Manchester designers work with young people with musculoskeletal conditions to showcase co-produced lifestyle products
A group of young designers from Manchester are launching a new exhibition, on Monday 5th December, showcasing innovative designs at Manchester Art Gallery to help raise awareness of musculoskeletal disorders.
#DesignforMSK, a project supported by NIHR Manchester Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit and delivered by the Public Programmes Team at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, aims to highlight the experiences of young people with musculoskeletal conditions via an exhibition of new products designed collaboratively to support the daily life of those with the conditions.
Many believe that musculoskeletal conditions only affect older generations, but thousands of young people are also living with these painful and debilitating conditions.
Musculoskeletal conditions in young people include autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and arthritis. This means that the body’s own immune system, which normally protects us against harmful bacteria and other pathogens, starts attacking the body. This can lead to pain, swelling and damage to the joints and other parts of the body. Along with fatigue and other limitations, this can make daily life a challenge.
The #DesignforMSK group, made up of four designers, three medical researchers, 12 young people and three curators, have held numerous workshops over the past few months to develop attractive but functional products to help overcome the obstacles young people with musculoskeletal conditions face every day.
A key feature of many of the products is their ability to be personalised or to adapt to fit the user’s own style. A seat and back support, with the appearance of a large, geometric necklace, can be adjusted by the user to suit their individual needs.
Another design is adaptable bag straps, which have been created to attach to any fashionable bag. Often, thin straps cause discomfort for people with musculoskeletal conditions, so the wide strap attachment helps to spread the weight of the bag across a wider area as well as containing pockets for either heat or ice packs to soothe joint pain.
Zainab Saleem, 23 years old from Chorlton, was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at 19. She explains:
“We met as a group for the first time in August to talk about the day-to-day issues young people with musculoskeletal conditions face. It was great to hear all the suggestions and solutions that came out of the group. Being a young person with a condition, you don’t want to be treated differently when in groups or with friends. This can be the case if you need to use certain products, such as a walking stick or wrist splint.
“I think that product design can give users more confidence when using these products. The highlight of the #DesignforMSK process for me would be making a number of friends. After participating in the workshops I now feel I’m not alone and I am glad I can provide support to others.”
Susannah Williams, #DesignforMSK Project Manager from the Public Programmes Team, said:
“This has been a really exciting and rewarding project for all involved. It has been wonderful to see the product ideas grow and develop, as well as to see the personal benefit being involved in the project has had for the participants.”
“Because of the varied themes that came up in our group discussions, we have expanded the exhibition to include artists’ interpretations of being a young person with a musculoskeletal condition, as well as the product prototypes. We hope that #DesignforMSK: the Invisible (Visible) raises awareness that musculoskeletal conditions don’t just affect older people, and showcases designs that really could make a difference to young people’s lives.”