Novel Optics

Design for Visual Impairment

Attractive eyewear and spatial navigation for macular degeneration patients.

My Role:

Product Designer

Key Collaborators:

Jackson Cate- Product Designer

My Responsibilities:

Design Researcher

Product exploration, patent review, process research.

Industrial Designer

Brainstorming, concept development, sketching, CAD, photorealistic rendering.


Model making, digital electronics, user testing.

Design Brief:

This project began as an effort to help improve the quality of life for an aging generation, specifically focusing on individuals suffering from visual impairment. Along with my colleague, Jackson Cate, I spent a great deal of time researching a variety of forms of vision loss (eventually targeting macular degeneration), the effects of vision loss on everyday life, and transgenerational design principles. Our goal was to create a useful product that users would be proud to wear.

Design Research

In investigating how vision loss and aging can seriously alter the way a person lives, we strove to understand the nuances of their experience so as to design the best product possible for them. We used empathy tools, interviews, surveys, and related literature research to gain this information.

Digital media consumption is correlated with negative mental health effects.

Distraction serves a crucial role in human life and doesn’t need to be eliminated or a source of guilt.

The relationship between technology and health is complicated and a nuanced approach is required to improve it.

I distributed a survey via social media with questions targeting people’s digital media consumption habits and their comfort level with them. Responses were very diverse and revealed age and gender trends present in the way the population uses their devices.

A note: Due to the academic nature of this project, my access to a maximally diverse data set was somewhat limited. While I attempted to gain insight about the experiences of people from all genders, races, and backgrounds, most of my data comes from white and straight people. As a result, I intent to test the final product with this in mind if the project moves forward.

Using a screener survey, I selected 5 participants for a diary study. These subjects filled out a special form when they used their mobile devices at different times of the day. They recorded the type of media they consumed, as well as their emotional state before, during, and after the session.

I interviewed 5 people regarding their personal experiences with digital media and their relationships to it. These subjects had a wide variety of backgrounds and habits around social media, gaming, and communication software that yielded nuanced results.

Google Digital Wellness

-Difficult to access and too easy to bypass.
-No functionality on desktop.


-Heavy-handed blocking can prevent productive use of restricted apps and sites.


-Requires user to act on results of usage analysis.

User Research

We used a variety of methods to gain understanding of the life of a person living with macular degeneration.

Macular Degeneration

  • Over 11 million people in the US suffer from macular degeneration.
  • Age is the largest risk-factor for the disease.
  • The disease is characterized by the gradual obscuring of vision from the center-field outward and severe light sensitivity.

Transgenerational Design

“Designing residential environments and household products to the widest possible spectrum of those who would use them—regardless of age or ability.”

  • Use simple buttons, intutive interfaces, and ergonomic designs.

Empathy Work

To better undersand the experience of a person living with macular degeneration, we built a rough emapthy tool to obsure vision in a similar way. We then attempted to navigate our familar environment and complete small tasks. The results were enlightening and we found it very difficult to do so.

Market Research

Before diving into concept development we undertook a detailed analysis of the existing market for macular degeneration-related products, the technologies they make use of, and how well those technologies work. We used this information to determine where new opportunities lay and where improvements could be made.

Important Patents

Patents in this space mostly focus on corrective eyewhere either with adjustable lens prescriptions or technology to direct images to the undamaged portion of the eye.

Existing Products

The market for products addressing visual impariment is fairly limited. Most products are medical in nature and solve a specific problem, like light sensitivity or gradally degrading eyesight.

Primary Takeaways

  • A holistic solution to the problems of obscured vision and light sensitivity does not exist on the market
  • Accessible design principles are of paramount importance here, since this disease affects older generation most prominently. 

Industrial Design

Problem Definition

From our research, we decided to focus our efforts on developing a product to help macular degeneration paitents overcome the limitations of the disease. Namely, we wanted to built a tool to help them navigate their environment more confidently. We defined the MVP to need three characteristics:


  • An ability to judge distances of objects in their environment.
  • Full protection from bright light to help with their sensitivity to it.
  • Secure fitting and an intutive, ergonomic interface.

Concept Design

After we got our bearings with research and prioritization, we moved into concept sketching various ideas aimed at improve the lives of people suffering from macular degeneration.

We decided to pursue an eyewearconcept that would measure the distance from an object to the wearer and relay that information back by vibrating the frames a increasing itensity as the object grows closer. These glasses would be designed with a stylish aesthetic and a subtle, pushbutton interface with a strap to secure them in place. It would also be operateable by remote. The poparized lenses would wrap around to provide full protection from bright light.

This device would allow users to receive tactile feedback about their environment and their distance from objects in it, enabling greater mobility and self-reliance. We set to creating detailed CAD models of this idea, and developing a detailed explanation of the product’s use-case.

How it works:

CAD Detail

Control Buttons

With Remote

Prototyping and Finalization

Appearance Model

After establishing form, function, materials, and manufacturing techniques through CAD modeling, we set to making both an appearance and a functional prototype.

Using the funcitonal prototype, we proof-of-concept tested the idea by blindfolding a a collegue and having them navigate a maze while wearing the device. They were able to move through the environment successfully faster and with less difficulty than simply by feeling with their hands.

Get In Touch

Let’s Work Together!



Charlotte, NC


(704) 661-5565



(704) 661-5565


Charlotte, NC

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