Niche Problems

I made an earlier post about great design tackling big problems. I’d like to focus now on smaller problems, or problems that impact a small number of people or even a single person.

This stems partially from watching BBC2’s The Big Life Fix With Simon Reeve. The programme pairs a person with a particular problem with a designer who then comes up with solutions for them. While the programme is pretty standard, the subject matter is inspirational in itself and highly enjoyable.

One designer created a BMX bike for a young teen, Oscar, with a genetic condition leaving him with no hands or feet. Two designers made a version of iPad to allow Graham, who has locked-in syndrome, to communicate with his wife using what was essentially his voice, cobbled together from video clips and recordings.


Young aspiring photographer James, who cannot usually operate a camera himself due to a severe skin condition, was given a camera that he could operate himself. Graphic designer Emma, diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 29, was unable to operate a pen due to tremors in her hands and through the designer’s innovation, a pen that could control her tremors was developed and she was able to write her own name for the first time in years.

Many of the products were made specifically for one person, but could have wider applications. However, the sensitivity and humane nature of product development displayed over the course of the program revealed an extremely rewarding design process for all parties involved.

After watching, I felt that I had witnessed great design in the making. If even one person’s life is greatly improved by a product or system, then I am of the opinion that it is, at least in part, and example of great design. While it is commendable to tackle huge worldwide issues, there is also an important place in the world for products that help small numbers of people in this way.


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