Design in the mobility world

March 3, 2010

As you’ll have been able to tell from my house entries, I enjoy living in aesthetically pleasing surroundings. Aethetically pleasing to me is about texture, materials of the items, lines and colour. This needs to be mixed with a good dose of functionality too. Hence I’m looking for a sideboard that will offer the same storage space we currently have in ours, but in a better layout, made out of solid wood and clean unfussy lines. I’ve been looking for a while, as my budget is also constraining choices, but I know what I want exists and if we have to save up longer for it, so be it.

However when it comes to an item that spans 4m, gets used several times daily, choice does not appear to exist. I’ve been researching a new stairlift. Bogstandard stairlifts are made of this beige, grey plastic and sometimes you get the choice of upholstery colours (usually beige, blue or red) and usually vinyl or bus-seat scratchy stuff. Thfey invariably have office carpet on the footrest-the grey corrugated stuff? The rail is now often quite sleek compared to older versions, powder coated cream or stainless steel aluminium (I meant in colour not material) -major dust gatherers, but relatively easy to dust/hoover. Talking of dust, there are some many difficult to reach bits on the stairlift chair part… major design flaw. When parked up, stairlifts usually require folding up, to allow other stair-users better access. This means the arms fold up, the seat folds from mid seat and the footrest folds up too. Giving you a sea of the grey-beige plastic and some odd shapes. Mum and I tried making a fabric cover for my stairlift, but due to the folding and other parts (swivel levers and on off switches) it really didn’t look good.

Googles best efforts brought up one website showing a nicely upholstered chair, but still the nooks and crannys for dust and a slight improvement on the grey-beige, but not much of one. When folded though, this chair looks uglier than most!!

This is not the first time I’ve stumbled upon a massive gap in the mobility market. I’d love to have a team of welders, electricians etc to hand to design something from the end user point, whilst CONSTANTLY considering cost, as mobility products carry a high price. form and function.

in the meantime, back to swatching for a gorgeous cardigan.



  1. I beg to differ ! At Stannah, we have strived to bring functionality and saftey to our newest products as well as excellent design with the end user’s wish of not having an ugly dust collector. We have leather(real leather) woven fabrics of wool/cotton blend and sturdy,attractive vinyl upholstries. Our rail is not just raw aluminum,like most (none are stainless steel as mentioned)but is coated with a very subtle colored abnodized finish which is rock hard(does not wear) and no nooks and crainies to collect dust.Seymore-Powell design co from England helped us design this lift and it shows.Take a look at Stannah’s Solus and Sofia models.Simply the best lifts on the market today. Thanks

    • I did like the look of the Sofia seat, it looked comfortable and stylish, which is not something that could be said about my last 3 chairs (moved around a lot-note to others, the brands varied on those 3) It’s good to see that design is going in the right direction, but other companies need to (maybe they are quietly) get on board and push the designs forward.

  2. I feel your pain – all sorts of disability support aids seem to be designed without a thought to how they fit into a home environment. Sounds like a gap in the market to me.

    Now if only I had the energy to do something about it!

  3. I tried to set up a business a few years ago devoted exclusively to stopping that gap in the market! Missability Ltd. went on to become an art project instead, but my research into the viability was interesting.

    Many gaps like the one you cite do certainly exist; so much equipment has a distinctly medicalised overtone and ranges from one uninspiring shade of beige to another uninspiring shade of grey. Looking into the costs for producing such items, however, quickly revealed that the way the things are made reflects a ‘one-style-fits-all’ mentality, with the idea that if it is ‘neutral’ in tone or colour, then everyone will like it. The trouble is that these beige and grey tones of which you speak are no longer neutral! They are highly codified design signifiers that shout HOSPITAL and DISABILITY rather than AMAZING DESIGN!

    I realised that I don’t have the number-crunching skillz for running a business for producingly aesthetically pleasing living aids; like you I defaulted to making coverings for visually unpleasing items. However, KUDOS to you for trying to cover a stairlift!

    The most inspiring designs I have seen re: accessibility and design have all come from the DBA Inclusive Design Challenge over the years:


    …don’t know if anyone has done anything amazing with a stairlift but maybe there is an opportunity to pitch it to them?

    There was also an amazing exhibition called adorn:equip which had some amazing ideas in it re: the design of mobility aids.


    • thank you very much for those links, interesting designs!!!!

      🙂 I remember your stick cosy and you mentioning missability a while back (it vanished from my favs when I merged my queue and favs I think!! SHOCK.

      I may have the maths skills, but definitely don’t have the business head for venturing into production of anything (yet-don’t want to rule it out completely!). I’m also surprised by how many people with a disability just accept bog-standard and have no desire for better function let alone better aethetics (I’m thinking wheelchairs here mainly-and decent desings definitely exist here!)

  4. Sorry, here is a better link for the Helen Hamlyn DBA challenge – http://www.hhc.rca.ac.uk/209/all/1/DBA_Challenge.aspx

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