Finalist 2021

Serene Vibe

Luke Masters / Julian Vilsten - Behavioural Psychologist / Jane Galvin -  Occupational therapist

Massaging headphones for people with autism experiencing sensory overload helping curb meltdowns through deep touch stimulation.

Serene Vibe is a scalp massager designed to be used while in the community, where sensory overload is often higher due to unfamiliar and novel environments.

The massager is intended to be worn before a meltdown to prevent or reduce the severity of heightened behaviour. It is anticipated that the calming haptic feedback received will increase the user's sense of wellbeing and prevent self-harm.

Design Brief

An estimated 1 in 70 Australians is diagnosed with an Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is often complicated by the presence of comorbidities such as intellectual disabilities or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Those with ASD have a high likelihood of having a meltdown due to larger fluctuations in cortisol, in response to a novel event or environment. Meltdowns are often characterised by self-harm, loss of control, and panic.

There are numerous products that either directly or indirectly cater to ASD; however, they are often unsuitable for meeting the complex needs of high-level autistic individuals.


This project was developed by:

  • Luke Masters
  • Julian Vilsten - Behavioural Psychologist
  • Jane Galvin -  Occupational therapist

Design Process

I created a mind map of potential solutions to ensure I explored multiple avenues for satisfying the design problem. Sketching & discussions with clinicians helped eliminate inferior concepts. This resulted in the idea of a head massager.

Through first-hand ethnographic research & testing, and consultation & collaboration with clinical specialists, I developed & validated concepts for reducing sensory overload. To meet this goal, I created criteria targeting each design aspect: massaging & tactile functionality, materiality durability & comfort, and convenient, purposeful UX.

To validate the viability of a wearable, I prototyped using pre-existing headphones & cardboard to simulate my initial concept of a head massager that disassembles into a hand massager. This idea was discarded, as the complex mechanisms reduced durability. My final concept became Serene Vibe.

Empathetically examining & evaluating the criteria at each design stage informed the ideation & concept refinement. Generating multiple CAD form iterations not only resulted in refinement, but was also useful in its own right by enhancing my own understanding of the problem & potential solutions.

I developed a companion app by ideating how users could vary the haptic engine patterns & choose where to receive massage.

Design Excellence

Serene Vibe is to be used before the event of a meltdown. The prevention of sensory overload and escalation of emotions which lead up to a meltdown makes the likelihood of one occurring very low. Therefore, the intention to create a product which increases the wellbeing of those with ASD has been met.

Serene Vibe meets the user's need for sensory stimulation causing them to be calmer due to a preoccupation with the haptic feedback they are receiving. The design is customisable to ensure the user is in full control of their therapy. I would say Serene Vibe represents design excellence as it meets a deep need for calmness and helps prevent physically harmful meltdowns.

Serene Vibe has the potential to calm all who struggle with sensory regulation and anxiety.

Design Innovation

Serene Vibe features haptic engines, which massage the user's ears and scalp. This massage coupled with the ambient noise-cancellation create a calming environment and calmed body.

Steel skeleton and hinges reinforce the design, ensuring a durable product. The silicone is intended to mimic human touch and is calming due to the subconscious association of human touch with safety, developed as infants.

The Serene Vibe mobile app enables customisation for most of its features, including:

  • Settings to customise the strength and massage pattern
  • Massage activation options: ears, scalp, or both
  • Access to pre-loaded white noise playlists

Serene Vibe has been designed with deconstruction in mind. Each component is designed to be removed and replaceable should it break. The main materials used are ABS and stainless steel, both of which are recyclable.

According to my research, there are no other products which 1. meet deep pressure needs of those with ASD with tactility 2. are designed with a priority on durability 3. physically and programably customisable (settings to customise the strength and massage pattern and massage activation options: ears, scalp, or both.

Hand massagers and headphones are most similar to Serene Vibe's individual defining characteristics. A major issue with these devices is their inability to withstand misuse from those with ASD. Chewing and breaking of personal items is a prevalent behaviour associated with autism. Therefore, rechargeable batteries and key components are broken or lost in the heat of a meltdown.

Design Impact

Those with ASD are often overlooked in society. Their needs are often misunderstood especially when a meltdown occurs. The manifestation of a meltdown is often thought of a nuisance and a stigma is created due to lack of knowledge on what causes and the meaning of meltdowns.

Serene Vibe enables those with ASD to access the community and function in society more as they are able to regulate their emotions more easily.

As a result of this improved emotional regulation, their prominence and visibility in society creates a better understanding and perception of autism within the community. Additionally, the wellbeing of the user is improved by having a better sense of belonging by having the freedom to be with others.

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