Scandinavian Welfare Equipment Combined with Italian Coolness

Tommaso Mazzoni's gripping glove for people with spinal cord injuries focusses on both function and aesthetics, because vanity and the need for an individual style do not vanish with the loss of function in one’s limbs.

Italian design is iconic – the bright red sports car, the ultralight chair and the razor-sharp sunglasses. The design classics from Italy are created to make life a little more sophisticated and to demonstrate that "la vita é bella" – life is beautiful. On the other hand, the contribution of Italian design to the health care sector and to welfare technology is limited, because concepts such as aesthetics and user-friendliness are rarely in the forefront. Italian designer, Tommaso Mazzoni, newly graduated industrial designer from Design School Kolding, has taken up the challenge and offers his bid for a self-help aid that does not stigmatise the user or end up in the back of the closet.

From aid equipment to beautiful accessory
In collaboration with the company Tendo, he has been working to improve the user-friendliness and the fit of what is called a soft exoskeleton – a glove for people who, for example due to an accident, have lost the sensation in and the ability to use arms and hands. But a combination of sensors, a small motor and a delicate network of artificial tendons built into the glove allow the impulse to be transmitted from the arm to the glove, so that the wearer can now grab small things, mimicking the performance of a functioning human hand. A small grip seen from the outside, but a revolution for the paralysed person.

The challenge has been to think beyond the aid function and make the glove an individual aesthetic experience, while at the same time ensuring optimal performance. The focus has therefore been on choosing the right material and a smart fit, where the glove is also easy to put on and take off. In addition the glove is temperature sensitive and has woven patterns that change colour when they heat up. This is not only for decorative reasons – many paralysed people have lost the sense of touch in their hands and may therefore be seriously burned, as they do not feel high temperatures. The goal is an elegant, but also life-enhancing glove, which looks more like a fashionable accessory than an awkward handicap aid.

Style does not vanish with loss of motion
Prostheses, aid equipment and other technology for the disabled are not new a discipline. But in Tommaso's view many of the aids do not fulfil their mission, not by a long shot.

“Most of the self-help aids on the market are designed solely for the purpose of functionality; aesthetics is lagging far behind,” he says.

"Welfare technology almost always has a very hospital-like or engineering-like appearance that does not take the user's style or individuality into account. And why is it that those who develop welfare technology believe that style and preferences are inconsequential for people who have been in an accident?” he asks.

The result is dismal: several self-help aids, such as one version of the glove, are already on the market, but they are often rejected due to their sad, stigmatising look and their lack of user-friendliness.

Hackers of your own life
The road to understanding the needs of users has gone through a lot of workshops.

“It has been super challenging, but also educational. And you become very humble as a designer. A typical mistake is to underestimate how much an injured person can actually do. But they are big-time hackers – all their life as physically disabled they have reinvented the use of objects, such as kitchen utensils in order to make them function to their benefit. It has been quite overwhelming to learn from someone who has created a new identity based on the accident they once suffered,” says the designer, who wants to bring beauty into the life of the disabled.

Collaboration partner: Tendo