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Collaborating on Financial Matters with Care

Ada Michaels Shapiro’s EDI Thesis project helps caregivers and care recipients easily collaborate on financial matters.

A tablet showing an app for caregivers and care recipients

Ada Michaels Shapiro’s (EDI ‘24) Thesis concept benefits both those who care for older family members and those who receive the care.

Shapiro recently graduated from Northwestern's Master of Science in Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program. Her Thesis project, InSync, is designed to ease the sometimes contentious dynamics over financial matters between caregivers and those receiving their care.

In conceptualizing the app, Shapiro developed a greater empathy for each of the stakeholders managing these complex relationships.

“I learned invaluable lessons that deeply enriched my understanding of caregiving, financial management, and the intersection of technology and human-centered design,” she said. “By immersing myself in the experiences of those in caregiving relationships, I gained a firsthand appreciation for the challenges they face and the nuanced dynamics of these relationships.”

The idea for InSync came from Shapiro’s personal observations of those nuanced dynamics. As family members took on more responsibility caring for aging relatives, she noticed a reluctance to give up autonomy and privacy. That included hesitancy to share the complete picture of their financial situation.

That reluctance puts added stress on the caregiver.

As Shapiro researched beyond her personal observations, she saw just how much of a need there was for a product like InSync.

Nearly 20 percent of US adults provide unpaid care to family members or friends aged 50 or older, according to AARP. Of those, 70 percent assist with financial tasks. This number is expected to increase rapidly as America’s population ages.

Shapiro initially planned for a tool targeted solely at the caregiver.

“However, as I delved further into the problem space, my perspective evolved,” she said. “If I were to design a solution to assist caregivers, it would be essential to consider those under their care as well. Both are integral to the caregiving equation.”

That realization led to the final concept for InSync, featuring a more collaborative environment with tools for caregivers and receiving care.

“InSync is more than just a financial tool. It's a beacon of compassion, connection, and a commitment to preserving dignity in caregiving,” she said. “InSync prioritizes peace of mind and autonomy every step of the way.”

Those steps were designed with information gleaned from user interviews, user tests, and a wealth of secondary research. One of Shapiro's biggest challenges was transitioning from that research phase to the design portion of the project.

"This challenge was definitely exacerbated by the complexity of the caregiving space, which requires a nuanced understanding to design meaningful solutions," she said. "The caregiving space is vast, multifaceted, and ever changing, with numerous stakeholders and considerations to account for."

One consideration Shapiro wasn't initially prepared for was the emotional impact of her project. As she engaged with different stakeholders, she witnessed the struggles they face, particularly when it comes to financial transparency. 

Those experiences were profoundly influential to her final concept. 

"This firsthand, up-close exposure evoked a profound sense of empathy, compelling me to design and develop InSync to be a resource that translated that empathy into intentional action," she said. "Balancing this emotional investment with the necessity for objective and effective design proved to be a significant consideration throughout the project." 

Shapiro's final presentation put that consideration on full display, allowing her to showcase all she learned during Thesis and throughout her time in the EDI program. She would love to one day continue working on InSync and perhaps turn it into a full-fledged app in the marketplace. 

In the meantime, she said the Thesis experience was a successful one. She found a way to support caregivers and those they care for. She also grew as a person and designer. 

“Thesis stands out as a pinnacle of the EDI program,” she said. “It allows us to immerse ourselves in a problem space we are truly passionate about and individually apply the methods and knowledge acquired throughout EDI to a subject of our own choosing.

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