Tracheostomy – From Stigma to Silver Linings

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  • 2020

  • Next Gen

Designed By:

Designed In:

New Zealand

This product challenges the status quo of medical product design, repositioning tracheostomy tubes as objects that can adorn the body, instead of invading it, without compromising clinical function. It prioritises user experience with magnetic components for easy assembly, elegant and easy to clean forms, and customisable 3D printed construction.


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  • CHALLENGE
  • SOLUTION
  • IMPACT
  • MORE
  • Tracheostomy tubes are inserted into the trachea to create artificial airways for patients with conditions like vocal cord paralysis, and sleep apnoea. The catalyst for this project came when a tracheostomy user with a terminal illness told their surgeon that the one good thing that could come out of their experience would be if someone improved the tracheostomy tube that had caused them incredible discomfort and stigma. Tracheostomy designs had barely changed in 100 years and existing designs prioritised minimising costs over user experience. This project aimed to advocate for users’ needs and challenge stagnation in tracheostomy design.

  • The patented design addresses the problems highlighted by real tracheostomy users who were involved in the design process. Magnets make components easy to assemble for patients who may have limited dexterity, simple forms are easy to clean, modular components give users control over the product’s aesthetics and configuration, and 3D printed construction allows customisation to fit users’ individual anatomies. The design takes inspiration from contemporary jewellery to challenge stigma and the status quo of medical product design. The CNC carved American Ash box provides a niche for each component, instilling this life-preserving product with a sense of reverence.

  • The design addresses the physical, social, and emotional needs of long-term tracheostomy users, which have been largely overlooked by the Healthcare system. Co-designed with users, it presents practical solutions to the everyday challenges they face. Easily soiled disposable fabric straps are replaced with a silver chain they can wear in the shower. Instead of a set size range, this design can be modified for the individual and 3D printed in silver, ensuring greater comfort and a longer life. Most importantly, it challenges the idea that medical products need only be functional, prioritising self-expression to help address stigma faced by users.

  • Interviews and co-design workshops with tracheostomy users highlighted the complex relationships they had with tracheostomy products. They resented the medical necessity of their tracheostomy tubes despite valuing their life-sustaining function. They were frustrated by stigma but also proud of the resilience they had developed as a result of their tracheostomies. The lengths they went to in making their tracheostomies more discreet (e.g. painting them a skin tone or filing down the front) highlighted that –beyond ensuring clinical function— existing designs failed to meet their needs and had significant negative impacts on their quality of life. By placing value in composition, form, and materiality, this design seeks to resolve some of the tension in users’ relationships with their tracheostomies. Constructed entirely from silver, it is not only durable, and sterile, but also has the feel of something precious that should be respected for its vital role in users’ lives. The magnetised front piece can be produced in different material finishes and textures. This allows the wearer to customise their tracheostomy to suit their style, mood, or the occasion. It affords them a sense of agency over a product they are required to wear, and an avenue for self-expression.