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Innovative and Inclusive Design Solutions Recognised by the Helen Hamlyn Awards 2017

From the world’s first manual wheelchair with a steering system to a solution to poor air quality in the London Underground, the Helen Hamlyn Awards have recognised six RCA graduate projects that have the potential to improve people’s lives through inclusive design.

Organised by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, the annual awards are spread across six categories, with each winner receiving £2,000 prize money to support further development of their project. The winners were chosen by a panel of experts from a shortlist based on evidence of a real social issue or problem, rigorous research including user-testing, and worthiness of solution.

The Snowdon Award for Disability was awarded to Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) graduate Reto Togni for his design of the world's first manual everyday wheelchair with a steering system. The chair is controlled through upper body movement rather than braking and pushing, making it easier and more enjoyable to use, improving body awareness and stimulating muscles that are not otherwise used.

‘IDE has made me much more aware of how important it is to engage with potential users and given me a toolset to conduct that primary research,’ Reto explained. He developed his wheelchair design through a combination of user-centred and experimental design processes, making full-scale prototypes and stepping out of the studio to test them.

Reto has filed a patent for the core mechanism of his design, which he will be presenting at the Global Disability Innovation Summit in July. He is also in contact with users, manufacturers and medical experts who are interested in future developments and running clinical trials on the therapeutic benefits of the system.

The Helen Hamlyn Design Award for Creativity was awarded to Design Products graduate Danielle Clode, for The Third Thumb – a prosthetic additional digit that is controlled by the feet. ‘Prosthetics are such unique products; it’s a product relationship unlike any other,’ Danielle said. ‘I wanted to really explore this connection that develops between the wearer and the limb, so I wanted the design to be able to be experienced by anyone.’

Danielle’s design strengthens and enhances natural dexterity through robotic technical innovation, not only addressing limb loss but allowing people from all abilities to extend their capabilities. ‘The Third Thumb is not just a physical object to be experienced, but it is also a cross-section of a large body of research that I am hoping to pursue further,’ Danielle explained. ‘I would like to continue to develop my live-hinge 3D printed thumb prosthetic, and start to apply my research and development to other areas within prosthetic design.’

Interior Design graduate Braelyn Hamill was awarded the Scott Brownrigg Design Award for Inclusive Spaces for her project Atmospheric Pressures: reimagining the interior ecosystem of London Underground. Braelyn’s design presents a solution to poor air quality on the London Underground, filtering the air with plants and rock salt tiles, designed to match the existing iconic London Underground tiles.

‘Reimagining the London Underground came from investigating latent potentials in our already existing transport infrastructure’ Braelyn explained. ‘It was also partially born out of my miserable daily summer commute on the Tube. Most of my research was focused on reinvigorating pre-existing systems to produce healthier, more balanced, more helpful, and happier municipal spaces for near future urban dwellers.’

The other Helen Hamlyn Award winners were Katrine Hesseldahl and Victor Strimfors, from Design Products, who won the Realys Design Award for Work Futures for their sustainable modular furniture system. STRATA Pace Layer Project, combats furniture waste with parts sold in layers, allowing owners to substitute just the part that needs replacing.

IDE graduate Mafalda Sobral won the Stannah Inclusive Design Award for her system Begego that enables children to be independent in managing Type 1 diabetes by connecting existing devices to alert users when blood sugar is low.

The MIE Design Award for Healthcare was awarded to Design Products graduate Tolu Odusanya, and Architecture graduate Umi Baden-Powell, for Okun Makoko a collaborative project that tackles the urgent problem of energy supply in Makoko, a floating slum neighbourhood of Lagos.

Find out more about the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.