Mike Micallef appreciates design as a process of solving problems in what Director of Herman Miller Inc., his once coworker, Bill Dowell champions as “the arts of daily living”.
Mike has Huntington’s disease. Five years ago, he and his wife Vickie improved their 20-year-old Mississauga condo to test and refine ideas, products and services that would enable him to enjoy life with dignity despite his deteriorating condition.
We first met Mike and Vickie at one of our DesignMeets events. After speaking with them about their goals, they invited us to continue the conversation in what they call their “living prototype” home. While sitting at their beautiful Herman Miller table and enjoying jasmine blossom tea and fresh bread, we chatted about the need for user-centered design in everyday objects from a medical perspective.
Understanding Pain Points
Mike has a specific problem with the design of eyeglasses. “He started to look around and couldn’t find anyone that would help him find the right pair of glasses. And, he has a predisposition to trying new things,” says Vickie. When he couldn’t find eyewear designed to solve his daily problems he set out to design a pair for himself.
Vickie explains that Mike has difficulty with hand-eye coordination. With his condition, he’s prone to dropping his glasses leaving them cracked and bent out of shape. He needs a pair of glasses that are durable, but still flexible — and stylish — enough to fit his face.
As designers, we call these criteria “pain points” and they become the basic requirements for a project redesign.
Real Life Prototyping
Mike designed the frames by working with subject matter experts like optician Dr. Lisa Lo and the industrial designers and 3D printing specialists at Fare Made. They determined that 3D printing would enable them to use durable materials while keeping costs low. Their process included drawings, trials and several prototype iterations. The current design uses a flexible plastic that can withstand falls and still protect the lenses.
They hope to use this collaborative prototyping process to help people customize their frames. By using people’s lenses as the starting point, they can use 3D imaging to create unique frames that fit people’s faces as well as their personalities.
They know it’s imperative to work with design experts and medical professionals to create high-quality products that not only last, but also are specific to an individual’s needs.
Mike estimates that his frames cost around $60, while his Nikon lenses are approximately $400. In comparison, his wife’s traditional glasses from Hakim Optical cost $1000.
Honing in on the User Experience
It’s easy to think that Mike’s glasses embody the do-it-yourself or ‘makers’ ethos that’s prevalent today. However, neither he nor Vickie envisions having people print their own frames at home. They know it’s imperative to work with design experts and medical professionals to create high-quality products that not only last, but also are specific to an individual’s needs.
Mike is skeptical about commercializing the glasses; he’s not sure if they’ll be successful based on the barriers he and his wife have already run into. He knows that the frames will have more success in a niche market. While there is potential to build awareness through social media or crowd funding, Mike thinks they can find prospective customers by working with doctors and others health care professionals.
“I think there’s more value in a medical model,” he says. Vickie agrees and hopes to build their business organically.
“When you’re building a business case, you build in restraints,” she says. “But, when you’re open to where the path can go, quite often you develop better (processes and solutions).”
At the outset, Vickie and Mike didn’t think about their frames as a viable business; rather, they had a problem and needed to solve it. If others can now benefit from their solution it’s a huge bonus.
In healthcare more than any other industry today, it isn’t about “one size fits all”. Rather, it is “one size fits none”. By focusing on a particular illness or disability, designers can play within unique constraints to develop more accurate and usable products and experiences.
“It isn’t just believing, it’s using,” says Mike. “Bringing it to life, that’s what matters.”
In a follow-up article we continue the conversation with Mike and Vickie about Design for Change — how do we build products that last with us through our daily lives.
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 functionality before form factor. A desire to live easily throughout life and not accepting current standards has brought about their unique, creative approach to everyday problems. Glasses that really fit a person’s face is just one of them.