Designers take a walker on the wild side

Of all the poorly designed products that pollute our landscape and infuriate users, the typical walker ranks right near the top. It's not just the aesthetics of the device that make it look like it came out of a Soviet-era design bureau, but it forces users to hunch over, compounding the indignity of having to rely on this device to move about. I'm a journalist, not a designer, so all I can do is rant about it. But industrial designers Jeremy Knopow and Jennifer Harris share my displeasure, and they have the tools and ambition to do something about it. Their company Motivo has developed the Tour, a walker designed for people, not patients, as they like to say. By applying design principles and materials from the automotive and aerospace sectors, they have engineered a new-age walker that looks, well, cool enough for aging boomers.

Motivo TourHarris and Knopow founded Motivo because they both had parents who used walking aids and felt that they deserved better than these rudimentary, medical-looking devices. "So, we quit our corporate jobs at SC Johnson about three years ago and founded Motivo," Harris told PlasticsToday. After spending three years conducting interviews with potential users and healthcare professionals and developing prototypes, Harris and Knopow launched the Tour on the global stage earlier this month via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

A monocoque design, borrowed from the aerospace industry, allows users to stand upright and walk inside the device, not hunched over, as is the case with most rolling walkers on the market. The design also enables people to get much closer to grocery shelves and sinks, for example, than conventional walkers. A stow-away seat and private storage area that does not need to be emptied when the walker is folded up are other features that draw praise from users.

"We asked ourselves, what do users want and then looked for the materials and design concepts that can deliver that," says Knopow. "We borrowed a lot from the automotive industry," he adds, "and used ABS on the outside of the walker and ABS with a leather-like texture on the inside. It needed to look nice, but it also had to be as light or lighter than current walkers, which typically weigh around 15 pounds. The material and monocoque design helped us to achieve the aesthetic and structural integrity and weight that we wanted," says Knopow. He and his partner have applied for a patent on hollow-plastic walker technology.

Colors and graphic sets, from hot-rod flames to the stars and stripes, are available to customize the walkers, a feature that potential customers appreciated. And the devices are proudly made in the USA. That also resonated strongly with people when they did market research, says Knopow.

"All of the competing products are made in China, and it's important to us, and our customers, that it be made here," says Knopow. Fortunately, they are located in Wisconsin--"a global center for thermoforming and plastics processing," notes Knopow--and they easily sourced all of the engineering and manufacturing expertise they needed in state. "Manufacturing it here also gave us the confidence to offer a lifetime warranty because we could keep an eye on things and verify the quality," he adds.

Motivo tour

All of this comes at a premium, but not as much as you might expect. "Our price point is 10 to 20% higher than conventional walkers," says Knopow, "but we think being able to walk upright, not having to empty the storage compartment to fold it up, and buying a product that is entirely made in the United States is worth a few extra dollars." Not to mention the coolness factor.

Motivo has launched an Indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising $75,000 by May 15, 2014. At the time of writing, they were at $7300. And if you're in the market for a wicked-looking walker, you should know that the Tour can be preordered at an almost $200 discount through Motivo's Indiegogo page.

Norbert Sparrow

Norbert Sparrow is Senior Editor at PlasticsToday. Follow him on twitter @norbertcsparrow and Google+.

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