Katie O'Brien

After completing her undergraduate studies, Katie O’Brien knew she wanted to narrow the focus on something she was really passionate about in a Master’s degree.

Katie O'Brien

Graduate, Master of Design Innovation

“The courses that I enjoyed the most were those that used design to solve a problem, especially when it was to make one’s life easier,” says Katie.

Her Master’s thesis explored how design could improve the engagement of people who use continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) therapy as treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). This is a respiratory sleep condition that is characterised by a repetitive collapse of the upper airway during sleep.

“A CPAP machine pumps pressurised air through a facial mask to keep the airway open during sleep and is the most effective treatment for OSA, yet it is known to be burdensome,” says Katie. “Barriers include social and product-related stigma, the ability to troubleshoot issues, and the level of support, education, and feedback needed in the initial stages of therapy.”

Katie developed packaging solutions, an app, and a website to help address these barriers. She also developed customisable covers for the CPAP equipment using 3D knitting processes.

A paper written alongside her thesis was accepted and presented at the Design for Health conference held in England.

Katie is now working as a product development engineer in the interface development team at Fisher and Paykel Healthcare. Her position focuses on the design of future therapy equipment as treatment for sleep apnoea.

Katie credits the two summer scholarships she completed as an important opportunity to gain industry experience and, in turn, secure a job in her desired field. “Practical experience gave me the drive to complete my thesis in this field and further my passion to helping those who need it.”