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Product Design student reaches final of national design competition


A first year Product Design student from Brunel University has been named as one of five finalists in a competition to find innovative solutions to everyday problems faced by people with disabilities and long-term conditions.

Inspired by the experience of a close friend, 18-year-old Sam Clarke designed an assistive writing device to help people with severe eczema who struggle to hold a pen. The hand-held device works like a computer mouse, giving the user a bigger object to grip whilst also allowing small, controlled movements. This ultimately helps to reduce the level of dexterity required to hold a pen or pencil.

Sam explained: "People with severe eczema often struggle with tasks that require dexterity or a tight grip such as drawing or writing. This is a problem that is often overlooked so I wanted to see if I could create a device which would help make this everyday task easier for people with this condition."

The competition, entitled 'If Only It Worked', was run by Bath Research and Development in the University of Bath and supported by the research project KT-EQUAL, led locally by Professor Chris Eccleston. Students from higher education institutions in the UK were asked to view videos uploaded to the IfOnlyApp YouTube channel in which elderly or disabled people had demonstrated the difficulties they experience in day to day activities, and then to come up with unique designs to address these usability issues. Entries were judged on the criteria of universal design, cost, usability and innovation.

Competition judges Chris Ramsden, Richard Oldale and Martin Fortune noted: “Sam’s submission was selected as one of five finalist competition entries for a number of reasons: not only would the use of the proposed product reduce the impact of tremors and/or poor control since the wrist would not be involved, but also the foldable nature of the product would make it very easy to transport. Also, the aesthetical side of the proposed design was very-well thought out”.

Dr Sharon Baurley, Head of Design at Brunel University added: "We are extremely proud of Sam's achievement in this competition against some very high calibre entries. In just his first year of his degree Sam has shown great potential and no doubt will have a successful career ahead of him."

The five finalists were recognised at the UX User Experience Conference, which took place at the Hilton Bath City Hotel on 10 May. The event aimed to illustrate how user experience can guide the future of product design. Attendees met expert guest speakers including Patrick Jordan, the author of the book Designing Pleasurable Products, Dr Arlene Astell, Professor of Assistive Technology and Healthcare from the University of Sheffield, and Professor Chris Eccleston (Director of the Centre for Pain Research) and enterprise expert Graham Fisher from the University of Bath.

Find out more information about the competition and broader research project.