Function + Form

Last week we attended the monthly We Are Wearables meet-up excited to see and hear about what is happening in the world of medical wearables, an aspect of the industry that is growing quickly and holds life-changing potential. There are numerous makers and innovators who are creating products that bring a high quality of life and ease of existence to patients and users: Esight helps the legally blind to see again; Drumtaps has been repurposed to create a way for those with no voice to speak with triggered pre-programmed phrases; 3D printed prosthetics are being introduced to those in need in Uganda; and bionic exo-suits that help patients walk, receive better treatment and rehabilitation, or to execute tasks not suited for the human body are available on the market. These are merely the tip of the iceberg in this area of technology. But what struck us most was what Cornelius Quiring said during his presentation:

 

“When it comes to the world of disability, too often we focus in on the impairment as opposed to creating a device that augments the lifestyle of the user.”

 

Cornelius Quiring was injured when he was three years old in a farming accident. One of the nerves in his spine was torn while three others were overstretched. The accident resulted in Cornelius lacking a right pec, lat, and tricep muscle, and most devastatingly, limited use of his right hand. In his presentation, Cornelius discussed how we have taken two approaches to addressing mobility. He showed an image of a beautiful bicycle that would be the envy of the road, and the other was a standard wheelchair, something which has not been altered much from its original design. He was disappointed in the lack of aesthetically pleasing solutions for those struggling with disability – so he decided to make his own device that embraced his love of fashion and minimalism.

 

 

Cornelius really hit on something during that seminar, something that is so lacking in the medical community and yet shouldn’t be. Why is it that no one has paid attention to design and beauty for mobility devices? These are items that are used every day, items that are basically a part of the user. And if more focus was given to elevating devices to a more fashionable level, would that change how we see the user? Would we instead of defining the person by their disability and limiting them from that view, instead see them for who they truly are?

Aside from the philosophical implications of this, we truly do believe that devices should make the wearer feel powerful and beautiful, turning what is a functional and necessary item into an accessory that augments life. A perfect example of this are decorated prosthetics which are becoming more visible on the internet. Viktoria Modesta shook up the fashion and pop worlds when her music video “Prototype” premiered last year. The video shows several out-of-this-world leg prosthetic designs that even those who don’t need them would lust for created by The Alternative Limb Project. There are companies that craft custom-carved limbs that are more works of art than typical prosthetic. It’s a small pool but it is growing.

 

 

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With the surging fields of wearables and fashion tech, we feel that greater emphasis should be put on breaking out of the design constraints that have been imposed or rather accepted in society. Let’s move past what we’ve been doing with devices for the past hundreds of year. It’s past time for a design update. As Yvonne of E-Sight said during the We Are Wearables panel, “We are all becoming bionic…Everyone is disabled without their tech.” Let’s make sure all our devices are beautiful!

If you are interested in learning more about Cornelius Quiring’s My Hand Project or are an engineer who would like to get involved, check out his website for more information.

 

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