A motorcycle accident was the spark that ignited Trystan Paderno’s imagination. He was mere centimetres from an impact that could have resulted in losing a leg and the ability to ride again. The thought of having to give up what he loved the most inspired Trystan to choose his final year industrial design project – a lower-limb prosthetic solution that would allow amputee motorcycle riders to not only get back on their bike, but to ride any bike they chose and do so in an affordable and accessible way that reflected their passion and personality.

Identifying the need, the challenges and the goals, Project Shift was born from Trystan’s desire to empower amputees to get back on the bike without any limitations. Working at a Melbourne motorcycle retail outlet part time while studying for a double degree in mechanical engineering and industrial design at RMIT, Trystan had the chance to meet and speak with several amputee riders about their experiences. He was confident he could potentially level the playing field and design something that could make a difference in these people’s lives.

The research component of the project grew organically – from looking at existing solutions in the market to a post he put up on an amputee motorcycle riders’ Facebook group which elicited dozens of responses. Establishing a 22-member focus group of amputees from across Australia, the US and UK, Trystan conducted extensive interviews to gain greater insight into why riding was so important to them, what they loved most about it and their challenges. Those findings were supported by advice he received from US industrial designer Scott Summit – who was an early pioneer of 3D printing for prosthetics that reflected the user, enhanced quality of life and removed barriers.

Mind over matter – intertwining engineering and design

Trystan is very clear that he has struggled in the past with finding the right blend and balance between his mechanical engineering and design skills, despite the juxtaposition between the processes of the 2.

‘As humans we are attracted to things that look beautiful – patterns, symmetry, sequences and shapes are inherent in nature but are also underlying elements that are manifested in the sciences like engineering and mathematics. It is execution that dictates how well we transfer those elements to design,’ Trystan commented.

‘I credit the teachers at RMIT for instilling in me the need to look more broadly at design and play outside the bounds of my own way of thinking. I am the first to admit that mine is an engineering mind, so I had to pivot, suppress the logic which was limiting my creativity and cultivate the skills to transfer my expanded views to digital media or paper,’ he added.

To Trystan, successful and meaningful design is about literally going into the mind of the user and seeing it through that lens.

‘That was my goal – to design from the user’s perspective and make sure I hit all the milestones identified via my research. My aim was to bridge the gap between engineering and design for this project which was both tech heavy and design sensitive – but apply a strict user-centric design philosophy,’ said Trystan.

3D-printing as the most efficient and accessible option

Trystan’s choice of materials was heavily based on his research and the notions of accessibility and affordability for the end user and his own student budget.

Every human body is different so to create a prosthetic based on an individual 3D body scan, 3D-printing was the quickest and most user-friendly solution. The prosthetic leg was designed to be built using off-the-shelf parts embedded into the prosthesis, using the residual limb (if one existed) as the basis for size and details. For Trystan’s working prototype, he was restricted by university rules that would not allow him to test the device on a human. Instead, he used his own leg scan to create the artificial limb. Without time and financial constraints, AI algorithms could be used to automatically generate the limb with the ultimate vision being that an amputee could in theory print one at home or outsource it to a third-party printing facility, based on a person’s measurements, design requests and personal taste. Obviously key medical markers would be required and there would be regulatory and legal parameters involved.

‘Your Project Shift leg could be your own personal fashion statement – to match your bike or your riding gear – complete with custom colouring and inclusion of logos or other proprietary details.’

Extending the vision with other applications for Project Shift

‘Although some might see Project Shift as simply a wireless, electronic prosthetic for amputee motorcycle riders, in reality, the motorcycle is just the delivery method. This is a multi-dimensional project that opens up opportunities for any amputee with a passion who wants to continue to live their life as they did prior to losing a limb,’ Trystan explained.

There is a quote from one amputee that really resonated with Trystan – he felt like…. a bit of his personality was stripped back when he went through his traumatic experience – so Project Shift was based on giving it back.

‘It’s about shifting gears and cultural norms/attitudes in the medtech/prosthetic industry. These devices should be an extension of one’s own personality – doing so by creating affordable ‘legs’ for any hobby or past time. I expressed it through motorcycles because that’s my passion, but the question it answers is how to give amputees back what they love and reflect their individual personality,’ he added.

Watch Project Shift come to life

Victoria as a centre for medtech innovation

Trystan is passionate about the concepts of meaningful design and social impact. He sees the current focus on medtech as a physical embodiment of the need to work on fulfilling projects and witness how your work can affect everyday lives.

Project Shift is the second medical and health focused project awarded under the Student Design category in 2023. It is also the fifth consecutive year in which the Best in Category award for Student Design has been awarded to a health and medical-related project.

As an industrial designer Trystan is very clear about his purpose of translating his ideas to an emotional experience for a human. He believes that people today – especially in his age group – are looking to find their purpose, especially in the work they are doing. Designers are moving away from traditional jobs with established companies and are seeking a way to create their own opportunities and make a difference. Medtech really satisfies that outlook – the ability to design, develop and prototype a device that will enhance quality of life, help people and look great while being affordable and therefore accessible.

‘Good design is defined by how it makes you and others feel as a human.’

Why being acknowledged for Project Shift was a significant moment

Trystan admits he was very humbled to be awarded a commendation amongst such a dynamic field of entries.

‘As a young person, being recognised is a tangible outcome I am grateful for. More than anything though, the award is a strong reminder that great things come from having a sense of purpose behind what we do. To me that is so meaningful. Design doesn’t come easily to me, but this award reaffirms that when I put my mind to something I’m passionate about and that helps people, I can achieve anything,’ he said.

‘The award also opens up opportunities. At the awards ceremony, people came up to me to suggest contacts or to offer to introduce me to industry partners to help me further my aspirations for Project Shift, so the exposure has been invaluable,’ he added.

What the future holds

Since graduating from RMIT, Trystan has joined OzX Corp – a tech start-up in the outdoor recreation space that designs and manufactures power and connectivity solutions for the Australian and US markets. That role allows him to exercise both his industrial design and mechanical engineering skills.

He remains hopeful that Project Shift will go on to be commercialised, but it still has several hurdles to overcome to get there. The next stage would be to iron out legal boundaries, healthcare issues and certifications, plus bring on board a multi-disciplinary team of engineers to solve battery configuration challenges and potentially introduce the automatic propagation of dimensions for parametric modelling. All of these steps would require investment.

Trystan found being a member of an RMIT industrial design judging panel for students’ projects last year particularly rewarding. Ideally, he would love to share his knowledge with students and hasn’t ruled out teaching design students in the future. Until then, he is refining his skills, enjoying the interplay between his dual role and keeping his hopes for Project Shift alive while still tinkering in his garage building bikes. The dream is to work in the motorcycle industry.

‘If Project Shift leads to one student feeling inspired to design with a purpose or a person having a conversation about the emotion of not being able to do what you love, then I have achieved my goal. There are no limits to the way that meaningful design can influence others to create,’ he concluded.