One of the most devastating experiences of diseases that affect motor abilities is the lack of control over one's body. As designers, from graphic to industrial, we rely on our bodies everyday for fine movements like typing a keyboard and gestural motions like moving a mouse or tapping and swiping. So much of design is about streamlining these experiences, but what's always interested me is how design can also streamline user experiences for those suffering from a physical disability.
I recently learned about Lift Labs, a company that's developed Liftware, a spoon designed for individuals with Parkinson's Disease and the lesser known condition, essential tremor. Both of these can cause severe shaking in one's body, including the hands. This compounds the difficulty of everyday tasks, like eating and brushing one's teeth.
The spoon operates on a rechargeable battery that their web site says will last for a few days, and it detects the tremors in your hand, canceling out each movement to create a more steady eating experience. It doesn't cover all conditions—a simple test you can print out can help you determine if the product will be helpful for you—but the videos are incredible to watch. What once might have been a distracting or disempowering situation is instead made more manageable with the Liftware design.
It will be exciting to follow Lift Labs' projects over the coming years. Other work they're developing is Lift Pulse, which uses the iPhone accelerometer to help quantify the tremors one is experiencing, and Lift Stride, a free app that helps those with Parkinson's Disease to steady their gait and hopefully improve mobility.
We recently wrote about the FreeFly System, designed for camera rigs, and it's interesting to see how technologies used in other contexts to simplify our work can also be used to transform lives for the better.
An Xiao Mina is an American designer strategist and researcher who recently worked on the Gwangju Design Biennale's Un-Named Design exhibition. She focuses on the role of social media and communications technologies in building communities and empowering individuals. Find her on Twitter here.