Melbourne artist Leah Heiss designs high-tech, high-emotion therapeutic devices – like wearable ECG monitors and jewellery that can deliver insulin to diabetics. Working closely with research laboratories, Heiss wants to “destigmatise therapeutic technologies through thoughtful design,” in other words, to ditch the ugly, clunky devices that tend to mark people as sick or disabled or somehow ‘not like everyone else’.
Heiss refers to her work as being “human scale,” a concept all too often missing from the lab. “Scientists and engineers are dealing with a small part of the development process. Think about somebody working on nano-engineered molecules...it’s a long way from thinking at that scale to thinking about the experience of Bob who’s been a diabetic since he was four having to interface with a new technology.”
Most scientific research is about solving human problems – people wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t – “but often the person is considered in the abstract, ‘population A is affected by X.’” Based on her experiences, the average timeframe from development to market delivery might be ten years, with the user not considered until year 8.
The point of having artists like Heiss embedded in the laboratory from the get go is to make scientists think hard about the end user. Who is going to be using this technology? And if I were them, what would I want? “Very few of us are actually attracted to beige plastic yet hospitals are full of it.”
Leah Heiss will be speaking at the agIdeas 2013 International Design Week. Apr 29-May 3.
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