Re-designing the prosthetic arm:21 students  |  sva mfa design

During the fall semester of 2009, 21 students embarked on a journey to conduct design work around upper limb prosthetics. Through readings, research, and an incredible group of guest critics including Aimee Mullins, Jon Kuniholm, Frank Wilson and Elliot Washor, the students attempted to put a dent in what may arguably be one of the most daunting design challenges imaginable—to design a better prosthetic arm.

The students took different approaches to the problem: some attacked it directly with mechanical improvements to existing prosthetics. Others offered devices and garments that introduced alternative modalities or provided new functionality. Some students took a more abstract approach, creating formal, often sculptural, gestures as a way to help us think about the notion of ‘prosthetic,’ while others took an extremely conceptual approach to investigating the paradigms and cultures around prosthetics and amputees.

Many of the projects were targeted at kids, arguing that there may be wider leeway in what would be deemed acceptable to the user. Some of these push the definitions of function, providing devices that are playful and life-affirming. The more sobering investigations in the group try to address the realities of arm amputees—as much as is possible by designers with both limbs.

Throughout the 10 weeks, the design project was humbling, daunting, and thrilling in its ability to demonstrate the power of design, and the potential for design thinking and creativity to impact this long-neglected problem. I hope that looking through these projects, you will feel their power and imagination, and use it to fuel your own paths to celebrating the lives of people, whatever their abilities.

-- Allan Chochinov