Most of the people on this planet come from low income families, and can afford only the things they really need. The basic needs include food, healthcare, shelter and clothing.
These are the things it is impossible to live without.
Tamar Ish Cassit, entrepreneur, military medic and industrial designer, founded Cassit Studio specializing in design for people with disabilities.
In recent years, she initiated teams, conducted researches and produced products for people with disabilities. Cassit projects range from personal requests to mass production lines, with the one purpose of allowing people to believe that life can be joyful with or without disability. This is her blog.
What is industrial design? Most people don't really know.
In many cases, industrial design is similar to product design. The industrial designers learn about technologies, materials, usage scenarios, how to identify a need or create a concept, and the methodology which will allow us to take this idea and transform it into a product. We (the designers) start by brainstorming, conducting research, learning about the target audience’s preferences and needs, we can learn about what is trendy or decide to design with a certain approach. We know what kind of technologies are suitable for our product, or if we don't know we can consult with engineers and manufacturers. Sometimes we need to find a specialist who will give us guidance about the field we are researching.
For example, if we design a wooden chair we can ask for advice from a carpenter, if we design medical device we can consult with a doctor and a mechanical engineer. We consult with our customers as well: if we decide to design a baby toy we will talk with parents and if we want to design bicycles we will talk with bicycle riders – professionals and amateurs. Later, we will conclude all of this data to build a design brief which will specify the details of the product.
However, industrial design is not product design. Industrial design is a broader definition, as we examine the whole usage environment and the situation in which the action for which we are designing takes place, then we can come up with a set of solutions, some of which will most likely be products.
For example, we are currently working with a young man who wants to play an acoustic guitar. He is disabled in one hand and can't hold a pick. We could design a pick holder for him, but this would be a product design. Since we specialize in rehabilitative design, we met him with our occupational therapist, and together we thought about the action of playing, but also about the health of his hand, and how we can improve his abilities, related and less related to playing a guitar. This holistic approach allows us to use more skills as designers and open our minds, while offering the costumer a comprehensive solution.
We came up with 3 different products, and also added instructions for rehabilitation exercises.
The first product is a wrist-splint which will support his hand in an ideal position and will preserve his physical abilities, or in other words, it will prevent further deterioration. This splint will replace his current splint he does not wear.
These is a picture of his previous splint (to the left) which was made for him (only a year ago) in a clinic, and the transparent splint is a new sketch we designed for him in Cassit Studio.
This is the final product, before and after bending:
The second part of this solution is a pick holder that can be attached to the wrist-splint before playing, and removed after.
The 3rd product is designed for the purpose of rehabilitation exercises. This young man suffers from high muscle tone in his elbow, which means his elbow is a little stiff. Therefore we customized for him an elbow splint, which he is required to wear for an hour a day while resting or watching TV.
While still wearing the elbow splint and after resting, he is required to perform fine motor skills exercises, followed by exercises for his wrist. All the exercises together should take around 10 minutes, and they may slowly improve the physical abilities of his elbow, wrist and fingers.
In addition, during the whole period of working together, we have encourage and talked with him about the importance of training his hand and treating it with patience and love. Sometime when we meet people defeated by the system or by the fear from another disappointment, it takes a lot of courage from them to think positively about their disability. Furthermore, we try to make them start considering the limb's abilities. After all, a project's success is dependent on the existence of positive thinking. One sentence I recently said to this man moved him in particular: "if this arm was your disabled child, wouldn't you love it anyway? Wouldn't you encourage its abilities?"
Although the work we do goes beyond the definition of industrial design, and includes methods from the healing and therapy world, the holistic approach to the customer needs is the same, and we choose to engage issues which are the basic needs of daily life. Cassit products for people with disabilities are in the fields of healthcare, food preparation and employment encouragement. At least 2 of the products above (the wrist splint and the elbow splint) are on the way to mass production.
Returning to the initial question, what is industrial design? Industrial design is about designing for the masses. It's not about designing for people with high economic capabilities, it is not about creating beautiful things, nor about glorifying a designer's name, it is about designing for most of the people. Design for the industry means production for many. Who are these customers? To answer this question we need to recognize the very basic knowledge: if I am a designer from the developed world, I represent the minority.
Most of the world's population is living in a different culture, with different conditions and needs.
Even if we will not design for the developing world, we need to remember that most of the people on this planet come from low income families, and can afford only the things they really need. The most basic needs are food (including water), healthcare, shelter and clothing. These are the things it is impossible to live without. Knowledge, employment and mobility are probably next.
That is why I find it so strange that many projects developed for people with disabilities miss meeting the real needs. This became even more conclusive to me after reading two following e-mails last week. The first e-mail was a report from an excellent NGO receiving requests from people with disabilities. The second e-mail was from a facility inventing solutions for people with disabilities, and there was no correlation between the requests and those solutions.
The requests were about attaching a cup to a wheelchair, reading a book when one has grasping difficulties, holding a sandwich, extra support for a walker, aids to wear socks, etc. The inventions were all about high tech, 3D, virtual reality, air muscles, big-time high-end blown up names for an imaginary world, which will maybe meet the market of wealthy disabled people somewhere in the future. It is embarrassing to say, they mostly make for interesting reading in the media. I can understand the interest in researching exciting ideas, but what I really don’t understand is why organizations and individuals are investing in those solutions, rather than in the most needed ones. Wouldn't it be great and challenging to reach the other 90% of the population?
Isn't this the one world we are living in? Who has more power than the people? We are the ones who have the power to make a change, every one of us! Where are the designers that will design for the majority, take responsibility and lead the way? Where are the real designers? Where are the entrepreneurs, inventors, dreamers? Really, where are you?