 conference made me want to publish a paper each semester, to rapidly improve my scientific research and writing.
(Design & Research Methods)
Matter, R., Harniss, M., Oderud, T., Borg, J., & Eide, A. H. (2016). Assistive technology in resource-limited environments: a scoping review. Disability and Rehabi-litation: Assistive Technology, 12(2), 105–114. https://doi.org/10.1080/17483107.2016.1188170
The time we live in is a unique one. The world around us is changing faster each day. When designing the world of tomorrow, we designers have a crucial role and should approach it responsibly. In 2015 the United Nations gave us a clear path of improvement by listing seventeen global goals for sustainable development (THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development, 2015). These can be classified into two main directions of development. The first is tending to the earth we live on. There is only so much time left if we don’t start caring for our planet. As Bio-Architect Neri Oxman beautifully states: “We should start to mother, nature.” (Dadich, 2019). The second path of development that is important is tending to the people that live on the earth. While we are collectively more wealthy than ever, there are still many people living in horrible circumstances. Causes include overpopulation, uneven distribution of food and other resources, insufficient medical care and lack of education. These are problems that need solving if we want to raise the standard of living globally. Especially the latter path needs more attention as this can directly impact the former. When living in poverty and lacking education, survival is more important than tending to the earth. By raising the standard of living in less developed countries, sustainability will ultimately be on the global agenda. I hope to raise the standard of living in lesser developed countries in the future. A large and often overlooked group of people living in poverty is people with disability and especially disabled children. Research shows that approximately one-third of the worlds disabled population is children (Cameron et al., 2005). I got to experience this first hand with the deaf kids I worked within Vietnam. Because of poor relatives, they have no chance to go to school where they would learn either Vietnamese or sign language, resulting in them not being well versed in either.
I imagine helping those kids is by direct co-operation with the communities. Using methods like Participatory Action Research, 2nd and 1st person design perspectives and Co-creation, meaning being a part of the community you work in rather than a “White Saviour” coming to fix their problems. I especially want to focus on children with sensory impairments as they are often competent enough to participate in society, and the way they cope with their disability intrigues me. Through design, I want to better their standard of living. I want to tell their story and inspire people to take action, using my passion for filmmaking.
How I want to improve my expertise areas during my Master (based on the M2 rubriks)
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I was supposed to graduate at Holst-centre working with Pauline van Dongen. Sadly due to Covid, Holst Centre decided not to take any more interns. After reading her book and looking more into her work, I got interested in wearable technology presented in a material-aesthetic way. One can also call this techno-fashion.
I worked in the Vitality squad on Sensation of Data this semester. The premise of the project was to turn dry data into sensations. I immediately seized the opportunity to steer this project towards wearable technology. That is where Nebula started. Exploring unfamiliar places is an exciting experience for most sighted people. However, for visually impaired and blind people, this experience is often more frustrating and mentally demanding than enjoyable. Nebula is an interactive belt that supports unfamiliar urban exploration for people with visual impairment by translating navigational data into haptic sensation. It allows users to explore places without constantly figuring out where they are going and where they come from. Nebula minimizes the fear of getting lost and relieves mental strain. Enjoy the exploration: Nebula always takes you home.
The main Expertise Area I improved on during M1.1 is User & Society. Throughout the development of Nebula, we worked closely together with target users as design for visual impairment is not something that comes naturally. We organised a focus group with seven visually impaired and blind people to grasp how they perceive the world. I used qualitative coding to analyse the data. A method that I hadn't used much before but proved to be necessary for analysing qualitative data. Deductive coding the provided data affords more insights than we would have gotten when just reading through the transcripts. These two methods are new assets in my skillset of user-centred design. We validated the concept through several user tests with sighted people and will be testing its user experience with a group of visually impaired people at the start of February.
By doing a focus group, the conversation broadens from a one-way conversation to a discussion amongst people in the target group with different ideas on topics. It constitutes a more holistic image of the user. Therefore, I will use this method in the future when working with users with whom I am not familiar.
I worked hand-on with electronics in a wearable context while developing Nebula. In this context, components are to be approached in a whole new way. Due to flexibility, connections become more fragile. Our solution was to use conductive yarn sewn into the prototype to replace traditional wires. We needed to make sure these often tough components wouldn’t interfere with the comfort of the device. Although I resoldered almost every single part due to damage. However, I learned a lot about the components and how to use them in the context of wearables. As this is the field I want to explore in the near future this certainly gives me a head start. Nebula ended up being a high fidelity technical prototype including several actuators driven by a microcontroller and a navigational device. I tried programming the system by found it to be too challenging. I passed it to my more experienced teammate and analysed her code afterwards to learn for future projects.
