Users care about assistive devices look, feel and smell

A new study by North Carolina State University researchers found that people often considered the look, texture and, occasionally, the smell of two assistive devices — compression gloves and a knee brace — in online reviews of the products.

The findings detail key aesthetic characteristics that users care about as well as the language they’re using to describe them — factors that could be important for manufacturers to consider in product development.

“Aesthetics of assistive devices are often not taken into account despite the fact that research shows one reason for abandonment is that users feel embarrassed or stigmatized by their devices,” said the study’s lead author Kate Nartker, assistant professor of textile and apparel technology and management. “There’s also an assumption that users want to conceal their devices, but increasingly some want to express themselves, and need more opportunities for creativity and self-expression.”

In the study, researchers analyzed online reviews of assistive devices on to look for descriptors of the visual aesthetics of the products, such as their color, appearance, style, feel, smell and sound. They analyzed 1,000 reviews of a knee brace posted between Aug. 10, 2019, and March 18, 2021, and 1,082 reviews of compression gloves posted between Dec. 27, 2017, and March 31, 2021.

They found users did comment on the aesthetic qualities of their devices, and most commonly made comments about their visual qualities.

One of the most common words that people used in reference to visual aesthetics was “color,” which occurred 92 times. Some reviewers praised sellers for offering a variety of color options, while others requested more neutral colors, as well as colors not currently available including beige, dark brown, or grey.

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