Medical Design

Hanna Mawbey is a graduate designer, maker and researcher based in Brighton and she has devoted her creative energy to designing new and improved medical devices.  The modern world’s medical advances have been astonishing to say the least, wiping out diseases, transplants, implants, reconstructions, the list is endless.  During these super innovative times it may have been easy to overlook the often sterile and clinical nature of these medical advances particularly with medical devices such as crutches, inhalers, wheel chairs, prosthetic limbs etc.  It was this cold, soulless and sometimes cumbersome design that has motivated Mawbey to design medical devices that take in consideration the emotional and psychological attachment to using medical devices.

Image above is Mawbey’s brushed polished metal asthma inhaler designed to be more attractive and friendlier thus encouraging the user to take there medication when required as well as using it confidently in public. The bland browns and blues of traditional asthma inhalers have been washed away with this intriguing inhaler with its reflective textured surface and almost trendy like appeal.  Mawbey is currently working on releasing this device for market which is expected soon.  During Mawbey’s research she discovered that when spectacles were first introduced into the NHS they were considered medical aids and that any form of aesthetic design was not to be included and was actively discouraged by the NHS guidelines of the day.  This fascinating research shows that perceptions can be changed through design to create a better future for people relying on medical devices.

Mawbey’s crutches have been modified with crochet stitches which instantly transforms the perception of the medical device to a fun, friendly and more welcoming design.  Through texture and colour Mawbey has changed the appearance of what is normally a soulless design to a an energetic up beat looking medical device. Mawbey has used colour to influence the emotional state of the user, bright up beat colours keep people feeling energetic and happy which aids the healing process.  Mawbey believes that people who rely on medical devices should not have to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when using them; her designs address the aesthetic and function of modern medical devices.  Mawbey’s research is fascinating as she uncovers the history of medical devices, ‘Medical aids have not always been mass produced and made from cheap materials as they are now, for example early prosthetic’s were made from ‘warm’ materials such as leather, wood, metal and even knitting’ says Mawbey.  Its amazing that somewhere down the line the users emotional well-being with regard to medical devices has been overlooked but fantastic driven designers such as Hanna Mawbey are sure to innovate and implement new designs.


I am happy to say that Hanna Mawbey was generous enough to share some of her words with about her motivations, designs and plans for the future! Read below for a fantastic insight into a designers life.


Pinso: What where your motivations for researching and designing medical devices? What made you say, this is what I want to do!


Hanna M: My interests have been informed by a number of factors – the most prominent being that I grew up with my sister who has the genetic illness Cystic Fibrosis. She spent a lot of time in hospital throughout her childhood and I spent a lot of time in hospital visiting her. As I started to develop my creative interests, I loved anything to do with science, medicine, anatomy and I became fascinated by museums such as the Hunterian and the Wellcome Collection. When I began studying at the University of Brighton, I developed these interests and sought a way to make my own work. I suppose the catalyst was when my sister was back in hospital again and we started talking about how boring hospital equipment was – she mentioned that she would love a sparkly pink ventolin inhaler as hers was so ugly looking.

It started an idea for me and my initial work was very playful – I made a set of prosthetic ‘Finger Tips’ with interchangeable finger printing devices to replace the lost finger print. It was a crude project, but it began a narrative and journey for my work that remains now.

After this, I decided to continue pursuing similar ideas and presented two degree shows with various collections of conceptual design pieces intended to challenge the traditional image of medical aids and assistive technology. I made crocheted crutches, a wood & leather prosthetic leg and a silver asthma inhaler amongst other things.

Upon graduation from the University of Brighton, I gathered a lot of interest in the silver asthma inhalers in particular so I decided to turn my conceptual work into a reality.


Pinso: Medical devices are known to be soulless objects to fulfill a purpose and nothing more, what challenges have you encountered in changing this perception and how did you overcome them?


Hanna M: The main challenge I have come across is that (often able-bodied) designers cannot see the point in making assistive technology attractive, or do not fully understand the needs, desires and wishes of the people they are designing for.

That is the reason that so much assistive technology ends up looking like hospital equipment. I recently saw a talk by Denise Stephens of Enabled by Design where she discussed her frustrations at not being able to find a perching stool that she liked for her kitchen; the ‘assistive’ ones looked like hospitals chairs and were very expensive, they really stood out in her home – in the end she bought a really nice chair from a mainstream shop that fitted in with the design of her kitchen. One thing she noticed was that her friends would never dare to sit in the ‘special’ chair, but would not think twice about sitting on the good one she bought. Perhaps if designers just thought of ‘designing for all’, then there wouldn’t be the need for different assistive chairs?

With my own work, the way I have overcome the challenge is to try and talk about how spectacles are a perfect example of how assistive technology has managed to cross over into mainstream fashion. When spectacles were first prescribed on the NHS they were considered medical aids and were not supposed to have fancy finishes. In fact it was actively discouraged by NHS guidelines. Now, fashion designers will have complimentary ranges of spectacles to go along with their seasonal clothing collections and glasses are considered an accessory. When I discuss my own work, I think that this example is good to illustrate that medical aids and assistive technology can be something fashionable and desirable, as well as functional.


 Pinso: How has your designs influenced the behaviours of the people who rely on medical devices?


Hanna M: At the moment I am developing a range of inhalers that are made in various luxury materials, and the idea behind them is that patients are more likely to use them because they are less embarrassed. By increasing adherence to a medical regime, the inhaler cases are not only better looking but also ensure that the person actually uses it regularly. This in turn helps to alleviate their symptoms. I recently presented my work at the Aging 2.0 | London conference and met several people involved with user testing, so I am currently trying to set up some trials to prove that using one of my fancy inhalers will increase adherence in patients.


Pinso: Where do you see yourself 3 years from now?


Hanna M: In three years I hope to have set up my own company (which I am currently in the process of doing) and be selling my work online and in shops. At the moment I am working a part-time job to support my creative endeavors, so I plan to be able to support myself through my own work. I wouldn’t rule out freelancing for other companies also, and I would love to show my work in exhibitions. My work was recently picked up by a gallery in York, so I do hope that further galleries will be interested in showing my work.


Pinso: Finally, when can we expect to see the asthma inhaler on the market?


Hanna M: Very soon. I need to have my products tested and as mentioned previously, I would like to carry out a trial with a group of patients to see if the inhalers increase adherence to their medical regime. I have a mailing list, and I will be updating everyone as soon as they are available.


Big thank you to Hanna Mawbey for taking the time out to talk to us.


Thank you!


You can see more of Mawbey’s great work on her website here.


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