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Q&A with Core77 design winner: Bespoke Fairing for below-knee amputees

Ben Kaufman’s company, Quirky, is all about finding great ideas from regular people and turning them into real, marketable products, and Core77 is all about covering the best and latest in design and technology. Throughout the Quirky series, we’ll be bringing you stories from designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve either already brought their product from concept to completion or are right in the middle of that process – and all without the help of a company like Ben’s.

Today we bring you the story of the Bespoke Fairing, winner of the Core77 Design Award for Soft Goods/Apparel. Designed by Scott Summit of Bespoke Innovations.

Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited, and why?

Each of our bodies is unique, as are our tastes and styles. Humans are anything but one-size-fits-all, and we want to recognize that fact. We achieve this by creating products that allow our clients to personalize their prosthetic legs. Our hope is to enable our clients to emotionally connect with their prosthetic limbs and wear them confidently as a form of personal expression.

The challenges come in several forms. First, there are no established road maps for mass customized parts, especially those relating directly to the body of an individual. So we’re exploring the degree to which a user may influence the final design of their leg and how much may be created using pre-existing templates. Beyond that, each prosthetic leg itself is a unique assembly of manufactured parts, meaning that even the most basic mechanical mounting hardware designs must be individually tailored. And additive fabrication, though growing into a mature industry, is by no means a stable, predictable technology. This makes it difficult to predict the survivability of the parts, since no two parts are alike, though all must be as lightweight as possible.

Allowances must be factored in that accommodate the wide variability of the technology. Three-dimensional scanning is also fairly new, so we reinvented a 3D scanner so that it was affordable, transportable, and easily understood by the doctors and prosthetists who serve as our liaisons to the amputee community.

What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?

This work has no precedent, so every aspect of it has evolved from an exploration. Our goal was to transform the prosthetic leg – something necessary but often resented by the wearer – into something cherished.

When designing this project, whose interested did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audience, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc.)

Every stakeholder presents a unique challenge in this process. The amputee is not a designer, yet we’re requesting their thoughts and tastes in the design process, turning them into a de facto client throughout the process. The costs required to create such a custom device are also prohibitive to most of those in need, so we’ve explored every possible solution to reduce the cost. Doctors and prosthetists also represent a challenge, since this is new and unorthodox to them. And the companies creating 3D printing are still in their early stages, unfamiliar with ’3D printing.’ Finally, the manufacturers of the existing prosthetic limbs were factored into the process, since our parts must integrate with their’s every step of the way.

Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc.)

We are deep in the amputee community, and explore every opportunity to better understand their unique needs. But there are also medical aspects as well as biomechanical, fashion and psychological considerations that play into the process. We invented new 3D scanners in order to reduce cost and improve the simplicity and availability of the scan. We also created entirely new digital processes that allowed the complexity of the human body to be, essentially, turned into a canvas for design and expression. And we created a now patented 3D geometry that interfaces our parts with the existing prosthetic limb to improve the versatility that we can offer.

But ‘mass customization’ will always present challenges, since there are really no precedents to draw from, and much of what we do is research.

What is the social value of your design?

Our focus is to bring more humanity to people who have congenital or traumatic limb loss. We are proud to be part of the movement towards individualized medicine, and a leader in bringing a more personal approach to the way a broad spectrum of medical devices are developed and used.
We are driven by the fact that our process is paving the way for more products to be created ‘on demand,’ custom-tailored to suit the desires and the unique form of the person for whom they are designed.

If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?

Because we’re bound to very new and often experimental technologies, we’re limited by the high costs associated with that. Many amputees who would love this option simply cannot afford it, and we have very little ability to reduce the cost. We’re constantly working to drop the design and production costs until we can offer fairings to a broader audience.

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