Unible: A Food Preparation Tool for One-Handed Users
Unible began as a foray into the world of people with one functioning hand and ended up being a cost-effective, affordable and handy item for food preparation tools.
As my final project during my Masters in Industrial Design, I worked on it for a long time and decided to document the entire journey here.
Due to various existing social biases and internalised ableism, the problem of disability is different in India from those in Western countries. There is much stigma and discrimination against them within public spheres.
Despite a large addressable market, and people with limb deficiency forming a considerable part of the population, there is little recognition of the same in mainstream market products.
As most people with CLD (Congenital Limb Defect) come from rural areas, they also face discrimination while getting jobs, forming relationships and socialising. This may also stop them from being equal partners within a household as they may not be able to efficiently contribute to its running.
Having said this, prosthetic aids are too expensive (47% according to this report on Amputees in India) for the overwhelming majority of the amputees, and in the absence of a universal insurance or government subsidy system, most of them could not afford them.
Finding Our Scope
Initially, after a 1-day roleplay, 4 areas of intervention were identified.
From these, cooking emerged as an area of contention where despite much work done, much remained to be done. Being one of the most industrial parts of our homes, most of the activities performed in its confines require both arm usage.
Why Cooking Remains a Contended Area
Cooking is one of the basic skills and means for sustaining oneself and one’s family. But it is also one of the most difficult daily house-related tasks to do with one hand.
Since it requires active engagement with the surrounding as well, kitchens for the specially challenged are often completely different from those used by able-bodied people.
These barriers may range from the accessibility of supermarkets, to the attitudes of people, to the methods of making traditional recipes.
Eg: different countertop height, aisle space, equipment, etc.
The existing social system defines women as the caretakers of the family who primarily engage in activities like cooking, laundry, and housekeeping.
Women with disabilities face significantly more difficulties – in both public and private spheres – in attaining access to adequate housing, health, education, vocational training and employment, and are more likely to be institutionalized.
Interviews were conducted with individuals born with CLD as well as amputees. The details and contents remain confidential. However, the broad structure of the interview was as follows:
This was necessary to formulate an area of work and identify the intervention region, as we initially began with looking at all kitchen-related activities.
From the survey of common food items, I identified to top 5 items that required various kinds of actions within the kitchen.
Tasks related to laying tables and cleaning were excluded as being beyond the scope of this project.
The interviews helped us understand:
The major problems areas
User preferences towards products
Regular and repetitive work within Indian kitchens
Insights and Understanding the Issue
Currently, tasks performed by people with one functioning hand fall in either of these 3 categories.
Let's take a specific example to understand this better.
Question: How can a person with only one functioning hand trim their nails?
Here are some explanatory slides.
In fact, the more we look at aids, the more we can see the following patterns emerge in them all:
Dedicated to singular activities
Narrow scope of work
Unsuited for smaller spaces
Consider this: Do you think the most important task on a recent amputee's mind would be to renovate their entire kitchen to suit their new-found abilities?
Thus, there is a need to develop systems that can work within existing environments, without requiring a complete renovation of one's home.
Initially, the problem areas requiring intervention were as follows:
Chopping fruits and vegetables
Washing fruits and vegetables
Lifting heavy utensils with and without handles
Cutting and pouring milk
These were a result of finding oberlaps between:
User interviews - what users had difficulties perorming
Market research - are aids available for the same? and if so, are the available universally and affordable?
Roleplay - what are the problem areas a recent amputee may face?
Keeping this as well as the larger adressable market and their demographics in mind, the ideal user was defined as:
Designing a kitchen workstation for one-handed users that will allow them to prepare items to cook simple, everyday meals.
As we worked on the brief and created prototypes, various activities were removed and added. Read on to follow the process!
Market Solutions and Why We Need Something Better
Current market solutions for cooking interventions are many and varied. Tools exist for individual tasks and movements. Moreover, these items are expensive and not universally available.
Here is a breakdown of the market items for 5 common kitchen food-related tasks.
