3D Printing a Better, Cooler Wheelchair

Bringing wheelchairs into the era of digital design, the Go chair by design studio Layer prevents common wheelchair user injuries by custom 3d printing their chairs to fit the user’s precise body contours. At the same time, the Go chair looks incredibly cool and redefines ideas about what wheelchairs should look like and how they can better serve their users.

Layer studio describe themselves as until recently a traditional design office. They however have recently begun to focus on design as a way of raising important questions about real design issues in industries that deserve scrutiny, the wheelchair industry being one of these. Known for its ‘archiaic approach’ to the wide spectrum of different disabilities, the wheelchair design industry has taken something of a one-size-fits-all approach. This is surprising and disappointing considering that many people spend the entire day using one.

The Go chair is the result of a two year design process that began by interviewing wheelchair users about what they wanted from their chairs. Many users told the team that their chairs don’t fit them properly, but the look and image of their chair was also a key user consideration. Rather than a blocky medical devices, many wheelchair users desired something that ‘looks cool’ and more accurate reflects who they are.

Layer’s 3d printed design response certainly is a cool departure from the heavy steel frames and square angles of a wheelchair with its minimalist, black webbed bucket seat affixed to lightweight steel. The seat is printed with two different materials, a semi-transparent resin and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) plastic that provides shock absorption. The footrest is constructed from titanium.


In addition to looking good comes feeling good. In order to custom fit each chair to its user, Layer collaborated with 3d printing company Materialise. Upon visiting a Materialise facility, each user is ‘scanned’ in order to accurately map the contours of his or her body and then adjusting the dimension of the Go’s footrests and sets.

In order to further reduce injury, the Go chair borrows from technologies deployed in professional sports. The wheels of Go are fitted out with tactile push rims covered with tiny silicone grips patterns. These patterns are designed to key into similar patterns printed on a pair of gloves that come with the chair. In this way, users can more easily grip their wheels – like an American football player grips the ball – giving greater power and control, while reducing strain and risk of injury.

The Go chair is not yet on the market as bringing new wheelchair designs to hospitals and medical institutions is something of a closed process. But Layer hope their design raises awareness.

It is certainly an inspiring example of how design can (and 3d printing) can serve the better and improve lives.

If you want to see it in person, the Go chair will be displayed for the first time at Clerkenwell Design week in London, May 24 – 26.