consumer / Big Life Fix The Empathy Chair

Share this 3 MarchMar 2020


Jacinta’s Alzheimer’s makes everyday tasks an uphill battle, so how can design improve her situation and make a fundamental difference to her quality of life? Much of our work is about creating for a mass-market, so to design a completely bespoke chair for one individual was a refreshing and rewarding challenge. Our work was featured on the ‘Big Life Fix’ TV series where leading inventors create ingenious and life-changing solutions for people in need. Concept created by Lorna Ross and Accenture’s The Dock, designed in collaboration with Design Partners and Amazon.



Jacinta is Mum to three grown-up children and a proud Granny to six grandchildren. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Jacinta has problems with visual processing. She can no longer read, comprehend numbers or tell the time from a clock anymore. When Jacinta retired her aim was to spend her days reading in the comfort of her home. Her condition took that away from her. Could the sensitive integration of technology allow her to listen to books, radio and music with ease and comfort?


Having visited Jacinta in her house, we knew it was important to fit her chair to her home rather than impose something new and alien to her environment. Form, proportion, materials, fabrics and colour were all considered with her particular home in mind. She already had a favourite armchair and we used its mid-Century design cues as a starting point for our design. However, this chair had inadequate head support and we were keen to ergonomically tailor the design for comfort. Based on our measurements with Jacinta, we created a customised head rest, arm rests and seat form that matched her perfectly. We also worked with her to find fabrics and colours that fitted her aesthetic and provided personal reference points. For example, we utilised a beautiful fabric that she had brought back from Africa where she had lived for 25 years.

The Empathy Chair
The Empathy Chair

This chair is Amazon Alexa enabled but we didn’t want the technology to be at all intimidating for Jacinta. We know that sometimes voice interface can be confusing so we designed a secondary physical interface to make control feel familiar. The user interface is simple – three buttons in the armrest allow her to listen to radio, music or a book. Instead of using words or iconography that she might find confusing, each button uses a different tactile reference so she can link the texture to a particular activity. In this way, activity selection can depend on muscle memory rather than her failing cognitive skills. The chair is simultaneously empathetic, comfortable and comforting.

The Empathy Chair
The Empathy Chair


The original concept by Lorna Ross and Accenture’s The Dock was for a ‘magic chair’ with speakers and embedded Alexa linked to The Cloud. Our role was to make that concept real through the integration of design, engineering, UX and prototyping. Although full of smart technology, Jacinta’s chair integrates it in such a way that it never compromises on everything a favourite chair in her home needs to be. The result is something unique to Jacinta and it’s wonderful to witness our design improve the quality of her everyday life.

Through this project, we discovered a truly universal experience – who wouldn’t enjoy a comfortable chair that plays your favourite music or tells you a story? We really enjoyed spending time with Jacinta and collaborating with her and Accenture The Dock team to co-create this unique chair. We hope Jacinta continues to spend many happy days using it.

The Big Life Fix Alzheimer's

Jacinta Dixon in her new chair, with Desmond Kavanagh from Design Partners

Big Life Fix is an RTE One show, which is part-funded by Science Foundation Ireland. The show will be available worldwide on the player

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3 March Mar 2020

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