Lucy Jung never thought much about designing for sick people. Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She recovered, and the experience has driven her toward what she now thinks of her calling: to use design to help improve the quality of life of hospital patients and those with chronic conditions.
It drove the 27-year-old designer to create the Arc, a pen for people with Parkinson’s disease. Along with three fellow students (Hwan Soo Jeon, Tian-jia Hsieh, and Danny Waklin) from the UK’s Royal College of Art and the Imperial College London who took part in the Innovation Design and Engineering joint masters course, Jung designed the pen to not only make it easier for people with Parkinson’s to write legibly, but to actually loosen up the muscles of their hands after they’ve put the pen down.
The Arc Pen works by addressing a common symptom of Parkinson’s patients: micrographia. As the disease takes hold, patients find their muscles seizing up, which then impacts their handwriting, and their letters appear abnormally small and cramped.
Why a pen? “When you’re talking about designing for the chronically ill, a lot of designers focus on basic life needs,” Jung tells me. “But our lives aren’t just eating and breathing. It’s also writing, and drawing, and singing, and a load of other things that give people joy. So we wanted to focus on that.”
Originally, the team thought about creating a pen that would help people empathize with Parkinson’s sufferers by giving off small jolts of electricity when writing, so they could feel for themselves what a tremor is like. In testing, though, the designers discovered that vibration motors inside a pen actually made patients feel as if they had more control of their hands.
After testing the prototype with 18 British sufferers, the Arc team came up with a wedge-shaped form factor that was easy for patients to grip. The designers say the effects of using it last up to 10 minutes after the device is turned off, giving people some time to use their improved dexterity for other tasks.
Jung says she and her team are currently looking for partners to help refine the pen.
Update: Updated this story with more information about the design course that produced the Parkinson’s Pen, as well as to correct an error about where Jung went to school