Attendance to a workshop Business & Entrepreneurship by Rhys Duindam showed me there is a lot more to it than just money talk. While developing the buckle I kept manufacturability in mind making it a more viable product to market. This was a lot more difficult than I initially thought. Design for manufacture was highly emphasized during my bachelors but I never got to work with plastic parts this small. Using design by doing I learned about the pitfalls. After five different design iterations of the buckle I found the best way to house the electronics, minimize the size, improve its aesthetics and keep it manufacturable though injection moulding. In the future I will come back to this process to see what parts I missed early on, to make this process more efficient.
We also build a business case for Nebula including ways to garner interest from both users and other stakeholders like investors. We developed the device to be appealing to as many users as possible by creating two product lines and making it non-intrusive. We thought of ways to include tech giants, like google, to gain investments for future development. Even though our business plan is still in an infant stage, I learned a lot about the different facets of creating it.
To broaden my view of design, I took the design philosophy course, Matter of Transformation. I got familiar with the concepts of the three philosophers and reflected on them by designing multiple iterations of vending machines. But most of all, I learned to look differently at design as a whole. In a primarily dualistic society, it is extremely hard to think out of these confines. But In a world where it is tough to design something new but are in desperate need of new things to keep us from going towards the cliff we head for, it is almost mandatory to try and adopt these new ways of viewing design. I learned about the interwovenness of the triangle of influences of design. In easier words, I saw how not only the user influences design but how much user, product and environment influence each other. I will take this lesson with me in future projects. A final thought, I will keep in mind the concept of affordances. However you design something, it will always afford different use, especially in our exponentially rapid changing world. It is up to us as designers to use this in favour of our design.
During the course Constructive Design Research, I did Field research. Field research is the domain I aspire to work in as a designer in the future. We set out to do two different user studies, one being an interview to get some startling insights and the other being a diary study testing the concept of a prototype. One teammate and I went to several Vinyl stores to conduct interviews. For interviews, the golden rule is practice makes perfect. All interviews combined got us to build a prototype that revolved around a research question. "Can we learn from retro-devices still being used to re-introduce more personality within smart technology?" To test our hypotheses and prototype, we conducted a diary study where two participants used it for five days and wrote a diary entry each day describing their use and experience with the device. Like previous user research, this research was thematically coded and analysed. We presented our research findings in an academic paper improving my academic writing and research. I learned that doing field research can be difficult as it is hard to keep track of outside influences. It is, therefore, necessary to be attentive and flexible during the process to make changes when necessary. I do, however, enjoy this process a lot.
For the past two-and-a-half years, I have tried to think of a way to sustainably pursue my dream of travelling to and working in developing countries. I aspire to raise the standard of living there using Participatory Design Methods. It has been a challenge due to the pandemic. Because of the travel restrictions, I started this master. Here I got involved in another interest, namely, designing wearables.
As mentioned earlier, I developed Nebula, a haptic wearable for visually impaired people, for my M1.1 design project. I enjoy working with sensory impaired people as they have a fascinating way of looking at the world. It got me to understand the devotion I gained from working in Vietnam stems from the deaf kids living there. In poor circumstances, their families are unable to pay for sufficient education. Because of that, they cannot fluently write or read Vietnamese or speak Vietnamese sign language. This communication barrier creates many obstacles for participation in society. However, I got inspired by their intelligence, perseverance and way of coping with their disability despite these circumstances.
Through some research, I found they are not the only ones. People with disabilities in developing countries are over-represented amongst the poorest people and have been largely overlooked so far (Wolfensohn, 2004). In 1995 Kauppinen stated, “disability increases poverty and poverty increases disability”, making it a hard to break, vicious cycle.
In the next one-and-a-half years, I want to get more familiar with sensory impaired people, mainly children. I want to learn about their perceiving the world and what design can mean to them. I want to work in developing countries as more improvements can be made there. For my M1.2 research project, I like to look into how design, or more specifically wearables, can improve the inclusivity of sensory impaired children
in developing countries. How can I help them raise their standard of living by partaking in society using their strengths? Next year I want to bring this research into the field and work through a 2nd and 1st person perspective towards sustainable improvements.
Important to mention are the ethics related to these topics. It is easy for western designers to lose themselves in solving problems in other cultures through their lens. I have looked into decolonising design, and am reading about previous successes and failures in global development in the book, The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly. Finally, to get more involved with my target group, I want to take a course in Sign language.
As far as my expertise areas, I have had trouble improving Math, Data & Computing in the past. Therefore this is the main area I want to focus on during the coming semester. Doing research means garnering data. Using M,D&C, I will do a deep dive into the data surrounding Sensory Impairment and Global Development in developing countries. As I am working on my second paper publication for my second project at TU/e, I want to keep this streak going by creating another publishable project. I will, of course, include the other expertise areas during this project. However, they are at a sufficient level, at the moment, so do not need too much improvement.