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Firstly let me tell you how we design: There is a big misconception in the world of product development, and that is “more functionality means ‘better’ ”. This mentality is generally driven by the marketing men and not by the needs of the users. It is also over complicates the product and, of course, justifies a higher price. Whereas a good product is one which does the job well, and design elegance is the result of what unnecessary features we can take out. To state our design philosophy more concisely “be clever, be simple”.
Having a reputation for this approach, we were contacted early this year by the Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) department of Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, part of the UK’s National Health Services (NHS). They invited us to enter into a joint collaborative venture to develop a new alphabet board for literate people who were unable to speak and had tremor problems. This may be due to a variety of conditions such as strokes, swallowing difficulties, trachetoeiomes, MND, SLS, MS, CP, cancers and many motor control problems, or just “just jittery” hands.
The great advantage of working with the NHS is that they are needs driven, and the products they require comes from direct experience of therapists on floor. What they had identified was a problem and were looking for a professional solution in form of commercial product.
The problem is this: Printed paper alphabet charts tend not to be durable, they slip about, they pick up dirt, people get messy, they get lost, don't work in the shower, and above all, people are not very accurate when they point at letters. Add to this a tremor condition, such a Parkinson's, and the task of isolating a single letter by pointing at it becomes an extremely difficult task. What was needed was solution which addressed all of these problems in the simplest possible way. The result in the FAB (Frenchay Alphabet Board).
The design requirement for the device were defined as:
To conclude, an alphabet board should be simple and fulfil all its design constraints without compromising the end user. FAB is a good example of this. Whilst the underlying decisions are complex, they should be invisible to the user.
Anyone unable to speak but has some hand movement, regardless of the extend of the tremor, can communicate more accurately, conveniently and with increase hygiene due to the rigourous application of design simplicity.
Lyndon Owen is the managing director of E2L Limited; an electronic product design company any based in Monmouth, South Wales, United Kingdom. He has studied at Sheffield, Wolverhampton and Southampton universities in the UK and since 1984 has been involved with several small, high technology, start up companies. His current venture, E2L Limited was founded in 1998 in order to address product design in a radical new way. The company is nationally recognised in Wales as “Ambassadors for Innovations” and their unique approach to product development ensures simplicity and effective solutions to a wide variety of problems. The company has a worldwide distribution network including in the USA.