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We are pleased to announce that our Michael Graves Design X CVS Health Home Healthcare Collection has been selected in the Art and Design category as part of Fast Company’s 2023 World Changing Ideas Awards!
The 2023 World Changing Ideas Awards seek to honor projects that are playing an important role in building a better world. We are so proud to be a part of these awards alongside many other bold ideas and projects.
Our thoughts on what it means to have a World Changing Idea
Judy Heumann, civil rights activist and hero, died on March 4, 2023, at the age of 75. Contracting polio at 18-months, Judy used a wheelchair for most of her life. When she was coming of age, and like all people with disabilities at that time, she was disenfranchised by society. She was once deemed a “fire hazard,” because her wheelchair made her “too dangerous” to be a student, and then a teacher, in NYC public schools. For Judy, living in a wheelchair was not a tragedy. She famously said, "Disability only becomes a tragedy for me when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives––job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example.” In hindsight, Judy’s world changing ideas seem obvious to everyone.
Judy was among a group of baby boomers who fought for disability rights, helping to launch the disability civil rights revolution in America. She was a powerhouse behind many of the disability rights milestones in this country, and then around the globe. Thanks to the passage (and eventual funding) of the ADA, everyone now benefits from curb cuts in sidewalks (you’re welcome parents pushing strollers and delivery people with hand trucks). We all appreciate the gracious entries to public buildings designed to accommodate wheelchair users, but benefiting everyone whose hands are full when approaching a door. We all benefit from websites that have great color contrast, zooming capabilities, image captions, and “alt text” that can verbalize a website. For all of these innovations and more, we can thank the disabled among us who fought for equity.
Despite these contributions, arguably the most underserved group of consumers continues to be older adults and people with temporary and permanent disabilities. When you consider the size of the group (more than 1 billion people live with disabilities and about 70% of those are not immediately apparent), their spending power, the opportunity for product innovation, and the possibility of making meaningful emotional connections with users, the only explanation for such marketing failures are ignorance, stigma, and lack of courage.
As a result, products for people with disabilities have tended to be very unsatisfying to use. Innovation, to the extent it happened at all, has been to the benefit of the companies who sell the products, over the people who use them. Products were offshored and then value engineered to cost as little as possible, allowing for rich margins. Products have been optimized to ship as efficiently as possible, also improving potential company profits, but resulting in funny-looking products that are often very challenging to assemble. While products may technically serve the functional needs of a user, ignoring her emotional and intellectual needs and wants, often dissuades use and adoption. Because who wants to use a product that makes you feel bad? And how can a product that you don’t use enhance your life? Sadly, older generations of people were trained to just accept these substandard products thinking “they are what they are.”
However, while that may have been satisfactory for the Greatest Generation, it is not enough for Boomers, Gen X and Millennials. Consumers now demand better (from celebrities like Selma Blair to online influencers like Peeksters to everyday people who seek out better products for themselves and their loved ones (and leave online reviews praising them)). Things are starting to change, and companies are finally realizing the potential of providing for these consumers.
Microsoft, under the leadership of Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie, has seen to it that technology becomes more accessible for people with disabilities, improving countless lives. Pottery Barn, under the leadership of President Marta Benson, has launched its first collection of Accessible Home furniture, realizing that until now, our homes have been insufficient for so many residents and guests. The fashion industry, from the runway to Tommy Hilfiger to Target to British Vogue has recognized their opportunity within the accessibility and inclusion space, designing clothes that are easier to put on and take off, and that account for a wider spectrum of body types and abilities. Guide Beauty was founded by Terri Bryant, a celebrity makeup artist who developed Parkinson’s and realized a gap in the market for beauty tools designed with universal design principles. Sinéad Burke founded Tilting the Lens to advise major global brands on their move from awareness to action by creating more accessible practices, policies, products and services. In Europe, there are options for accessible home safety, including from Hewi, who is focused on providing modern bathroom fixtures precisely tailored to people's individual needs. Under the leadership of Brenda Lord, CVS partnered with legendary design firm Michael Graves Design to reimagine home healthcare products in the bath safety and mobility categories.
Many know that Michael Graves Design is famous for bringing great design to the masses in the early 2000’s. After Michael Graves became paralyzed, he became a passionate advocate among the disabled, and our company expanded its definition of Design for All to include wonderful products for people with disabilities. Now, with our products at CVS, consumers don’t have to choose between style and safety when making their homes more inclusive. These products look like furniture, so stigma associated with a commode can fade. These products are flexible and easy to use, so if someone needs a raised toilet seat, the bathroom works as well for her as everyone else who uses it. Products don’t have to look like institutional medical devices. In recognition of this pioneering relationship, Fast Company has named Michael Graves Design For All at CVS as a finalist in the Art & Design category for its 2023 World Changing Ideas Awards.
Good design is powerful and can be transformative. To achieve transformative products, a designer’s most important skill is empathy, which is needed to envision a product that will meet consumers' unmet needs. To this end, designers conduct what we call ethnographic research, whereby we observe potential users (and other stakeholders) in their daily lives, in order to generate insights that lead to “a better mousetrap.” Qualitative in nature, ethnographic research is most effective when research subjects are diverse, in all senses of the word. In addition, as new innovations are considered, involving potential users in “Consumer Preference Testing” helps to ensure new design solutions are in fact solving problems facing as wide an audience as possible. Inclusivity in these essential steps of the product design process ensures breakthrough products for consumers and generates smart business investments for companies.
While the companies highlighted in this article are leading the way with accessibility and inclusivity, it’s still not enough, but they prove the market is ready. There are not nearly enough great products, and not nearly enough awareness of the products that have come to market. Just like Judy Heumann, consumers have to demand better products, be vocal advocates for their rights, and fight until the market catches up. When it does, everyone will benefit and owe a debt of gratitude to the consumers, companies and designers who changed the world.