Some Early Ideas for the Project: Asthma.

I decided this evening that, because this project is so open, I would like to take the opportunity to look into a branch of design I have yet to explore; Medical Design. I’ve always had an interest in the human body and medicine, so it seems natural to me to try and apply the things I’ve learnt in design to this industry. I think this idea was triggered by a couple of things; firstly, last week while reading, I came across the name Mathieu Lehanneur and decided to look into his work, a number of his products address the need to improve and constantly adapt medical design, and this seems like a very worthwhile and humanitarian investment. Secondly, during  today’s creative careers talk, an alumni of the Product Design course came to discuss her work and research in prosthetic design and maxillofacial reconstruction, something which I personally found very exciting.

With this I considered my own relationship to medicine, in particular through my own experience of medical conditions. Asthma came to mind, and with it the images of the products provided to treat the condition. I started my process with a simple and quick exercise to produce as many terms I could which I can associate with the asthma inhaler I currently carry, and the experience I have of using it: ‘White, Red, Shiny, Plastic, Cold, Robust, Small, Twist, Suck, Bullet, Lid, Seal,  Closed, Sealed, Child Proof, Powder, Medicinal, Identifiable, Click, Braille.’ I then pursued some further reading through general internet searches and on the ‘Asthma UK’ website. This highlighted more of the issues associated with the inhalers used to treat the condition; ‘inhalers are easy to forget to carry when out and about, inhalers are easy to forget to take daily, inhalers are embarrassing to use in public, children are sometimes bullied for using inhalers, there is a reliance on training in asthma techniques to effectively use the inhaler.’

The majority of people who suffer from the condition use inhalers to treat the condition. There are a number of varieties of inhaler which range from the most common aerosol inhaler, to the powder ‘Accuhaler’ and ‘Turbohaler’. In most cases, patients have at least two varieties of inhaler, one taken daily which is a ‘Preventer’, and another; the ‘Reliever’ which is carried for emergency use during asthma attacks. The NHS website makes note that Preventer inhalers are usually identifiable by their ‘brown, red or orange’ colour, while Reliever inhalers are ‘often blue’.

At this stage I decided to look again at Lehanneur, in particular his inhaler design for children, called ‘The Third Lung’. This is an exceptional piece of design, it somehow works semantically without looking in anyway medicinal, it integrates efficiently and unobtrusively into the life of the user by creating a manufactured symbiotic relationship with them. It’s real elegance is in the way it accepts the natural desire of a child, their will to play, discover, and to nurture, and then goes one step further by encouraging it. An audio clip here on ‘Moma’ gives a better account (in under two minutes) of how Lehanneur came to his design outcome.

Next, I want to look into the designs of the most common inhalers (such as those available on the NHS) in more details, and analyse the orthodoxies and themes within them in better detail. I want to look further into the condition and the relationship people have with it. I also plan to approach a fellow student from another discipline to see if they would like to collaborate.


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