Healing Accessories: Modern Craftsmanship Applied to Assistive Device Design

Weichen Chang holds a Ph.D in Design Research, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology and is Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Design, Chang Gung University, R.O.C. This article expresses how modern craftsmanship is mobilized to produce innovative aesthetics for assistive device design. Combining modern craftsmanship with industrially produced assistive devices has the potential to enrich innovation and add to the future quality of life for those who use these devices.


An “assistive device” is any device that helps someone do something that they might not otherwise be able to do well, or at all. The term is used for any device that helps people overcome a handicap whether relating to mobility, vision, mental, dexterity or hearing loss. These devices often make their users feel conspicuous, deviant or stigmatized (Scherer, 2000). As noted by Mace (1998) little or no attention is paid to the aesthetics of assistive technology. Batavia & Hammer (1990) use the term “personal acceptability” to describe the extent to which the consumer is psychologically comfortable when using assistive devices in public, including whether they consider devices to be aesthetically attractive. With this in mind that assistive device design must meet the basic physical demands of the disabled as well as the psychological demand for bettering the quality of daily life.

A study by H. C. A. Yeh (2009) found that when accounting for the misuse or lack of use of assistive devices “unattractiveness” was not given as a reason. Thus, we could conclude that practicality comes before aesthetics. Yet, these two goals are not mutually exclusive. For instance, Yanagi Muneyoshi (2013) concluded that if beauty is located in “use” then the most practical appliance can benefit from being finely crafted. This study examines the craftsmanship of assistive devices, which in turn demonstrates aesthetic value. Wobbrock (2010) believed assistive technologies do not bridge social misperceptions of disability and therefore may not meet their potential for enabling a comprehensive understanding of access. Assistive technology design should address function, usability and cost as well as aesthetics and social acceptance. If people with disabilities use the same technology as everyone else, perceptions of what they can and cannot do may be re-aligned. After all, technology now exists to provide unparalleled access. We should consider how to change perceptions. Oskar Krantz (2009) stated the factors known to influence user attitudes include aesthetics, ease of propulsion, ease of transfer, fit, design, size, weight, maneuverability and portability. Aesthetics and optimal design are important features even though assistive devices have a history of being crudely fashioned devices. Assistive devices can be seen as both “tools assisting bodily function” and as a contributor to the “body/self as it is experienced and presented to others”.

In this study various materials and methods are applied to assistive device design. The materials used are important to the user’s touch with some materials being more user-friendly than others. By discussing the situation and atmosphere that users exist in from the “scenario” point of view, an aesthetic image is developed and the overall modern design form. The design is performed based on the correlation between the user and environmental elements. The implication of craftsmanship aesthetics is transformed into a style language as a reference for the assistive device design. This study aims are: 1. Understand from the Phenomenology of Perception a complementary relationship between craftsmanship aesthetics and physical culture forming the design expression. 2. Realise that designers are able to fully master the craftsmanship aesthetic of assistive device design and make use of it in developing products that symbolize a theme that responds to the times, creating fashions that lead the design style.

Case Studies

Assistive devices used by the disabled should achieve the quality aesthetics of “people, scenario, matter, usage, exquisite, beautiful” and convey the “health and beauty” of modern craftsmanship applied to assistive device design. The study shows how the future development of assistive device design has gradually changed. Producers are no longer just concerned with functional demands but have to pay heed to the phenomenologies of perception and enrich the interactive experience with society.

Effective assistive device design requires designers to think outside the box and integrate modern craftsmanship. Four dimensions of modern craftsmanship are considered:

  1. Suitable form: geometric form is extensively applied in aesthetic style and widely used.
  2. Form function: materials and craftsmanship can be applied to assistive device design. Diversified materials can be taken into consideration for assistive device design.
  3. Touch: Both form and material that convey the specific healing value bring sensitivity to the human sense of touch.

The application of craftsmanship in assistive device design aims primarily to better the designer’s capability to integrate the physical function with the aesthetic interpretation, but it must be used with caution to create a compatible effect. Moreover, comprehensive craft aesthetics are necessary to prevent embarrassing emphasis of any particular disability and each “craft” has its specific material or form with variations used as the best tool for the designer. In the examples that follow we can observe the following: (1) directivity, repetition, parallel, sequence, alternation, gradient, shifting, emission, rhythm; (2) emphasis and contrast; (3) synthesis, proportion, specification, balance, harmony, unification.

