Mike Micallef and his wife Vickie moved into their Mississauga condominium five years ago. The Micallefs have always been interested in good, functional design. Coming from a background of professional experience at Hermann Miller, they think in terms of function before form. A desire to live easily throughout life and not accepting current standards has brought about their unique, creative approach to everyday problems including their “Living Prototype” home.
Mike was diagnosed with Huntington’s, a neurodegenerative disorder. He needs his home to be livable as his disease progresses.
Instead of forecasting, or attempting to predict the future, Mike and Vickie engaged in a process called backcasting. John Tyson, Nortel’s former Design Director and Canada’s most significant Industrial Designer, was an advocate for this management methodology.
Mike and Vickie used backcasting to imagine a future scenario — the progression of Mike’s Huntington’s — and looked at how they could work backwards to prepare for it.
The Pivot team visited the Micallef’s condo. Mike and Vickie gave us the grand tour and we saw how they adapted their space to meet their unique needs.
Backcasting in Action
Mike and Vickie have always had a cork floor in their kitchen. Vickie hates tile because she finds it hard on her feet and back. However, they underestimated the amount of condensation they’d get in a condo with floor to ceiling windows and over time, their cork floor was ruined. After much research, they replaced the cork with easy-to-clean, hospital-grade linoleum, which can withstand the excess moisture, is softer than tiles, and will provide a solid surface for Mike’s eventual need for a wheelchair.
They remodeled their washroom into a full wet-room by taking out the bathtub and making all the floors slant toward the drain. “We worked backwards from the constraints,” said Mike.
They customized all of their doorframes to be 36-inches wide — instead of the smaller, standard frame size — to more easily fit a wheelchair (or baby carriage because, as Vickie points out, accessibility isn’t only for the old or the disabled). They took out all of their round doorknobs and replaced them with easy-to-hold handles. Only the knob on their front door remains and they’re working with their condo board to change that for their whole floor.
With an understanding of their future scenario, the Micallefs are able to update their home using products and materials that help them build in incremental stages. This idea of designing for the future is more accurately described as design for change.
Experimenting with User Experience
The Micallef’s condo is a living prototype. As we toured it Mike and Vickie revealed their iterative trial-and-error process; a process that many adults neglect. Kids are naturally more inquisitive and are wired to trying new things — as we get older, we tend to abandon this practice.
Mike and Vickie let their tangible needs guide their design instead of rigidly prototyping based on supposition.
“Everything that we live with now is the result of a mistake,” Mike says of condo.
These mistakes weren’t failures; rather, it was imperative for the Micallefs to test out a solution to see if it would work for them. This successful process has enabled them to design for the progressive change in their life and can be applied to any number of other real world situations.
As of Spring 2015, Vickie and Mike have started a company called Life Stages Designs, which will help bring accessibility into other people’s homes.
In a previous article we began the conversation with Mike and Vickie about their initiative to rethink our needs for products from a medical perspective. Read the Project: Redesign Eyeglasses article.
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