After another successful year for Design Council Spark we caught up with Kate Croxton, Head of Professional Engagement at our partners Arthritis Research UK, to find out more about the impact that Spark has had on their work so far.

What was the aim for Spark 2018 from an Arthritis Research UK perspective?

More than 10 million people in the UK live with the daily pain and fatigue of arthritis. Despite the numbers affected, and the impact that the condition can have on a person’s life, arthritis is often ignored or not recognised by society.

As well as causing pain, arthritis can rob people of the ability to do everyday tasks such as getting dressed, unlocking a door or climbing the stairs. At Arthritis Research UK, we believe that this isn’t acceptable. We’re committed to enabling people with arthritis to be independent, in control and recognised, so that their condition doesn’t define who they are or their quality of life. The Design Council shares this vision and, through the Spark programme, helps turn innovative ideas into real products that can make a difference to the lives of people with arthritis. By providing designers with business training, Spark helps boost the chances of products coming onto the market.

What is the role of your team and are there any direct benefits that the Spark Programme brings to your day to day activity?

My team works with a growing network of professionals; doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and many more who support people with arthritis. We want to ensure that those on the front line, working with people with arthritis, are equipped to deliver the best care possible and so we focus on improving access to the latest and most relevant information, education and research for this community.

We’re committed to inspiring healthcare professionals to improve the way that care is designed and delivered for people with arthritis. So, we recognise that it’s really important to encourage and support innovation, nurture ideas and help professionals to think beyond the boundaries of their traditional roles. Spark absolutely aligns with this approach. It provides a great vehicle to develop and scale these innovative solutions and products which have often been developed by a healthcare professional as a direct response to the needs of their patients: people with arthritis. The B.Bar (developed by a clinical physiotherapist) is a good example of this, making exercise more accessible. As well as Elba London, the Spark 2018 ARUK Awardee, which combines function and style with a front-fastening bra that is comfortable and easy to put on and take off.

What products or services do you feel arthritis sufferers need?

The experience of living with arthritis is unique and personal to the individual, however we do know that pain, isolation and fatigue are extremely common and can be hugely disabling. So, when we are thinking about innovative and impactful products it’s important that these factors are accounted for and addressed in the design.

Three quarters of people with arthritis say they’re in pain most days. This pain, and associated stiffness, can rob people of their independence, making everyday tasks – like chopping vegetables, or getting in and out of a car or extremely difficult. Design innovations to help achieve even a small task, like buttoning up a shirt, could make a huge difference to a person’s ability to manage on a daily basis; restoring their independence and self-efficacy. Often the simplest solutions will have the biggest impact. The key is first to fully understand need; listening to people with arthritis and getting a robust understanding of the practical daily challenges they face.

In your opinion, what has been the best design innovation achieved through Spark so far?

This is a really tough one as we have seen so many brilliant designs which have the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives.

That said, for me, the 2017 Spark winner, Workey key turner, does stand out. It’s a simple adaptation that you can add to any key to solve dexterity issues for all sorts of people, including those with hand arthritis. It’s a simple idea which continues to evolve and it’s heartening that people with arthritis are continuing to inform the future designs of this product.  The Workey has huge impact and embodies what we are looking for here; solutions which enable people with arthritis to do the everyday necessities that are so critical to living an independent and full life.

Which other organisations/sectors would you like to see involved with Design Council Spark?

Design Council Spark is about helping turn bright ideas into commercially successful products, which will make a positive impact on the lives of the people who use them. 

In terms of specific organisations, it would be great to see big commercial retailers, such as the likes of John Lewis, support these designers in promoting their products. Ultimately, we want these solutions to be accessible and available to anyone who needs them – support from high street brands could be pivotal in achieving this.

Why has Arthritis Research UK seen Spark as a useful platform to achieve innovative product solutions for those affected by arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions?

Arthritis Research UK has already uncovered breakthrough medical treatments that have transformed the lives of people with arthritis. The design of everyday products, which enable people with arthritis to be independent and in control, has the potential to be equally transformative. We saw a partnership with Design Council Spark as a fantastic way to accelerate the process of bringing better products into the lives of people with arthritis. Design Council Spark is not just about giving innovative designers much needed funding, but also ensuring they have the support of mentors and experts to help nurture and grow great ideas that make a positive impact on society.

What success have you seen as a result of our Spark partnership so far?

Our collaboration with Design Council Spark is now in its third year and has already achieved a great deal. We showcased the Ezi-Plug and Handy Fasteners at the Design Museum for the New Old exhibition which provided great exposure for the products. The inventor for Ezi-plug is now collaborating with product designers at De Montford University, and there is interest from a Chinese joint venture partnership in bringing this product to market. Last year Handy Fasteners launched their product and now offer a easy-fastening service. Also, the new Workey product is in production in July 2018. SO, there are lots of developments underway.

The partnership has helped us to bring to light ideas that can make a real difference for people with arthritis.

How would you describe Design Council Spark in 3 words?

Innovative, inspiring and impactful

Finally, do you have any tips or advice for people who are considering applying for Spark?

First, don’t be afraid to give this a go and apply! The Spark programme is a unique opportunity for you to access a wealth of expertise and support from within industry, which could ultimately make the difference in transforming your small idea into a product on the market which is accessible to millions.

The second thing to mention is aesthetics. The majority of products currently available for people with arthritis are not at all attractive! Pain may colour peoples’ days and affect everything they do, but I’d argue that this is even more reason to have useful products which look as though they belong in a home, and not in a hospital. So, design with the person in mind, not just the patient.

Design Council Spark is an innovation support and funding programme designed to help you turn your bright idea into a commercially successful product. Register your interest to be first to hear about next year's programme.

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