William Underhill | Projects

Transensing: Glassware for the Blind

Chistina Biliouri's Transensing Family — glassware prototypes for the blind.

Imagine the plight of the blind guest at a party of sighted friends. Chatting becomes a challenge when it’s tricky to know where others in the group are standing. One solution: hand out chunky glass swizzle sticks which create a chink loud enough to identify a person’s location.

That’s just one of the ideas behind the glassware range created by London-based designer Christina Biliouri, to help the blind or partially sighted to overcome exclusion from everyday social life. Too often, she says, their particular problems are overlooked, worsening their isolation. “People think that the blind only hang around with other blind people.”

Inspiration for the Transensing range, shown at the 2010 London Design Festival, came while Billouri was working on a wider project on the senses and design. “At first." she says, "I was really trying to see whether it was possible to design an object whose function and aesthetics were revealed not through sight but through touch and sound.”

But a researcher who had largely withdrawn from social life after losing his sight sparked her interest in a set of unfamiliar issues. How, for example, could the blind be sure that they were facing the right way during a conversation? “Whenever I was talking it was easy for him to direct his voice but whenever I was silent and moved slightly, he was talking to the wrong spot.”

For some of her ideas Bilouri, a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, has drawn on smart technology. Take the In Between Bubbles glass fitted with a tiny wireless gadget that allows the blind drinker to hear the sounds from the similar glass of a partner elsewhere in the room. “You might not know where the other person is but you can at least sense each other’s presence.” (For good measure, the glasses could also be used to send signals. “If one or the other person makes a lot of bubbles it might mean: "Take me away from here. I’m very bored.")

In Between Bubbles glasses in action.

Or how about the Sound of Memories glass that can create a sound record of an important occasion such as a wedding or funeral? “The moment your lips touch the glass a sensor triggers a recording device and it begins to record. Later, when you turn the glass upside down, there’s a speaker inside so you can then listen to the whole event and share your memories with the family just as you would with a photo album.”

Exposed wiring in Sound of Memories glass. (See top image, right, for final prototype.)

For Biliouri, the project represents a return to the social aspect of design that she’s always favored. As a student in her native Greece, the 27-year-old designed a model bathroom for the elderly, as well as a lightweight carafe intended for sufferers from multiple sclerosis or others with weak hands. Says Biliouri: “People are always at the center of my work.”

Biliouri is quick to acknowledge that the Transensing range, which has won a bursary award from the James Dyson Foundation, has little commercial purpose. Nevertheless, she says, it’s one more useful means of raising awareness of the social handicaps that go with disability. Blindness should not mean loneliness.

Posted in: Product Design

Jobs | July 14