For most of us, our idea of furniture design is assembling an IKEA flat pack.
Yet 22-year-old, Product and Furniture Design student Lucinda Mulholland always knew that she wanted to build things and that the power to change people’s lives for the better was, quite literally, at her fingertips.
We managed to grab a quick chat with Lucinda about her recent work placement at Leckey, a company which specialises in the design and manufacturing of clinically focused products, where she was instrumental in the development of the award-winning Scooot seat, a mobility device for children with disabilities.
Ulster University’s Belfast campus is a hive of activity as students put the finishing touches to their portfolios and coursework pieces in preparation for exam season. Due to graduate this July (and, unsurprisingly, sitting on a first class honours), Lucinda is immersed in sketches, product prototypes and research journals. The unmistakable vibrant orange of the Scooot seat winks at us from a box in the corner of her study area so we forego formalities and get straight to business – just what is the Scooot seat?
“It’s designed to help young children with neurological conditions or mobility problems”, she explains. “It allows them to move around more freely and offers a new experience that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Early in my placement at Leckey, the Director presented me with what was essentially a blue wooden chair with four wheels – the original Scoot seat – and told me it needed further development. I was completely intrigued and couldn’t wait to get stuck in.”
Getting down to business
First port of call was a meeting with the Product Design Manager from Cerebra, a charity that works to improve the lives of children with brain-related conditions. The first prototype was developed in response to a request from parents for a device that would give their children more freedom of movement. Cerebra then approached Leckey for support in product development and manufacturing.
As part of a wider project team, Lucinda got to work, undertaking research and developing prototypes which were subject to on-going tests and improvements.
“We worked closely with families in Segal House, a Mencap service that provides specialist support to children with learning disabilities, to trial the device and get feedback from parents. Given the range of needs we encountered, we knew we couldn’t adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and wanted to develop something that performed a number of functions.”
The finished product
There’s no doubt the product has come a long way since that very first model. The new device now features a 3-in-1 design which covers three distinct actions; crawl, scoot and ride. The name was also tweaked to reflect the enhanced functionality, from Scoot to Scooot, each of the o letters representing the three options.
The Scooot seat was ready for Christmas 2014 and available to purchase through Firefly. The project proved hugely successful yet nothing could have prepared Lucinda and the team when they discovered in March 2015 that the mobility device was offered a Red Dot Award in Product Design, a gold-standard accolade.
“I didn’t imagine just how valuable the experience would be, the friends that I would make and the opportunities I would have.”
“I am so incredibly proud of what we have achieved. It was an amazing opportunity and I really enjoyed working with the Leckey team and learning from them. At Ulster, we’re encouraged to complete a work placement as part of our degree but I didn’t imagine just how valuable the experience would be, the friends that I would make and the opportunities I would have. My confidence has increased so much as a result.”
And it appears the team at Leckey share the same sentiments. Steven Simpson, Design Manager at Leckey comments:
“Lucinda, or Lucy as we know her, added real value to the Scooot seat project team. She brought fantastic enthusiasm, a wealth of great ideas and an eagerness to work hard. She was challenged along the way by prototype builds, field trials and a number of board level presentations, all of which she excelled at. Her excellent work on the Scooot seat project enabled the team to deliver another exciting product for the Firefly product portfolio.”
Overcoming personal challenges
What makes Lucinda’s story all the more remarkable is that she is profoundly deaf and was fitted with a cochlear implant at a young age. While she can communicate using sign language and is an experienced lip reader, her disability is very much hidden and one that most people wouldn’t notice.
“My own disability and experiences are what spur me on… I want to design products that help people and improve their quality of life.”
“It has been a challenge and at times in my life, I’ve felt like I’m playing catch-up, particularly when it comes to education. But I refuse to let it define me. If anything, my own disability and experiences are what spur me on in this field. I want to design products that help people and improve their quality of life. That’s why I’m so passionate about what I do and become so attached to my projects.
“During the trials for the Scooot seat, when I was working directly with children and families, I was able to see first hand the impact of my work. Seeing the child’s face and their parents’ faces light up as they experience something they never thought possible… you can’t ask for much more than that. It’s an amazing feeling.”
A world of possibilities
So, what’s next for this exceptionally talented and driven designer? What does life look like after Ulster?
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here. The course has been so hands-on and I have been given a lot of freedom to work on the things that I enjoy and that inspire me. My lecturers are incredibly supportive – I really couldn’t have asked for more. I want to keep studying and hope to do a master’s degree in London, with a view to working in design consultancy.”
And as we put the final touches to the article, we receive an email from a very excited Lucinda. She’s just been offered an interview for the Royal College of Art, and received an unconditional offer for the University of the Arts. Regardless of the path she chooses, there’s no doubt the future is bright for this inspirational young woman.