This week, we’re focusing on holiday gifts that offer a Technical Advantage — making tech both better and easier to use. Sometimes, this means making tech more accessible for everyone. Designer Tatsuo Ishibashi’s Mizu Laboratory does just that, developing beautiful, useful assistive gadgets that can help ease our interactions with everyday technology.
What inspired you to start creating assistive technology through 3D printing?
Muscle force of the elderly decreases over 50% from that of youth, and I also sometimes feel weakness of grip strength. There are many self-help devices on the market to assist our daily life. But, it is difficult to find a favorite device to use because design and usability are not thoroughly considered. Existing mass-production methods cannot be adopted to make specific structures that satisfy both design and usability for the assistive devices. A 3D printer can do it easily!
How do you identify the types of products that can be developed to make everyday items easier to use for the elderly (and others)?
It’s a general method that involves product, market, and patent research. Now we can take in a variety of information through networks, so I also often test products in a real market. And there are lots of needs in our daily life. I started from a relatively simple item, a cap and tab opener.
While these are assistive devices, they’re also incredibly beautifully designed, so that they’re basically utilitarian art. Tell me more about the design process and how you picked patterns for each item.
It’s a result of trial and error. First I simplify a function of a device. Next, I make a simplified prototype by using a desktop 3D printer. I then evaluate the function and durability. Afterward, I design it based on the simplified prototype. I usually repeat that process until a satisfactory result is obtained.
Check out Tatsuo’s Shapeways shop here. His gadgets are snazzy little gizmos that are more like life-hacks, suggesting that 3D printing is changing the assistive device game — creating tools that are more useful, affordable, and beautiful than before.