As there were multiple areas of interest, the process followed for each was as follows:
Multiple iterations for each singular activity was made to identify which form works best. These were then combined to create a final iteration that allowed all activites.
It was key that the prototype could be used by both left and right-handed users. Here is an overview of how 1 activity : cutting and chopping was dealt with.
The same structure was repeated for every other activity and successful mechanisms for each activity were finalised.
During this process, the brief was revised to remove washing processes and focus only in one area of the kitchen - the preparation zone.
Iterations, Prototypes and Testing!
In the initial iteration, a board that combined all the various activities was considered.
The earlier iteration was less efficient in terms of space, hence the second iteration removed the frame altogether.
Testing was done using a right-handed user performing roleplay. It was divided into 4 categories based on vegetable and slicing type. The overall observations were as follows:
This was followed by a revised brief. The focus was shifted from multiple task areas and few common fruits and vegetables to a singular focussed task area and all fruits and vegetables.
Thus actions like allowing milk package cutting were deemed secondary. The primary objective remained: all food preparation activities with fruits and vegetables.
The next iteration retained the sink-placing idea but focussed on being more compact and modular.
Certain things like sink placement disabled the overall structural integrity. Also, nails - while effective and commonly used - were emerging as a safety hazard.
The addition of the current dicer was helpful but not a stand-alone solution for larger items. Moreover, these ideas were not fully suitable for very large or very small vegetables.
Hence, another iteration was created keeping these in mind. The USP remained working on a curve that would act as a nail substitute for pinning vegetables.
Here's a short look at how the curves work with different sized vegetables.
When tested against the earlier chart, the curve-based prototype was effective in problem areas like dicing, grating and mincing.
Following recent trends, steel chopping boards have been on the rise. In my case, I chose steel as it could reduce the overall bulk of the design and also make the manufacturing process easier.
Moreover, it can also be used for kneading dough - another problem area. So I worked on developing the same design from sheet metal.
A mockup was developed from bending a 3mm acrylic sheet and then refined to get a more accurate design.
Unible is an all-in-one food preparation tool designed for people with one functioning arm to work their way around food preparation activities.
The idea is to allow people with one functioning arm the freedom to work with fruits, vegetables, dough, bread, etc. in one space. Made entirely from a single stainless steel sheet, it is recyclable and more environmentally efficient than multiple tools.
The various parts and features are as follows:
Made from bending a single sheet of metal, Unible can be used for chopping, dicing, peeling, grating, breaking eggs, applying condiments, and kneading dough. It improves existing chopping boards and mounted peelers by replacing sharp pins with differently designed curves.
It uses curves in various ways to hold vegetables for effective chopping and cutting. It contains a designed curve that can be used for chopping and dicing medium-sized fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes), and a series of 3 curves that can be used to split longer or smaller vegetables (cucumbers, lemons, garlic).
Along with this, there are removable pins that can hold larger, rounded vegetables (cabbage), silicon straps to hold longer vegetables (beans, celery), attachments for peeling and grating, a cutout for placing and breaking eggs, a vegetable eye remover and space for adding condiments onto bread. The metal sheet surface can also be used for kneading dough.
Why is it different?
Unible aims to retain the flavour of original, hand-made cooking as far as possible. Mechanised dicing systems or electric choppers were never part of the brief.
It also improves on the existing market options of one-handed chopping boards by replacing blades and pins with a curved surface that can hold different-sized items.
One does not need to buy a special knife, grater, kneading pan, or learn how to cut vegetables in a different way. The idea was never to industrialize the entire cooking process, but rather to offer enough aid so that people with one arm can cook independently - and to do so in custom ways. Hence, It is not only a functional tool but something that adds to one's independence and self-esteem.
Where is the future of cooking headed for specially-abled people?
Unible as of now is restricted to usage for food preparation only. Similar concepts can also be created for the cooking and cleaning zones of the kitchen. Moreover, I plan on exploring more materials for the preparation board such as wood to make it more accessible and affordable.
If you'd like to discuss more on this project, get in touch at email@example.com