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Design a wheelchair of the future for the #HackOnWheels library of open source designs.

Challenge and scope

The brief asks you to design a visionary, customisable, user-centered wheelchair for the #HackOnWheels library of open source designs. You are asked to conceive, design and develop a response that broadly fits addresses one of the two following areas:

1. Want Your Wheels:

changing perceptions of wheelchairs and wheelchair users. How can a wheelchair be an extension of the body, an item of fashion, or wearable technology? How can wheelchairs be desirable, aspirational lifestyle products? Responses are encouraged from any design discipline, including product, industrial, fashion, textile, speculative design, graphic, interaction and communication design. #HackOnWheels wants to see exhilarating visions for how wheelchairs and their users may look, feel, operate and interact in the future.

2. Wear Your Wheels:

designing a modular wheelchair. How can we develop a modular system of interchangeable customizable wheelchair parts that will give users maximum choice and control over their wheelchair? How can a modular system enable users to tailor their wheelchair to their body, lifestyle and environment?

The World Health Organisation estimates that although 65 million people in the world need to use a wheelchair only 13 million have access to one that meets their needs. Even when wheelchair users can access a wheelchair that meets their needs they tend to have limited choice and control over the design, manufacture and customisation of their chair.

The extent to which a wheelchair can enable its user to live independently depends on the extent to which it has been customised to the body, lifestyle and environment of its user. Fully customised wheelchairs are expensive and manufacturers often limit the range of customisation that can be made

Recently, open source design and new manufacturing techniques have disrupted and changed prosthetics. Open source design has enabled users to customise, improve and adapt prosthesis designs and open source materials are increasingly a driver of innovation. New manufacturing techniques such as digital fabrication enable users to make and customise their own prostheses, allow small local manufacturers to enter the market, and significantly reduce the cost of customised devices.

Students and graduates of all design disciplines, as well as those studying engineering, and medical device technology and production are encouraged to respond to this brief. Successful submissions will combine an understanding of user-centred product design and development, material science, occupational therapy, and more.

Recognising that wheelchair users are experts in their own individual needs will help you develop fully customisable designs that give wheelchair users the maximum choice and control over their wheelchair. It is important that you consult and involve wheelchair user/s in developing your design. We are looking for designs that have been co-produced with wheelchair users.

Overall, entries should embody ‘blue sky’ thinking but should be grounded in the commercial realities of production and manufacture.

In approaching this brief you are encouraged to think about the following:

  • what is genuine user-centred design?
  • what challenges do wheelchair users currently experience?
  • what are the different ways in which wheelchair users might wish to customise their wheelchair?
  • what sorts of materials and manufacturing techniques could enable customised wheelchairs to be made more easily and more cheaply?
  • what lessons can be learned from designing customised prosthetics and applied to wheelchair design?


Global Disability Innovation Hub Award of £2500

The judging panel may decide on more than one winner per award and will allocate the awards accordingly. In addition, the judging panel may award commendations.

The Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) will also consider placements for the winning student/s; this will be decided at the GDI Hub’s discretion.

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With additional support from


Judging criteria 

There are six criteria that your entry will be measured against – make sure that your submission materials demonstrate that your solution meets these criteria: 

  1. Social and environmental benefit – how does your design benefit society and/or the environment? 
  2. Research and insights – how did you investigate this issue? What were your key insights? 
  3. Design thinking – how did your research and insights inform your solution? How did you develop, test, iterate and refine your concept? Demonstrate the journey you’ve been through to the end result 
  4. Commercial awareness – does your journey make sense from a financial point of view? What is the competitive environment your solution would sit within? 
  5. Execution – we are looking for a design that is pleasing and looks and feels well-resolved. 
  6. Magic – we are looking for a bit of ‘magic’ – a surprising or lateral design solution that delights 

Submission requirements

All entries must be submitted through our online entry system.

As you prepare your submission, please ensure that: 

  • you do NOT include your name, university/ college or other identifying marks anywhere on your submission 
  • none of your submission files exceed 10MB – this is the maximum size for each individual file / board when you submit online 

The submission requirements are: 

  • 1 x A3 PDF Hero image with 1 sentence description A singular ‘poster image’ that conveys the essence of your project, plus a 1 sentence strapline or description 
  • 1 x A3 PDF Big Idea Summary A single A3 PDF page describing your ‘Big Idea’ in less than 250 words. This should clearly explain what your solution is, the specific area of need it addresses, and how you arrived at the solution
  • 4 x A3 PDF Boards Outlining Your Proposal 4 pages describing your proposal and demonstrating that you have met the six judging criteria. Each board should include a heading. Number each board in the top right hand corner, in the order they should be viewed by the judges 
  • 10 x A3 PDF Pages of Supporting Material Up to 10 A3 PDFs of additional material illustrating your development process – this could include scanned pages of your sketchbook or computer modelling/sketches (if applicable) 
  • Optional (but strongly advised) CAD files of your design solution to add to the #HackonWheels library 
  • Optional YouTube / Vimeo + website links Please note that we cannot guarantee supporting films and websites will be viewed at the shortlisting stage. If you have created digital materials, we recommend referencing them (for example by including labelled film stills or website screen grabs) in your 4 main PDF boards 

Eligibility + entry infomation

Download entry guidelinesDownload this brief

18 January 2017

Competition opens for entries

8 Febuary 2017

4pm GMT
£25 early bird deadline

8 March 2017

4pm GMT
£35 final entry deadline

20 March 2017

2-stage judging process begins

1 June 2017

2016/17 winners announced