Stroke of genius for a single-handed world

Loren Lim
Research Assistant, National University of Singapore

NUS Design and Environment

After a stroke caused his late uncle to lose the use of his left arm, 25-year-old Loren Lim decided he had to do something to help improve his uncle’s life.

Then an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS), this personal conviction was the fuel for his journey towards designing the award-winning Oneware, a set of kitchenware created to make tasks like food preparation and washing of dishes easier for those with only one hand.

“My uncle actually loved cooking,” Loren explained. “After his illness, he still endeavoured to cook for the family. And when I was looking at how he worked with objects around him – like kitchenware in this context – I could see that he found it a bit tricky.”

At that time, the only kind of tools designed to help the one-handed were assistive devices which Loren candidly described as “products that look like they were bought from the hospital”. Loren was inspired to explore how he could make such products resemble something one could find in a regular store or in an IKEA catalogue.

Loren (centre) was the winner of the 2016 IKEA Young Designer Award (Singapore).

So it was perhaps fitting that his socially conscious invention garnered him last year’s IKEA Young Designer Award, along with top accolades from the James Dyson Awards 2016 and the 2016 Taiwan International Student Design Competition.

Beyond these accolades, the fact that his visionary invention could empower those in need was particularly fulfilling to Loren. The beauty of Oneware lay in its intuitive and simple usage, without any need for an instruction manual. After all, good design, said Loren, should be instruction-free.

Loren began studying design in Nanyang Polytechnic, graduating with a diploma in Industrial Design in 2011. He then decided to pursue a degree in Industrial Design at NUS, where he learnt to think more deeply about design and select the right disciplines to approach a problem before executing concepts.

Loren said the success of his designs would also not have been possible without the open and contributive culture of the School of Design and Environment in NUS. From the tutors who guided him to the trusty team of technicians who helped him in the model-making process, the environment at NUS, he felt, contributed to a spirit of collaboration that was fueled by honesty.

Oneware comes in a series of modular units, including a chopping board to aid in food
preparation (top), and a silicon grip to hold dishes as you wash them (bottom).

“My batch of classmates were very honest with each other about our work... Everyone opened up about what they felt about everything to get things done quickly and easily. Honesty about work, about life, about everything else, helps a lot.” Loren said.

He further elaborated: “ Industrial Design is quite a small cohort. We know one another very well, regardless of which year of study we are in. Which is a good thing as seniors can help the juniors out because they know and have been through the curriculum. It is a very good habit or practice to have.”

He also said that the open environment at the faculty encouraged and provided opportunities for shared ideation and collaboration.

Although Loren graduated in 2016, his love affair with NUS is not quite over. After taking up a position as a Research Assistant at the Division of Industrial Design, his work now involves pursuing 3D printing technologies.

Family time is important to Loren and he appreciates the flexible time management that NUS has afforded him as a research staff. He still has many fond memories of his time there as a student and whenever the opportunity arises, he relishes reliving campus life by mentoring his juniors.

While everything seems to have gone Loren’s way, he does have one regret. The inspiration behind his design never got to try Oneware: His uncle passed away last year.

Loren believes, however, that he would have approved of the way his nephew is trying to alleviate the plight of those with only one hand.