In 2003 Michael Graves, became an unexpected champion of universal design.
After a stellar career as and architect and designer, Graves was paralyzed from the waist down by an infection. He spent the remainder of his life wheelchair bound. Michael Graves turned his brilliance and skill to designing for people with disabilities. He designed many items as well as accessible homes for the Wounded Warrior Project.
In her 2013 article Mimi Zeiger recounts being bewildered as she approached the building where she was to meet Graves. There were steps, no wheelchair ramp. Turned out the ramp was there, just discreetly covered by landscaping. Michael Graves suffered all the indignities and disappointments of anyone who, once able bodied, finds themselves disabled. He was in a unique position to do something about it.
According to Zeiger,” Graves was frustrated by the lack of good, affordable, mass-produced healthcare products, especially as baby boomers reach the precipice of old age. “I used to say that we are in ‘the new normal.’ And it got to be a phrase. There are now—I’ve forgotten how many millions of boomers there are. But if you sprained your ankle today and you needed to get a pair of crutches, where would you go?”
I would add and what would those crutches look like? And how well would they function?
Before his death in 2015, Michael Graves, designed many items for hospitals and everyday life that exhibited the best qualities of universal design. If he were still alive he would surely be delighted by the work of Katerina Kamprani.
Kamprani is an artist who in her conceptual series, The Uncomfortable, has made the importance of exquisite accessible design poignantly obvious by doing just the opposite. Her creations are as she says:" to help you appreciate the complexity and depth of interactions with the simplest objects around us." All her objects are deliberately designed to annoy us.
Nothing built to exist in our daily lives should do this! We celebrate the genius of both Graves and Kamprani's work, as we celebrate the importance of comfortable, accessible, well designed items for every body.