Melbourne-based artist and designer, Leah Heiss, offers a radical re-conceptualisation of the process of designing new medical technologies, arguing for an open, trans-disciplinary and collaborative relationship between science and design. The emotional experience of the user of medical technologies is of paramount importance to Heiss. Early in her research, Heiss discovered that many people opt out of wearing or using their medical devices (such as hearing aid technologies or medic jewellery) because they are perceived to be unattractive and come with a litany of social stigmas. By creating clinical medical devices as highly covetable design objects – albeit with better technical capacity than their predecessors – Heiss removes the signals of ‘disability’ and ‘illness’, situating the power of disclosure back into the hands of the individual.
CUSP presents the iterative design process behind Heiss’ therapeutics projects. Presented as a series of prototypes created using additive manufacturing (3D printing), the Close to Me: Designing for Health and Wellbeing installation reveals the many stages of development required to arrive at considered design solutions. Projects on display include Diabetes Jewellery; devices to adapt the user experience of hearing aids; high performance medic jewellery; an ECG neckpiece to discreetly measure heart rate; and the Seed Sensor, which is a swallowable device that unfurls in the digestive tract like a flower, collecting bubbles of gas that can be an early indicator of disease.
The extraordinary value of Heiss’ work resides in the way she foregrounds the human experience of a device as a key determinant for the final outcome. While a syringe is a highly effective tool to deliver insulin to a diabetes sufferer, it’s far from being an enjoyable experience. Heiss’ 2007-8 Diabetes Neckpiece is an alternative to a syringe, functioning to painlessly and discreetly administer insulin to diabetes sufferers. Working alongside scientists and medical experts, Heiss repositions design as an integral part of defining the object’s purpose.