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Innovating with a social purpose

SINGAPORE — A set of locally-invented homeware aimed at helping people perform kitchen chores with just one arm may soon be sold abroad, a testament that socially-driven inventions do have commercial potential.

Innovating with a social purpose

Mr Loren Lim, who spent his final year as a student at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Division of Industrial Design developing Oneware. Photo: Robin Choo/TODAY

SINGAPORE — A set of locally-invented homeware aimed at helping people perform kitchen chores with just one arm may soon be sold abroad, a testament that socially-driven inventions do have commercial potential.

Inspired by his late uncle’s struggle to cook using his single functioning arm after suffering a stroke, 26-year-old Loren Lim spent his final year at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Division of Industrial Design developing Oneware — comprising a special chopping board, a silicone mat for dishwashing and a hook to attach plastic bags to for waste.

Mr Lim is currently in talks with Chinese, Canadian and Taiwanese suppliers to manufacture it. Efforts like this could be supported by measures in the Budget announced on Monday (Feb 20) to help local firms go global, such as the International Partnership Fund to co-invest in Singapore-based firms.

Urging local designers to pay greater attention to designing for the needy groups in the community, the NUS research assistant who was named Ikea Singapore Young Designer last year, said: “There has been more focus on this area in recent years, which I feel quite positive about. But there is still room for improvement … Designing for social good is a field I hope to explore, especially because these groups of people often will not voice out their challenges and needs.” 

He interviewed amputees and people born with one arm, as well as those who suffered a stroke and temporary hand injuries, to get a good grasp of their needs. 

He also observed these individuals at work in the kitchen before prototyping his product. Unfortunately, his uncle died in late 2015 without trying his invention.

Some designers find it tough to design for a social purpose because their target audience experiences “niche challenges”, said Mr Lim. “Often, it is a very specific health or medical condition they are trying to address, and there may not be as much demand for the product, then it becomes a bit tricky for the designers.” 

In designing Oneware, Mr Lim, who had won three international design competitions, tried to make it “inclusive and generalisable” so that it would be useful for others too. For example, mothers who want to work in the kitchen while carrying their babies may also find his product useful.

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