Design researcher receives the President’s Equality and Diversity Award
The recipient of the President’s Equality and Diversity Award for employees 2021 is KTH Associate Professor Madeline Balaam. Within the newly established research field of interaction design and women’s health , she leads innovation and design projects that aim to promote women’s health.
Researcher Madeline Balaam, associate professor at the Division of Media Technology and Interaction at KTH, works to normalise questions revolving around how design technology can contribute to more knowledge about the body’s different needs.
She uses a feministic and somatic design perspective, which is based on a deep understanding of women’s bodies and what new techniques have the potential of contributing to.
“During the last decade, I’ve focused my research on design, development and studies of intimate technologies. Usually technologies that relate to an intimate body part or body process,” Balaam says.
At KTH, she works together with researchers within the field of human-computer interaction to build interactive systems and understand how body fluids and body tissue interact with fabric and technology.
“It’s about making people more observant of their own bodily experiences in their everyday lives.”
For example, studies are conducted on how the technique may affect the experience of the menstrual cycle and menopause and how it can turn a negative experience into a positive one. For instance by examining how clothing fabric massages the body of someone with menstrual cramps or applies a reassuring pressure on someone with anxiety.
In 2020, just before the pandemic started, Balaam’s research group initiated a project with a so-called pelvic chair – a chair containing form-changing elements. It’s filled with balloons that are inflated and touch parts of the body, by the lower back and the seat cushion, to create muscle relaxation in the pelvic floor.
“Women are constantly encouraged to activate their pelvic floor by doing contracting exercises, but it’s also important to relax those muscles. A common result from constantly tensing muscles is health problems connected to jaw tensions, which can lead to dental problems and tension headache,” Balaam says.
Balaam and her team are currently conducting a large project with interview studies, prior to creating an app that will provide women with the ability to easier plan pregnancies and contraceptive methods.
“By interviewing 140 women, we’ll understand in greater detail how the app can be designed in the best way to provide women with more information and a way of steering the process of fertility and contraceptives themselves.”