When Mileha Soneji’s uncle was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she knew she couldn’t cure the illness herself, but she wanted to do whatever she could to help him cope. A designer, she turned to design for solutions; she spent day after day with her uncle to figure out what products could make everyday life easier for him. In a talk at TEDxDelft, Soneji explains how designing one-on-one with a person can create simple solutions that have immeasurable impact, not just for one person, but for many.
Soneji and her uncle first tackled the task of coffee drinking. He had stopped drinking coffee in public because tremors made his drink spill, so Soneji set out to design a product that would eliminate this problem for him. After studying the liquid flow in her uncle’s mug as he drank, Soneji realized that tremors created a pattern of spillage that a bell-shaped mug could halt full-stop. “[The mug] works purely on its form,” she explains in her talk. “The curve on top deflects the liquid back inside every time [a person] has tremors and keeps the liquid inside.”
Soneji made sure to make the mug something her uncle would actually want to use in public, rather than creating an antiseptic medical device that would make him feel self-conscious. “[The mug] is not tagged as a Parkinson’s patient product,” she says. “It looks like a cup that could be used by you, me, any clumsy person — and that makes it much more comforting for [a person with Parkinson's] to use.”
Next, they tackled walking. When Soneji watched her uncle navigate his apartment, she saw that he had trouble walking across a room, but had no trouble climbing up and down stairs; somehow, the continuous motion of climbing and descending a staircase eased his symptoms. She wanted to know if perhaps merely the impression of climbing stairs could help her uncle’s mobility, so after many tests, she developed a “staircase illusion” floor, a painted design that simulates the experience of climbing a staircase and let her uncle move across flat floor with the same ease as a staircase.
Soneji admits that her designs are not considered “smart” by the 21st-century standards, but hopes they will inspire other designers to craft simple designs that provide meaningful solutions for other people.
To learn more, watch Soneji’s whole talk below: