Young athletes have to protect themselves
"The entire project is a message to my 15-year-old self: You should have used protection.
" That is the message from Elena Stefanac, who, as a former elite volleyball player, certainly knows the implications of repeated ankle injuries for a career in sports:
"Ankle injuries are the most common type of injury across all sports. And once you've been injured, you're at increased risk of the problems recurring. Injuries are relatively easy to prevent by using an ankle guard, but as a young athlete, you rarely think of prevention. You only become aware of the importance of protecting yourself once the damage has been done," she explains about the background of her project. Customization regardless of gender Initially, her graduation project from Design School Kolding was going to be designed specifically for women.
The designer herself wears a shoe size 7.5 and was therefore often forced into the men's department when it comes to equipment for the feet. And the existing ankle guards are clumsy and complicated to use. An exploratory study trip to the ISPO sports fair in Munich was not encouraging; all equipment for women was designed according to the principle 'shrinking and pinking', says Elena Stefanac. And that started her thinking:
"At the fair I became aware of all the new types of customization that the technological industrialisation 4.0 allows for. And that’s why I ended up settling on the idea of entirely individualised products, regardless of gender."
Tape and sketches
The subsequent research phase became a bit of a marathon:
"I was working in the field between medicine and welfare design. I had to understand what the barriers were that prevented young athletes from thinking more about prevention."
She gained that understanding through a study at the Sports Academy in Aarhus, where she realised that athletes do not want to think about injuries. But if she could produce something that could combine protection with increased performance, that would trigger an excited response from the potential users. That mixture has therefore been a focus throughout the design phase. Elena Stefanac has cut up old sports tape bandages, played with geometric patterns, pulled socks and outlined possible solutions. And now she is close to the goal.
Fit for fight
"The basic idea of my product is taking a 3D scan of your ankle with your smartphone. Once you upload that your scanned image will be matched with some pre-designed standard shapes that can be adjusted to those areas of the foot where you need special support. The personalised design will then be 3D printed directly on to a knee-high sock. The principle is similar to when you choose an athletic shoe from Nike or Adidas, where you can also get an individualised look or fit; but in this case you have the built-in protection as an additional feature that gives you the power to fight sports injuries," says Elena Stefanac.