I sat down with Facett designer Leah Heiss to find out how she manages to make medical devices that people are proud to wear.
Leah, your ethos is to infuse medical design with beauty in order to help change the way people feel about their disabilities. Where did that idea come from?
I am interested in creating things that people love and cherish but that also have medical functionality. The aesthetic separation of what we actually like (jewellery, personal momentos, special scarves etc.) and what we have to use (insulin pumps, hearing aids, blood pressure monitors etc.) has always seemed strange to me. There are great designers in the world and if we turn our attention towards de-medicalising and de-stigmatising medical technologies a lot of people would be much happier.
Aside from Facett, what devices have you worked on in the past?
Diabetes Jewellery with Nanotechnology Victoria is a piece of contemporary jewellery that applies an insulin patch to the skin for diabetics. It bypasses the need to use syringes.
Arsenic jewellery and vessels with Nanotechnology Victoria are wearable vessels to remove arsenic from drinking water in countries where it is prevalent in well water.
Incus – with Blamey Saunders hears
Smart Heart is a necklace that replaces the cardiac holter monitor with RMIT University, St Vincent’s Hospital and the Nossal Institute for Global Health.
Who are your female role models?
My daughter and my mother for their stoic no-nonsense approach to getting on with the project at hand!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Largely from organic forms – geological structures, seeds, nuts, rock formations, etcetera.
What sort of challenges do you face in your design?
Being ‘at the table’ for long enough during the development process to ensure that human-centred design ideas are realised. Often design time is very short before moving into engineering development. Human engagement can be pushed to the side when we move to more technical problem resolution.
What are the key differences in your design processes to traditional ways of making medical products?
My practice is focused on 3 things, collaboration, iteration and engagement. Collaboration is about being part of the team for the long term so that human-centred design is part of development rather than an add-on. Iteration means creating and recreating the prototype until it satisfies the needs of the end user in addition to stakeholders. Engagement is the role of people in the design process – ensuring that you are connecting early and often with the people who will eventually use the product.
Visit www.facett.com.au to see Leah’s latest creation. If you’re in Melbourne, you can see Facett in the Melbourne Museum alongside other Victorian innovations such as the bionic eye and the black box.
Read about Leah’s Facett design process here: https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2018/mar/design-evolution-radically-new-hearing-aid