Designing Bio-hacks and Exoskeleton Accessories

How we learned it’s possible to have empathy for the needs, desires, and emotions for people that don’t yet exist.

Guided by the design philosophy of build to think, a group of IDEO designers spent an hour inhabiting the workshop of an exoskeleton accessories entrepreneur.

The creative brief

Bernard is an experimental hippie. A retired chemistry teacher, he loves science — especially funky mood altering chemistry, and his students. Being around kids all his life kept him young. The downside: he kept breakin bones tryin to keep up. He recently got fitted for a next-gen exoskeleton. They’re ugly suckers tho. Not up to Bernard’s infamous aesthetics. So he’s launching a pop-up shop to sell exo-accessories and bio-hacks. According to the buzz, Bernard’s World specializes in ‘awesome’ sensory experiences.
In Bernard’s world, we harvest natural resources from local infrastructures and it’s habit to eat locally grown foods. The price of these things however is very dynamic influenced by on-demand systems. So, we make things ourselves or conveniently have it done. Other infrastructures have changed too. Half the streets, now a open source public asset, are available for new uses including autonomous vehicles. Lastly, Bernard has capitalized on our desire for personal augmentation.

The assignment

In one hour, design and prototype an exoskeleton accessory product.
Write a brief story of your product’s selling points and features.
Write a testimonial from someone who bought one.

One Hour &

Five Prototypes

Made with found materials and imagination


As a longtime resident of the Outer Sunset neighborhood, Bernard feels a deep connection to the ocean. But he knows all those folks on the East side of town don't get to the beach very often (especially when they need an exoskeleton to get there), so he created Wave, a wearable device to enhance all your sensory experiences. To use it you place Wave on your jaw bone. Go to the beach or your favorite spot. Wave takes in the sound waves and distributes the frequency throughout your body.

Customer Review by Jennifer, Bernal Heights

“I feel closer to the earth than ever before, thanks to Bernard.”

Body Garden

The Body Garden One is an odd, eye-catching accessory Bernard dreamt up after a trip to Jordan, where he witnessed how intensely locals conserved water, and how many people grew small plots of herbs.

Contemplating his own relationship to water, and how much he drinks every day, he wondered could he grow plants with his own body perspiration? After a few failed attempts, Bernard stumbled across the answer. Using a water-permeable fabric from recycled jackets, he could combine his own perspiration with water from the hydraulic supply of his exoskeleton, providing a constant supply. Two years after his trip to Jordan he now maintains a rotating crop of plants on his leg, ranging from simple herbs such as parsley, through to blueberries in season.

Selling Points

  • Conversation starter
  • Customise with your own fabrics
  • Wide variety of growth possibilities
  • Makes your leg look pretty cool!

Customer Review by Toni

“I've been in an exoskeleton for five months now, and it hasn't been easy. Nowadays, I spend a lot of time in my garden, and I take a bit of my garden with me. Last summer my first strawberry crop really bloomed. It was my first attempt, and I had five edible strawberries. It doesn't get much sweeter than that!”

Exo-Sweat Relief Kit

The All-Organic Exo-Sweat Relief Kit provides soothing comfort to your exoskeleton body joint contact points. We all have challenges with sweating. Nothing’s changed about that.

The kit contains three patches that consist of individual pads that you apply to your skin at contact points. There is a refill capsule with additional healing liquid. Suggested application is one hour.

Customer Review by anon

“I actually bought this for my husband and he says it’s a miracle worker. For a while we lived in the south and he would have to wear his exoskeleton to work. By the end of the day, he would be dripping all over and very smelly. We tried the remedy we got from our doctor but who knows what’s actually in there. But now I found this! He puts on the patches on Sunday usually. He is noticeably less sweaty (like seriously he had huge sweaty spots) and now he smells like Christmas trees!”


The Bernard-O-Caster is an accessory that turns any exoskeleton flex joint into a musical instrument. Simply strap on the keyboard and strings to get started. As you move and flex the auto-rhythmator adjusts the beat so you're always flowing and grooving. The speaker is custom printed to fit your ear. You'll never run out of tunes with expandable cloud storage of your mixes.

Customer Review by Merce

“Friends tell me I have no rhythm. Despite piano lessons as a kid, I definitely have my own strut. Now I just don't care cuz Bernard-O-Caster beats to my drum, grooves to my moves. Walkin’ the grandkids round the neighborhood is a dance video every time.”


A meal at your fingertips. Too busy trolling that you forgot to eat? Too many options? Choose quickly the right meal for you with our haptic multi-sensorial nutritional system.

Meal-O-Tip is here to help you. The belly sensor tracks food levels and alerts you when it’s time for a nutritional break. The interactive glove has several quick commands that can be activated by touching it with your fingertip. It allows you to quickly order meals while still on the go. Food comes by drone and feeds you instantly.

Customer Review

“Meal-O-Tip changed my life. With just a lift of the finger, I'm in control of my glycemic index. I always eat what my body needs when it needs it so I can focus on trolling the interwebs!”

We learned:

  1. it’s possible to have empathy for the needs, desires, and emotions for people that don't yet exist.
  2. to practice taking risks without actual risk.
  3. in one hour, we can easily imagine and inhabit the future. The world became much richer than anticipated in such a short time.
  4. that a lot can be discovered from a loose brief.
  5. to begin design with impulse and intuition from what is available at hand, and resist over rationalizing.
  6. that providing more constraints such as time and materials can be liberating.
  7. that physical collaging can really open up the imagination. I had no idea what I was doing until I became fascinated with a dollar store tooth cleaner.
  8. that making something from the perspective of another maker, just like designing from the perspective of the user, is a really useful and constraining approach to designing.

This is part six of Tomorrow in Progress from IDEO San Francisco. Tomorrow in Progress is a series that explores what the future of life in the Bay Area might be like in 10–15 years. It’s an outcome of Adventuring, a new capability we’re practicing, like Design Thinking, that examines futures, design fiction, and inhabitation.

Experience the changing streetscape of the city in our previous post:

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