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Design for people with disabilities should be incredible – and these projects prove it

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We all know Nike is one of the world’s leading innovators, long respected for its ingenuity in incorporating the latest technologies into sleek design, but what really struck me was the story behind its pair of shoes, Zoom Soldier 8.

Designed with disability in mind, they have made a product which not only looks effortlessly cool but also gives a sense of independence to those who may struggle with the traditionally designed sports shoe. Working with the support of Matthew Walzer, a teenager with cerebral palsy, they have prioritised the needs of a large part of society the fashion industry often forgets to create a product which appeals to mass market consumers.

There are fantastic creatives focused on solving the issues of people living with disabilities, but sadly many of these are small, niche product designers. The majority of mainstream brands have never used this as the starting point for product creation – but couldn’t this be a great source of inspiration?

One of the most inspiring areas challenging the balance between form and function is prosthetic limb design. With the development of 3D technologies offering cheaper manufacture and speed, designers have been able to use this technology to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Previously design for disabilities has prioritised function over fashion, in many ways designing products that “fit in” and adhere to society’s definition of what normal should be. For an emerging generation of ably challenged people who see their disability not as something they are defined by, they want to use prosthetic design as a tool to express their personality and challenge stereotypes.

The Alternative Limb Project is a great example of this, creating almost unbelievable futuristic limb designs which act more as a fashion accessory. Singer songwriter Viktoria Modesta – also an amputee – sums it up best, saying: “It was really fascinating watching people’s reactions because most of them were speechless.

“Some had never stood next to a person with a prosthetic limb and the ideas they might have of what an amputee might look or act like is, in most cases, negative. So when they do clock my appearance and then see the leg, it is very challenging for them. Most importantly when the limb is attached and I’m walking with it in my full composure it has a power that is beyond something that can be described.”

Innovation keeps designers creative, it keeps our industry moving forward, by looking outside of our usual sphere for inspiration and challenging perceptions we may just find we can create better products, which not only change the lives of thousands but are also commercially viable.

MORE: 10 things you should know before studying product design

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