Krisette Santamaria's Portfolio


Category: Children's Products

Lex is a toy that helps non-verbal grade school students improve their communication skills by expanding their vocabulary. It is a playful and affordable alternative to the afragile electronic assistive communication device and flimsy picture cards. Lex is light-weight, durable and compact - perfect for children. It’s dodecahedron shape provides better grip for hands with limited dexterity. Unlike the existing products, Lex is 3D and does not require a desk or a classroom to facilitate learning. It encourages its user to play, explore and express themselves at school and beyond.


To work with special education teachers, speech therapist and occupational therapist at a special needs school in Toronto to design a product for independent learning and play for grade school students with special needs.


Communication is fundamental to a child’s development. Numerous research recognize communication as a crucial tool for learning, play, social interaction and their overall cognitive growth. All children have the right to express their thoughts and feelings, and communicate their wants and needs. It is equally important for them to understand others and participate in the world around them. However, this is not easy to do for children with autism. Many ofthem have very limited verbal communication skills, or non-verbal. For them, communicating may be among the most challenging things they have to do.

Observational Research

Target Users

User Journey Maps

Market Research

Augmentative & Alternative Communication Devices

Morphological Box

Exploratory Ideations

Low Fidelity Prototypes

While conducting observational research, I noticed students with limited hand dexterity had a difficult time picking up the picture cards. And because they are easy to lose, the students are not allowed to take them outside of the classroom.As a result, I started to experiment with putting the picture cards into a 3D form. I wanted to create a playul and portable alternative for the students to carry around with them wherever they go.  

Preliminary user testing proved that the first prototype (revolving cylinder) was difficult to use for hands with limited dexterity. For this reason, I changed the form into a dodecahedron. This new form has a sense of playfulness and the flat surface I need for the pictograms. It also provides a better grip. I kept the interchangeable pieces to keep it customizable. To refine my concept, I spoke with the school’s occupational therapist to get her feedback on my prototype. She cautioned that the interchangeable pieces can be a choking hazard for the students.   

Based on the feedback I receivedfrom the occupational therapist, I switched to a single, solid form to make ball safer for the students to use. Through further user testing I discovered that the size had to be reduced to fit smaller hands. Additionally, the vinyl skin had to be reinforced to prevent the students from biting it or picking on it with their fingers.   


Final Prototype

Lex got its name from the word lexicon which means “the vocabulary of a person, language or branch of knowledge”. Lex helps non-verbal students with autism grow their vocabulary with practical words that they can use to express themselves and interact with the world around them 

What makes Lex different?

It's a toy, a communication device and a teaching tool all rolled into one!

Its dodecahedron shape provides a comfortable grip, especially for students with limited dexterity.

It incorporates play into learning.

It is a durable and affordable alternative to the fragile electronic devices and flimsy PECS cards. Plus, it is waterproof!

Using Format