Upon arrival in Holland, I attempted to literally soak everything up. Whether it was the architecture, the culture, or the multitude of design specimens, I wanted to explore and interact. My project, an aesthetic re-design of a walking cane for disabled individuals fabricated with digital technologies, occupied the back of my mind with each new object I embraced and captured with my iPhone. Exploring form, function, and purpose led me think about my project in a broader sense –how might I make living with disability more functional, beautiful, and more human?
In Holland, I was incredibly impressed with the sheer volume of design work focused on health, particularly design for the aging and the disabled. In the U.S., disability and aging are topics that many prefer not to speak of – meaning these individuals are underserved, except in instances where design solutions have the potential to be highly profitable. Throughout the trip, I met and befriended incredible individuals that are also challenging how healthcare can be redesigned and improved. They shared their stories, pointed me towards helpful resources, and shared designers they find inspirational. Additionally, one extended the opportunity to collaborate in the future, which I’m very excited about, as I haven’t met any young emerging designers in this space in the U.S.
Some designs that inspired me included (pictured below): a functional walking cane, a highly convertible bag/stool for dwarfism, a monitor for post-surgical joint replacement care, a shoe prototype for improving balance of individuals with Multiple Sclerosis using ardrino electronics, a textured blanket to facilitate sensory development for blind infants, adaptive child respiratory masks, and a lightweight and waterproof wearable EKG monitor with the electronics weaved into the clear material.
Our visit to Philips Design and the Philips Innovation Center was one of the highlights of the trip. Since my graduate degree program centers around design thinking processes, hearing how a large corporation is adopting and implementing a strategic approach towards human-centered design was encouraging. The presenter was not much older than students in my program, and it was easy to envision any member of my cohort succeeding in her role.
Going beyond simply invention and innovative design, Dutch Design Week also featured critical pieces that questioned how society views aging and disability. A series of photographs picturing older adults, perplexed and annoyed with their robot companions, was both amusing and thought-provoking. We often think of advancing and utilizing technology as universally good, but in many instances it can actually alienate the individuals we are trying to help.