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The Big Life Fix crew, BBC Series

Inventing the Impossible: The Big Life Fix

Leading inventors create ingenious solutions to everyday problems for people in desperate need.

About the programme

Thousands of people struggle with everyday tasks, hampered by their health or the environment. This series challenges leading inventors to come up with life-changing solutions.

Read more about the series on the BBC's programmes pages  or find out more about technology, design and engineering in relation to disabilities. 

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A designer and patient work on bionic arm

Inclusive Design and Making

Rachael Luck explains how inclusive designers are making closer connections with the maker community, to create individual items to solve everyday challenges.

The world around us, the buildings we inhabit, the products and services we use have all been designed. But who were they designed for? Were they designed with someone in particular in mind? Do these spaces, places and products work equally well for everyone?

These are the kinds of questions that preoccupy designers in the twenty-first century. Inclusive design is the design movement that engages with these concerns. Inclusive design questions how we design for everybody’s different abilities and what are the practical challenges we confront when designing more inclusively.

A longer version of this article is available to download following this link .

A woman talks to a female wheelchair user

Photo by Judita Tamošiūnaitė from Pexels

One challenge is how to make things accessible when not everyone has the same needs, preferences or requirements. One way round this is to make closer connections between designers and makers and the people whose everyday circumstances require a personalised product. By better understanding someone’s specific life circumstances a designer can focus on finding a solution, to suit a particular situation.


Two men look at engineering prototype

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

While crafted artefacts are expensive, in a post-industrial era design and fabrication processes are not easily separated, especially when working in maker spaces. Designer-makers have access to 3D printers, cutters and workshops, adopting a mode of production that can reduce the cost of bespoke items.

This new way of working was seen on the television programme the Making the Impossible Possible: The Big Life Fix, where engineers, designers and computing fixers worked together to make bespoke solutions for specific life circumstances. We could see inside the design process, shadowing the fixers as they worked with models and prototypes and code in conversation with their clients to arrive, eventually, at a fix.


Man fitting a bionic arm to disabled patient

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

This way of designing and making is not just a tv fiction. Research at The Open University with the charity Remap (local Milton Keynes branch) shows how they custom-make solutions for people with disabilities to lead more independent lives. A particular strength is access to a local maker, encouraging people to be experts in their own design process, articulating and physically demonstrating a problem and suggesting routes towards a unique design solution. The designer-maker stays in contact with a client throughout the process. This way of working keeps to a minimum the number of people who are involved, and supports the view that the fewer intermediaries there are between designers and their clients the better.

There is individuality and precision in this form of bespoke production. The research advocates and encourages the expansion of these practices, to bring inclusive design into closer contact with makers and making in other communities. Although it will not resolve all challenges, this way of inclusive designer-making will complement other forms of design activism and lobbying initiatives that work towards better-designed products, services and environments for everyone.


Meet the OU experts

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Dr Rachael LuckDirector of Research in the School of Engineering and InnovationVIEW FULL PROFILE
A silhouette of someone whose picture we don't have on file
Dr Rachael LuckDirector of Research in the School of Engineering and Innovation

Rachael joined The Open University in 2013. She is an architect, a design researcher and Deputy Editor for the journal Design Studies. Her research studies how we design buildings, places and other everyday things with a particular interest in how people participate in design processes. Through ethnographic inquiry her research shows how everyone’s different capabilities, qualities and knowledge input in design situations. Her research has been funded by awards from ERC, ESRC, EPSRC, AHRC and RIBA. The article that is related to the Making the Impossible Possible: Big Life Fix, Inclusive Design and Making in Practice is available to download from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0142694X1730087X 

Donald Edwards, The Open University
Donald EdwardsStaff Tutor in the School of Engineering and InnovationVIEW FULL PROFILE
Donald Edwards, The Open University
Donald EdwardsStaff Tutor in the School of Engineering and Innovation

Donald became a Staff Tutor with The Open University in 2016, having been an Associate Lecturer since 2004. As an Open University regional academic for postgraduate modules in the School of Engineering and Innovation he responsible for supporting students and tutors on our postgraduate programmes.Donald is a chartered engineer and member of the IMechE with experience across many industries as a Mechanical Design Engineering Consultant.

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