A paper I wrote for Product Design class

Designing for the Future – Ergonomidesign

When one thinks of ergonomic design, people most likely think of furniture or objects designed for comfort, ease of use and to maximize productivity, often failing to include the entire population as a whole. In fact, all marginalized people in our society benefit from tools to help them live comfortably and more independent. What’s more, the senior boom is coming; baby boomers will reach 65 by 2011 (Dugdale). In Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri, Jenny Askaker writes in her article “Goods for the Grown” that seniors will have more spending money than the average consumer. Further, she writes, the European Union reports that the 65-80 year old population will grow by 40 percent between 2010 and 2030 and aging consumers will make up 25 percent of the European market in ten years (Askaker). They will be demanding new tools and products in the future; therefore challenges and opportunities are opening up within this growing consumer market. The elderly of tomorrow will be increasingly technologically savvy and desire complex yet easy to use tools (Lorenz, 9). Innovative goods and home-technology will no longer be associated with the youth, and companies are catching on to the shift. Founded in 1969, Swedish design firm Ergonomidesign specializes in inclusive design: “products for people”.

Sweden is a nation recognized for investing in design, and here designers have long targeted user functionality and affordability. In their book Swedish Design, Susanne Helgeson and Kent Nyberg write how modernism was derived from the Bauhaus in the early 30s, as it was enormously appealing to Swedish designers. Here, the movement was called if “Functionalism”: utilizing the new technologies offered by industrialization. With an emphasis in laminated bentwood for furniture design in lieu of Modernist bent steel tubing, designers where somewhat similar to the Eamses across the pond. Further, the duo writes, “…it was characterized by functional, elegant and sober everyday necessities that everybody could afford. The world perceived it as a symbol of Sweden’s democratic welfare society. The Swedish standard of living in the 1950s was the highest in the world”. The more societal equality developed in Sweden, the more industry could look at the marginalized population and offer them solutions to a higher standard of living. Functionality in design was increasingly popular following the turmoil of the oil crisis of the early 1970s. Many designers saw themselves without a job as businesses heavily started to focus their investments in technology. They revolted against the status quo in industry, and to cope with the economic crisis, formed design collectives (Helgeson & Nyberg, 29). Social commitment was to become an increasingly strong influence, and became a foundational building block in Swedish design after this time. Designers now began to look at the marginalized population as apposed to the welfare of the middleclass (as  equality had risen, it was no longer as crucial to solve class problems). Thus Ergonomidesign was born. They started in 1969 as a collective with the motto: “design for the people”. The design studio reports that inclusive design became a guiding principle for political correctness. The founders of Ergonomidesign aimed to produce working, good-looking solutions for people with disabilities so that they could carry on more tasks independently (Ergonomidesign). The pioneering design studio further states, “[d]uring the 70’s and 80’s, there was a considerable shift in attitude towards designing products to meet the needs of the elderly and people with physical disabilities. Design for the disabled gradually became somewhat of a Scandinavian characteristic, which spread overseas”. What’s more, many of the products designed in the seventies are still in production today, for example, the utensils “RFSU Rehab” designed in 1979 (although these could use a naming update…). Almost forty years later, the firm still paves the way as an exemplary design team with their core value: “human diversity as a starting point”.

