Alumni Outlook Magazine


MOBILITY ABILITY

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Necessity really is the mother of invention. Just ask Jeff Weber ’87. About seven years ago, Weber, owner of Studio Weber + Associates in Minneapolis, had a fall in his backyard. An injury to his foot put him on crutches, literally adding insult to injury.

Sent home from the hospital with a traditional pair of crutches, Weber quickly discovered problems. The pads compressed the soft tissue under his arms. The straight down structure of the crutches forced him into an unnatural posture, and the horizontal bar handles put strain on his wrists, enough to cause secondary trauma.

The problems of discomfort and loss of dignity by using the unsightly aids — traditional crutches are “not all that aesthetically appealing,” he said — motivated him to action, and he embarked on a crusade: Design and develop crutches with comfort, ergonomics, sustainability and style in mind.

Mobilegs — crutches for the 21st century — were invented.

Around the same time, Weber and entrepreneur friend John White founded the business Mobi. Mobilegs was its firstborn. The business is based on designing and developing products for people with mobility issues. Since Mobilegs they have developed the Mobistick — a new kind of cane — and are working on Mobiwalk, a walker.

With the crutch redesign, Weber drew from his personal injury experience. His new crutches become transparent or absent in the process of walking. They do not encumber movement. The underarm supports, with membrane-based saddles instead of hard rubber ones, are kinder to the body and move with the angle of the user’s arms.

The product is sold through the Mobi website, www.mobilegs.com/index.cfm, and through distributors. It is being issued at clinics and hospitals in the Twin Cities and nationally. In 2011 the company sold 7,000; this year they have orders for more than 50,000. The cost is a little higher than traditional crutches but the comfort makes up for the difference, Weber said.

Weber, from Fairmount, Minn., chose UW-Stout because of the art program with the industrial design concentration option. With his B.F.A. he also has a graphic design minor.

The university prepared him well for the workplace, he said. “It provided me with a foundation for problem-solving design.” 

In 2006, Weber formed his own company, Studio Weber + Associates, based on Stumpf’s methodology and design principles. The company is a multidisciplinary industrial design studio for office furniture and other products found in everyday life. Their focus is to connect people to the “world in humane ways.”

“Empathy is the key to good design,” Weber said.

Weber’s designs involve solving problems between humans and their work and living process by successfully implementing health-positive solutions to inherently corrosive human behaviors, such as prolonged sitting at a computer, he said.

Studio Weber + Associates is an independent research and design consulting firm with broad aspirations, he said. Weber has the benefit of working with fellow alumni Jason Holt ’97 and John Blomstrom ’97.  Shawn Monitor, another member of the firm, attended UW-Stout majoring in industrial design.