“If an elderly person has a fall, there is a 30 per cent chance they won’t live past a year, and a 60 per cent chance they’ll never regain the function they previously had.” Donald Strum, principal of product design at Michael Graves Design, cites this alarming statistic as a main catalyst behind a new collaboration between the renowned design firm (creator of the iconic “whistling bird” teakettle for Alessi) and American medical retailer CVS. The collection is divided into two categories: mobility (which includes a travel walker and two canes — one foldable, one C-grip) and bathroom safety, with a commode, raised toilet seat and shower chair.
If these don’t sound like the most exciting of household products, well, they’re not meant to be. Instead, the devices are intended to debunk a “universal truth” about assistive equipment: that it’s ugly and therefore rejected by those who need it (and we all might need it someday) until it becomes absolutely necessary. Blending in is the aim. “Our firm’s mission is to create moments of joy that enhance people’s lives with products that are delightful, purposeful, pioneering and extraordinary,” says principal of design, insights & strategy Rob Van Varick. “With home healthcare, that means providing the safety many people need with an aesthetic that is uplifting…so people will proactively embrace the products that will enable them to maintain independent, fulfilling lives.”
The firm has a storied history of designing for the healthcare sphere. Its namesake and founder, Michael Graves, was paralyzed as a result of a spinal cord infection and spent 12 years in a wheelchair (until his death in 2015), during which time he became an expert in mobility devices and an advocate for accessible design. Continuing his legacy, the firm was quick to realize that partnering with a large retailer was an effective way to democratize its products — indeed, a Michael Graves–branded CVS cane costs only a few dollars more than a generic one.
As it turns out, the secret to making personal safety and mobility items more appealing can be distilled into two words: great design. “The goal was to incite a reaction of curiosity instead of pity,” explains Van Varick. To do this, the team created products that can easily be integrated into existing lifestyles and environments. “No one questions that you need an ice cream scoop to get ice cream out of a container. Why should these products be any different?” says Van Varick.
Take one of the line’s least glamorous items: the commode (shown at top). Doubling as a chair, it features a lid that, when lowered, resembles a cushiony seat (and conceals the easy-to-empty bucket); the lightweight aluminum legs have a satin nickel finish, a material carried throughout the Bathroom Safety line to give it “a cohesive design language.” This useful collection is only a start for the firm. “We have a list of more than 100 items that need to be redesigned in this category,” says Ben Wintner, the firm’s managing principal. It seems an expansion of the series is imminent — and if the existing pieces are any indication of what’s to come, personal aids are about to get a whole lot cooler.