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Designability uses engineering to promote independence and enhance lives

Institution News Team

Engineers can help Designability create innovative products that work well, look good and make a difference.

Alan King, the Institution’s Business Development Manager for the Western Region, recently visited engineering-focused charity, Designability, to give advice to young engineers about becoming Chartered. The charity is also looking for more engineers to join its existing team of volunteers.

He said: “Designability is a fantastic charity, creating products that directly help people. Even in small organisations the Institution can play an active role in ensuring professional development and training opportunities, which are increasingly important in attracting and retaining the best engineers.

Designability's Wizzybug "The role of the Institution is absolutely about supporting engineers doing good design and engineering – and that is certainly the case here.”

Whether you are a child who has difficulty walking or an older person with dementia, your quality of life depends on the level of independence that you can achieve.
Designability is a charity that recognises this and works closely with users of their products to understand the nature of need and how best to meet it. Out of that close collaboration, innovative and unique products are born.

Designability was established in 1968 as an independent charity by famous inventor and engineer, Bevan Horstmann, and consultant surgeon, Kenneth Lloyd-Williams, who wanted to create medical equipment that would really make a difference to people’s lives.

After the birth of his daughter, Mr Horstmann became aware of the lack of medical equipment for disabled children. Kenneth Lloyd-Williams shared this concern and was aware that some of his colleagues were already designing some of their own surgical equipment.

The pair embarked on a mission to create a platform for engineers and clinicians to design and develop medical equipment. They drew on the expertise and resources of as many individuals as possible to ensure their products really worked.

Now with more than 20 staff, Designability has experts in engineering, design, electronics and occupational therapy. Tim Adlam, Senior Head of Mechanical Engineering, is a Chartered Mechanical Engineer and a member of the Institution.

They also employ an Associate member who is working towards Chartership, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate mechanical engineers on placements. Despite being a small organisation, Designability is keen to support professional development and work closely with the Institution.
Designability identifies the need for a product, works hard to combine functionality with good design and then goes on to manufacture it, either themselves or under licence. It has strong links with a number of universities, health providers and third sector groups around the UK and works closely with the local universities of Bath, Bristol and the West of England.

Nigel Harris, Director of Designability, explains: “Our academic links are really important and not only provide access to a wide range of cutting edge facilities and technologies, but also allow the Designability team to engage and inspire the next generation of engineers and designers.” 

Wizzybug, a powered wheelchair for children under five with conditions such as cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy, is Designability’s flagship product.

Children as young as 18 months can operate Wizzybug's simple controls, allowing them to zip around with their peers, developing spatial awareness, social interaction and independence. It can be used indoors, in gardens, at playgrounds and at parks, enabling children to enjoy the experience of mobility with their “first wheels”.

Until receiving their Wizzybug, most of these children only experience being carried or pushed; so the freedom, control and choice over their movement is truly life enhancing.
As there is often no NHS funding for powered mobility for this age group, the charity fundraises to loan their Wizzybugs, free of charge, to families all over the UK. When the child outgrows the Wizzybug it is refurbished and loaned out again.

Wizzybugs are built in Bath and, to date, Designability is celebrating its 218th Wizzybug loan.

Emma Andrews, Fundraising and Communications Project Manager at Designability explains: “The number of enquiries about Wizzybug has tripled over the last year, and we are now in the happy position to try and help as many families as possible. We are continually fundraising so that we can meet demand, and help the children who will benefit from Wizzybug.”

Clock design may seem quite a different market to the that of the Wizzybug, but the same good design principles have produced another unique product.

People with dementia have difficulty maintaining their daily routine - and Designability's revolutionary clock acts as a helpful reminder, constantly displaying the day of the week and whether it is morning, afternoon, evening or night. This can reduce anxiety, increase independence and make life easier.

Discussions with potential users during the design phase showed that they do not need to know the exact time, only what day it is and what part of the day they are in. By relying on a simple message the clock minimises confusion over day and night, which can happen with products that show the exact time and date.

Designability's clock has been licensed for manufacture and sale by DF Sales, and more than 8,000 have been sold worldwide.

Designability's innovations are developed by a multi-disciplinary team that collaborates to create products that not only perform well, but ‘look good’ - and fit in with the home environment rather than looking like a medical aid.

Tim Adlam, Senior Head of Mechanical Engineering at Designability, who is leading a project to develop a compliant seat for children with cerebral palsy, commented: “The project has really benefited from having specialist design input on hand, right from the earliest stages of the development.“

Inspired engineering has always run through the charity. The first President of Designability was Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb and honorary Fellow of the Institution. His keen support of the charity has now been passed to his daughter Mary Stopes-Roe who is very supportive of the work done by Designability.
Watch a video about the charity.

Get involved

Visit the Designability website to find out more about the charity or to make a donation.

If you are interested in helping at Designability’s events or volunteering your time, please email



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