Solving everyday problems with design

  • Technology
  • Monday, 11 Nov 2019

The focus of Moi’s research was more on people who were single-handed because of trauma rather than a congenital reason because a lot of them already had a dominant hand, and were sometimes forced to use their non-dominant hand instead. — Photos: Dyson

Design something that solves a problem – sounds simple enough, right? For 24-year-old product design student Sarah Moi Shi Li, the brief couldn’t have been any more suited to her line of study.

“For my final year project at the School of the Arts in Universiti Sains Malaysia, I was inspired by one of my own experiences,” she shared in an email interview with LifestyleTech.

“I had eczema on my finger, and it became hard for me to work, because the skin on my finger kept cracking and was really itchy too. It made me wonder how some people, who are forced to achieve certain tasks with just one hand, are able to cope and what challenges they encounter.”

Moi decided to research how amputees tackled their daily tasks, and from this research came the inspiration to hone in on one particular, consistent activity and find a way to improve it.

The 24-year-old chose eating with one hand and ended up bagging the James Dyson Award in Malaysia for “Eat. Easy”.

Her winning product helps physically challenged users such as amputees, people born with a single arm, stroke sufferers, or those with temporary hand injuries to eat independently and effortlessly.

The James Dyson Award, now in its 15th year, is run by the James Dyson Foundation, a registered charity set up in 2002 which exists to inspire and support the next generation of engineers.

It runs in 27 countries and is open to university-level students (and recent graduates) studying product design, industrial design and engineering.

The award encourages ideas that challenge convention and “lean” engineering – that is, less is more, and designing with the environment in mind.

A national winner is selected for every country the award runs in, before going through to the final phase where one international winner is chosen by James Dyson, who strongly believes that young designers have the ability to change lives with their designs.

Moi said: “I got to know about the James Dyson Award at uni. What made me take part in it was that I felt that my design fit the brief and had a lot of potential. I wanted to share my idea with others, so I submitted my design on the JDA website.”

While in college, Moi had also designed minimalist furniture, storage and recycling concepts for small living spaces, a multifunction chopping board for amputees, as well as jewellery.Moi said it took her about four months to perfect “Eat. Easy”, from the beginning of the research until the final prototype.

“The most challenging part was remaining passionate about the project, because it took a lot of trial and error in terms of the shape and material used,” she said.“The focus of my research was more on people who were single-handed because of trauma rather than a congenital reason. This means that a lot of them already had a dominant hand, and were sometimes forced to use their non-dominant hand instead.

“I needed a lot of help from my friends to try out the various mock-up versions before I settled on the final outcome.”

“Eat. Easy” is made from food grade silicon. It is safe, portable, non-slippery on the plate and easily washable. It functions as a wall, so users can transfer food effortlessly from their plates onto their spoon, with just a single hand.

“Apart from taking aesthetics into consideration, it was crucial that my creation provided a solution to a real problem. I’ve always been motivated to design things that could actually make people’s life easier, thus it is such an honour to receive this award,” said the Penangite, who took home prize money worth RM10,000 for her effort.

Yvonne Tan, the DDM engineering manager at Dyson, and a member of the JDA judging panel, said: “I was particularly impressed with ‘Eat. Easy’ because of its simplicity and that it brings real benefit to those in need. I wish Sarah all the best in taking her invention to the next level, and hope to see it readily available on store shelves one day.”

Past winners have sought to address food waste, water conservation, pollution, medical treatment in developing countries and sustainability across all industries.

The 2018 International Winner, O-Wind Turbine, addressed sustainable energy generation in urban environments with a new type of wind turbine that captures wind flowing in every direction.

The JDA has also given young inventors international media exposure which has opened up further investment and opportunities for them to develop their ideas.

Check out the other national winners at and keep your eyes peeled for the announcement of the international winner soon.

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