Helping nurses plan ahead in the neonatal intensive care unit


The workflow in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is relatively unpredictable, which makes it difficult to plan activities. Simple tasks such as checking device statuses may be forgotten, resulting in disturbing alarms. Nurses should be calmly informed about the state of the medical device and or upcoming alarm, so they can act before they reach a critical situation. We present CheckMates, ambient lighting displays, which visualize device statuses by using a color transition to provide nurses with more overview.

The research questions were, What are the potential benefits of the implementation of CheckMates, which show device statuses, in the NICU department? and What is the effect of CheckMates, which show device statuses, on the overview and planning capabilities of the nurses from the NICU department?

This study consisted of two parts. In the first part, an expert review was performed to gather opinions about the potential benefits of CheckMates using co-construction storyboards. The three experts all had different specialties in the field of neonatology. In the second part of the study, four simulation sessions were held to gather different experiences from eight NICU nurses while using the CheckMates.

The expert reviews showed that the CheckMates have a lot of potentials when it comes to developmental care. The participants confirmed that it positively influences the situation for patients and parents during the simulation study. It became clear that the CheckMates can help the nurse anticipate certain activities and thus distribute their workload. All the experts and most of the participants during the simulation study confirmed this statement. The CheckMates catch the nurse's attention at the right moment and seem to disappear into the background when a nurse is focusing on a task.

The findings show that CheckMates can help nurses to distribute their workload. This could result in the prevention of alarms and a more developmental-care oriented environment for premature infants.


Journal publication in Multimodal Technologies and Interaction, click here.


Collaborating with Maxima Medical Centrum Veldhoven

Desk research

Shadow study

Co-constructive storyboards

Living lab study

Analyzing user experience

Coding software CheckMates

A CheckMate attached on water container

Color transition CheckMates

Co-construction storyboard: sensitizing storyboard (Buskermolen & Terken, 2012)

Co-construction storyboard: visionary storyboard (Buskermolen & Terken, 2012)

Simulation study: CheckMate attracts the nurse's attention

Simulation study: CheckMate attracts the nurse's attention

User & Society

Since I dealt with such a complex and busy environment, I searched for methods in order to identify the problem and gain more empathy for the patients and nurses in the NICU. I ended up by combined literature research, a shadow-study and an interview. While it led to new insights, at the same time it made me understand the importance of showing respect to different stakeholders in such an environment.

Because a field research was not allowed on such a short notice, I combined an expert review and living lab study in order to validating my design. This combination of methodologies showed me the possibilities of getting results on short-term. However, it also made me question myself about the sustainability of my design (e.g. will participants from the living lab study still use the design after three weeks?).

The expert reviews collected insights about the potential benefits of the design and the simulation study about the user experience. Moreover, while analyzing the qualitative interview data, I found new opportunities for calm technology in the NICU environment, based on my experiences during the shadow study. It shows how multiple research methodologies led to different or combined valuable information in short-term and made me aware of the advantages.

Technology & Realisation

In order to perform a simulation study, I created different scenarios based on the shadow study. Thereafter, I searched for different ways to realize the envisioned prototypes. By using Particles (IoT hardware) as CheckMates, I was able to connect the CheckMates to my phone and have each CheckMate perform a color change on command for each scenario. Learning and using the new software and hardware resulted in an easy transition between scenarios, meaning I could focus on the research itself during the simulation studies.


Buskermolen, D. O., & Terken, J. (2012, August). Co-constructing stories: a participatory design technique to elicit in-depth user feedback and suggestions about design concepts. In Proceedings of the 12th Participatory Design Conference: Exploratory Papers, Workshop Descriptions, Industry Cases-Volume 2 (pp. 33-36). ACM.

© 2020 Jesper van Bentum