January 6, 2015
Can you imagine going about your everyday life with little to no use of your arms? Can you imagine being a designer with such limited functionality? For designer Michelle Vandy, it’s a reality to which she’s had to get accustomed: everything she designs is created solely by her nose. She shares her personal story on Look, No Hands.
“A friend of mine said he needed an illustrator for a children’s book he was publishing – so I jumped at the opportunity, thrilled at the thought of getting paid for my illustrations. That summer I ended up working roughly 10-15 hours per day. I felt very proud of myself for working so hard and I remember joking about my arms the day I started noticing a slight tingling sensation in my fingers. [I]f I had only known…,” writes Vandy.
Vandy is currently a designer at Omada Health, but at the earliest signs of her condition, she was still an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in architecture. At the time, she held a summer position as an architecture trainee on top of being an illustrator – her hands were essential tools through which she could accomplish the jobs she undertook. It wasn’t until later, when she started to feel regular cramping and even experiencing a complete loss of strength to her fingers that she actively went out to get help; she was diagnosed with epicondylitis – a condition that led to a tremendous weakening of the muscles in her arms – and eventually found herself looking for new ways to interact with technology in order to not only finish up her final year in college but to find ways to continue on a career path towards illustration or design.
“In my search for solutions to this problem I started to come across all these fascinating technologies. Eye tracking tools, voice dictation, motion sensors, mobile apps for sketching and so on…Then [it] happened. I was sitting in my room late one evening fiddling around with this external touchpad I had lying on my desk and without thinking, lifted it up to eye level and touched it with my nose. ‘Click’. I tried swiping too – it worked!”
After trying out different technologies – from something her dad designed to help her press keys on her keyboard using her feet, to using her teeth to hold a stylus to her iPad – Vandy eventually arrived at the use of her nose. Since then, she’s created put together an entire setup and created her own system of doing things in order to do the thing she wants to do: design. And, despite the limited use of her arms, Vandy manages to create some truly fantastic illustrations and designs – all of which she attributes to her constantly developing aptitude using her nose.
“In retrospect I realize my arm[s] are the reason why I’ve developed so much as a designer. Prior to the condition I had a mental picture of myself, my world and the people around me and I behaved as if those images where the truth. However, deciding to step outside my comfort zone both widened and altered those pictures[…]Illustrating and visualizing has always been easy for me, but within each area of design that I’ve explored so far (architecture, graphic design, UI and UX work, photography and now onto behavior and game design) it’s taken me years and years of practice to become sensitive to the subtle and sometimes minuscule, details that make up great work.”
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