Designing products for various industries such as medical, sports, consumer and professional, the studio also helps companies with interactive design and packaging. Lotta Jonson writes that Ergonomidesign has created hundreds of products we all surround ourselves with from time to time, strollers, coffee pots, park benches, disability aids, tools, floor mops, shoes and gloves, and handlebars. Further Jonson writes, that an eleven-step method including user  studies and needs analysis processes, serve as the foundational building block of any designed product. The company also adheres to fashions and production company profit margins, and like many other industrial design studios, Ergonomidesign is “plagued” by cheap manufacturing (Jonson). What does inclusive design mean for this design studio? The firm states it aims to assist members of the entire population. And in essence it is to think of human diversity, and to broaden target groups, to make products appealing for more people. Inclusive design encompasses the physical, the congenital, and the socio cultural. Inclusive design aims to affect and to assist a user’s performance. Just as people are physically diverse, their cognitive systems differ; inclusive design takes into account mental processes, such as memory, reasoning, perception and motor response (Ergonomidesign). Maria Benktzon, one of the founding members of Ergonomidesign, and an industrial designer for more than forty years, is a long-time pioneer in the field of inclusive design. She recently designed a handset phone, within what the studio calls “Care Electronics”, for the elderly in mind (for Swedish leading telephone company Doro). Benktzon kept only necessary programming functions, made it lightweight, and appealing for all. The phone was not only targeted for one user group, it can be used by anyone with hearing or vision impairments. In an interview with Benktzon for Design Week: “Technology tackles a grey area”, Trisha Lorenz writes, “[p]roducts need to address specific needs, such as reduced dexterity, loss of mobility, impaired cognitive function or poor sight and hearing. Tests have shown that older consumers prefer more traditional handsets and designers need to bear that in mind”. Further, she states that aesthetics are equally important for this target group: no one wants a product that looks like a disability aid. In the daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (November 13, 2007), Erlandsson writes that Benktzon is one of the veterans within Swedish inclusive design, as her work has been exhibited at the MOMA in New York, and many of her designed objects have become real designer classics. For example, the ergonomic coffee pot for Scandinavian airlines SAS (still used today) and the angled bread-knife that can be used by just about anyone. Benktzon recalls the 1988 exhibit “Design for Independent Living” at NYMOMA included more than half of the objects designed from Sweden. She says, today, firms around the world have caught on to inclusive design. Swedish design has in many ways set the standard.

Ergonomidesign recently redesigned an injection pen, used to treat osteoporosis. The “Preotact” was developed to change the stereotype associated with injection pens, and adhered to common users: older women, often with arthritis leading to reduced dexterity. The outcome is a device that’s easy to use and looks more attractive than a regular medical tool. The injection pen potentially creates more independence for users (Ergonomidesign). The recently designed “Gecco” concept shoe was developed to help people stay upright in the frigid Scandinavia. For example, many senior citizens are afraid to slip and fall; in turn the fear of falling decreases sense of mobility. With “anti-skid studs” and shock absorbing material, this shoe will be designed for comfort and ease of use. Furthermore, the “Gecco” has a large market potential in any area with winter climate (Ergonomidesign). The company states they are currently looking for investors. As far as the future is concerned, Ergonomidesign seems confident about their place on the market. Krister Torsell is CEO at Ergonomidesign and hopes that both government and companies will spend more on research and development for products targeted for senior citizens. It is up to companies like Ergonomidesign to teach investors about the changing market. In an interview conducted by Nadia Dyberg, Torsell recognizes the paradigm-shift that is taking place. Large corporations no longer can rely on strictly knowledge and intellect. Torsell says that while China and India keep “spitting out” economists and engineers at a rapid rate, businesses in the west become increasingly creative. He believes in the future, there will be more need for strategists, behaviorists, ergonomists and (industrial) designers. Torsell mentions the founding father of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad’s reasons for success: he engaged in consumer focus, talked to his clients and created solutions based on their needs (Dyberg). Torsell is certain that we are entering the age of the consumer.

Bibliography

Askaker, Jenny. "Prylar for Fullvuxna." Dagens Industri 10 12.2007. . 20 05.2008

<http://www.ergonomidesign.com/>.

(Title translation "Goods for the Grown")

Dyberg, Nadia. "Design Tar Plats." Dagens Industri. Unknown Publishing Date. 20 05.2008

<http://www.ergonomidesign.com/>.

(Title translation "The Position of Design")

Dugdale, Juanita. "Senior Momentum." Business Week 01 05.2007. . 17 05.2008.

<http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/may2007/id20070501_690761.htm?chan=search>.

"Ergonomidesign." 22 04.2008 <http://www.ergonomidesign.com/>.

Erlandsson, Adam. "Ny Smart Lur for Aldre" Svenska Dagbladet 13 11.2007 : 26.

(Title translation "New Smart Phone for the Elderly")

Helgeson, Susanne and Nyberg, Kent. Swedish Design. Värnamo: Fälth & Hässler, 2002.

Jonson, Lotta. "Function Rules. En bok om Ergonomidesign." Dagens Nyheter 17 12.2006. . 20 05.2008.

<http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=1352&a=598799>.

Lorenz, Trish. "Technology tackles a grey area." Design Week 01 12.2007: 9.

Works Referenced

Ergonomidesign. 18 05.2008 <http://www.ergonomidesign.com/>.

Sveriges Television. 20 05.2008 <http://svt.se/svt/jsp/Crosslink.jsp?d=10711&a=158712/>.