Designed for dignity

Products made for demented people do not have to look like unpleasant hospital tools or toys for children. Designer Emilie Dissing Wiehe understands this issue very well. She creates projects that do not stigmatize anyone and, above all, respect human dignity.

I interviewed Emilie Dissing Wiehe at Formex, the interior design show that run in Stockholm at the end of August. Emilie was one of five designers taking part in the competition Formex Nova Design Award – 2017 Nordic Designer of the Year intended for young Nordic talents. The interview is edited and condensed for clarity.

Emilie Dissing Wiehe is a socially driven textile and product designer from Denmark. She graduated in 2015 from the Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design, and Conservation at the Royal Danish Academy. In her recent projects, she focuses on dementia and how to lessen the confused and uncertain feelings that often accompany this illness.

TrendNomad.com: Is there any particular reason why do you do projects addressed to people with dementia?
Emilie Dissing Wiehe: My grandfather got dementia six years ago. Since then I’ve talked many times with my mother who is a nurse about how could we help him and other people suffering from this disease. The number of demented people in Denmark is huge today and will only grow in the future. I wanted to do something, so I decided to work on this topic in my master thesis.

How did you do your research?
I visited many different care centers for people with dementia. I interviewed many leaders and employees. I investigated what kind of products are already in use in those places and what is available on the market.

FAVN is a heavy blanket that, with its weight of 6 kg, gives the restless and stressed person a sense of being embraced and grounded.

I found that heavy blankets for people with dementia are already available on the market. They are functional, but not very aesthetic. I’m a textile designer, so I wanted to change that. I designed FAVN blanket.

At the beginning I used polyester, but soon it came out that a synthetic material was too warm for some people. Now the outer layer is made of organic cotton, but this is still a prototype. The most interesting part is hidden inside the fabric. I put inside plastic granules to make the blanket heavy, but washable. The blanket can be washed in an industrial washing machine or can be steamed.

Products designed for people with dementia shouldn’t look like tools from a hospital. They should look nice and totally normal to appeal people in general.

Why is the blanket blue?
Simply because light and dark blue colors calm people down, and most of us like blue.

Håndgribelig is a sensuous sculpture that, through a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes, offers a tactile playscape to activate the restless hands.

What is the story behind the sculpture?
When I was doing my research, I found out that many demented people almost constantly search for something with their hands. They have really restless hands. They need something to grab and hold on to.

At care centers, demented patients quite often play with toys for children. Maybe for demented people, it does not really matter what they use, but I believe this may look difficult for patient’s relatives. In my opinion, this is an issue about dignity, so I wanted to bring it back to people with dementia.

Håndgribelig – it means tangible in English – is a product that we can all keep in a living room. It looks like a home decoration. It is made of hard woods – ash, elm, and walnut – as well as brass and ceramic materials. All elements are designed to be held with hands.

Wooden and ceramic balls are fine and polished. They are meant to recall memories from our childhood of an abacus, a toy for counting. The middle part of my sculpture is more technical and rough. It’s addressed to recall some physical work by those who used to be, for example, a carpenter.

Do you think that Håndgribelig may become a family memorial after the patient’s death? 
I didn’t think about it when I was doing my project. However, it is important to think about this issue beforehand. Death is inevitable. The sculpture may stay in the family as a memorial. When you touch it you may bring back memories associated with the person that had left.

Your master project is done. Do you want to continue working on projects devoted to demented people?
Yes. Right now I am working in a Danish company on a project for people with dementia. It is a small pillow that uses sound and tactility to stimulate patient’s senses. We will launch it in September.

 

If you want to learn more about Emilie’s work you can visit her website and contact her directly at contact@emiliewiehe.dk.

The picture on the top by Henrik Majdal Kaarsholm. All other photos by TrendNomad.com.

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