Figure I: Skidproof wristlet (Ya-Wen Tsai, Wei-Chen Chang, 2013)

Figure 1

The skidproof wristlet reduces the ice-cold feeling that senior citizens have when holding a handrail and increases handrail friction to lower tumbling risk

Figure 2

Neck Protection beautifies the neck guard that rehabilitates injured extremities and increases a patient’s willingness to wear it. This creation was selected by Red Dot Award design concept 2011.


Figure 3: Joint clips and assistive devices for the fingers (An-Ti Chang, 2012)

Figure 2. Neck Protection
(Kai-Jing Chen, 2011)










Figure 3

Joint clips and assistive devices for the fingers help arthritis patients rectify finger joint deviations. A flexible crocheted assistive device can be placed around the finger and wrist to improve fine hand movement instability. This creation was nominated by Dream Space Exhibition.


In these examples, modern craftsmanship is adopted to create the specific effect of assisting and facilitating the broad acceptance and appreciation of disability by others. Different physical conveyances imply different design applications, indicating differential values for expression of the materials and the meaning of assistance. In other words, “modern craftsmanship” provides an aesthetic of sensitivity to the user. Craftsmanship conveyed in the assistive device design shows four features:

  1. Design should not just be about the pursuit of functional demand but should reflect individual style.
  2. A receptivity to “fashion”.
  3. With the elements and principles of craftsmanship the designer creates a distinctive aesthetic.
  4. It is not just a decoration; it expresses one’s characteristics. The designer has to understand these elements and principles to create all effects.

Assistive technology is chosen for users based on the individual’s needs. The determining factors can include material challenges, product goals and the customer’s setting. Once the craft technology is chosen, it is tested and evaluated for the user. Full assistive device implementation takes place after all interested parties see the potential for growth or improvement.


Batavia, A. I., & Hammer, G. S. 1990. “Toward the development of consumer-based criteria for the evaluation of assistive devices” Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development 27: 425–436.

Biederman, I., 1987. “Recognition-by-conponents: A theory of human image understanding” Psycological Review 94: 115-147.

Davis, F, 1985. “Clothing and fashion as communication” in M. R. Solomon (ed.) The Psychology of Fashion (New York: Lexington), p.27.

HCA Yeh. 2009. “Elderly People’s use of and attitudes towards assistive devices.” Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Kaijing Chen, 2011. “Healing Accessories: Lacquer Craft Applied to the Design of Orthotic Devices.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis of Department of Applied Arts, Fu Jen Catholic University.

Mace, R. L. 1998. “Universal design in housing.” Assistive Technology 10(1): 21–28.

Oskar Krantz. 2009. “Social Construction of Technical Aids Personal Meaning and Interactional Effects of Disability and Assistive Devices in Everyday Life.” See www.dastudio.se/science (date accessed October 1, 2014)

Parette, P. and Scherer, M. 2004. “Assistive Technology Use and Stigma.” Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities 39(3): 217-226.

Scherer, M. J. 2000. Living in the State of Stuck. How Technology Impacts the Lives of People with Disabilities (3rd ed.) (Cambridge, MA: Brookline).

Scherer, M. J. 2003. Connecting to learn: Educational and assistive technologies for people with disabilities (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books).

Springgay, S. & Freedman, D. 2010. “Sleeping with Cake and Other Touchable Encounter: Performing a Bodied Curriculum” in E. Malewski (ed.). Curriculum Studies Handbook – The Next Moment (New York: Routledge), pp.228-239.

Marian L. Davis, Translated by Hong-Wei Li, 2004. Visual Design in Dress 1: Introduction, Visual Design in Dress 2: Elements, Visual Design in Dress 3: Principles (Taipei: Shinning Culture Publishing Co.)

Yanagi Muneyoshi, 2013. The Principle of Craft : The Origin of Japanese Hundred-Year Aesthetics of Life (BigArt Press).



One thought on “Healing Accessories: Modern Craftsmanship Applied to Assistive Device Design

  1. Very interesting creative findings and works. For the aging population trends taking place now, it shows certain breakthrough business opportunities of assistive devices beyond purely health caring functions.

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