The U.S. population is aging, and though one in five of Americans will be over the age 65 by 2030, the design world doesn’t seem all that intent on capturing the market.
London-based design studio Pearson Lloyd feels differently. The studio has created a stairlift called Flow X that offers a refreshing change. Designed with mobility specialist Access BDD, a division of tech company TK Elevator, the stairlift takes cues from furniture design, not the medical filed, and the resulting stairlift looks sleek and modern. But it’s not just looks. The studio considered a number of often-overlooked factors, including improving the ergonomics to make it more comfortable and adding foldable arms so it’s easier to get in and out of. All to say the Flow X took people’s actual needs into account—and it looks good, too.
The Pearson Lloyd team designed Flow X chair to be intuitive and simple. It has a sleeker, more elegant design than standard clunky white stairlifts. It has a rotating spine that ensures the back and footrests always rotate together so the user doesn’t twist their body. It has a folding mechanism to save space when it’s not in use and motorized arms that help keep the user’s center of gravity in place. The elevated, adjustable arms also allow different body types to sit comfortably in the chair. In contrast to the more traditional stairlifts, the smooth curves of Flow X (and the dark gray and gunmetal color options) are meant to fit in with 20th century furniture design, according to the company. Luke Pearson, Pearson Lloyd cofounder, compares the detailing to a high-quality radio or car interior rather than a medical device.
Pearson said his team developed and tested the stairlift over a five-year period. His team wore age suits that limited visibility and and motion. They also tested the product with older users who had motor skill difficulties, in order to test the buttons and chair operation.
When designing the chair, it was important to rethink what the target population was looking for. As Pearson says, it’s not like the people who use these chairs aren’t tech and design savvy. “They are very aware. They just happen to have damaged hips, knees, or some other ailment,” says Pearson. “But in terms of their mental agility and what they’ve experienced and what they’re used to, it’s the very highest level of design.” And yet, he argues, historically, the medical device industry hasn’t created beautifully designed products for them.
“Most people [don’t] buy medical products for fashion,” says Pearson, adding that they’re often connected to a disability or illness that people don’t want to advertise. “I think a lot of medical goods are designed to look like medical goods because it gives an assurance, a confidence, that they’re going to do the job properly. Which on one level, works very well because we say that’s clearly a medical product that’s going to work, so it gives me a certain confidence, but at the same time, it creates a certain level of stigma.” Perceived stigma can indeed be a barrier to adoption—one that this design attempts to counter.
“The studio has always been interested in this utopian idea that design improves people’s lives,” says Pearson. “Whilst design may make things fashionable, that’s not our aim in the world. Our aim in the world is to make things that work.” The Flow X Chair is currently available for about $7,600.