Exemplar: Carpal Skin


Carpal Skin is a prototype of a carpal tunnel wrist brace designed by one of my favorite designers, Neri Oxman. The brace is made of two materials, one soft and flexible and the other hard and rigid. Perhaps the brace itself doesn’t seem too crazy or fictional, but what makes Carpal Skin interesting is the process by which it’s form is derived. 

“Carpal Skin is a process by which to map the pain-profile of a particular patient—its intensity and duration—and to distribute hard and soft materials to fit the patient’s anatomical and physiological requirements, limiting movement in a customized fashion. The form-generation process is inspired by animal coating patterns in the control of stiffness variation.” 

Neri Oxman’s PhD work revolves around bringing material properties and environmental constraints together to derive form. In this video on designing form Neri calls into question the process by which we as humans have developed form over the course of our existence. She explains that the traditional process for design is to make the form, then send it off for testing and analysis. She argues that the design process should be flipped on its’ head – begin with environmental analysis and material properties and let that drive the form.

With Carpal Skin, a pain map is generated for each patient, and that map is what drives the distribution of hard and soft material. What makes Neri’s work even more interesting is that much of it utilizes 3D printing. I can envision a future where mass produced artifacts are not just personalized, but optimized for each user.

In many ways her work is sort of “anti-design.” Get the designer out of the way and let nature – the greatest material engineer on the planet – do the work.


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