Successful designer Kateřina Rydlová: The goal of designers is usually to design a car, for me it's MRI
At university, you focused on healthcare design. What was attractive to you about it? The desire to help people?
It is that simple. (laughs) When I started studying design at the Faculty of Architecture of the CTU, I imagined that I would go towards interior design. But I became interested in the industry and in my second year in Martin Tvarůžek's studio I suddenly found myself. The head of the design department, Marián Karel, started calling me doctor. When he greeted me in the corridor, the other students did not know where to place me. I did dental lasers, EEG sensors, but I also tried out a battery for storing energy from solar panels.
People are scared in the hospital just from looking at the machine itself.
And I enjoy breaking down those barriers. The hospital environment is stressful, even when you are healthy. I always sit in the waiting room, suck in the disinfectant and analyze. But I realise how it works, someone comes in in the morning and within half an hour they have to clean up perfectly. The environment makes demands on patients and staff.
Do you think one day we will not be afraid to go to the doctor?
I am trying to help bring much of the treatment home. The sense of security is greater in a home environment. You still get the initial exam and consultation, but you take the machine with you. To make you feel comfortable, we need to reduce the stressful wait in the hospital.
I notice the difference between how the hospital operates on TV, where patients have all the services, and the actual operation.
The hospital environment series are my guilty pleasure. Grey's Anatomy have definitely influenced my career choice. I always look to see if I know the type and manufacturer of the bed the patient is in. I used to admire their MRI machine, the biggest machine you can come across in a hospital. For some designers, the highlight of their career is designing a car; for me it would be this giant machine that scans, for example, the brain.
But your big personal project right now is Body Moody, which helps with menstrual pain. How big is the target audience?
Severely painful periods are sometimes experienced by up to 50% of women. Some of these women already use heat to reduce the discomfort. When they can work in the home office, they try to help themselves with a heating blanket. But I wondered, how do you overcome the pain when you leave the apartment?
Body Moody is an elegant bodysuit that you can wear under a jacket. It is made of viscose. It has a special thin layer of smart fabric in the lower abdomen and waist. It keeps you warm for up to 3 hours when the battery is connected.
In 2019, you also exhibited Body Moody prototypes at Designblok. Much of the show focuses on ever-new tables, chairs and glasses, while coveting time-tested icons from the last century. How did you find exhibiting smart clothing there?
I am also not thrilled when another piece of furniture wins a design competition. Does our planet really need another desk? This is why I am fascinated by the healthcare industry, where there is a huge scope to make useful changes. You are making some of the world's first devices because they just did not exist before.
But the response from visitors at Designblok was great! The first reaction was that it was a swimsuit, and then came the surprise that the bodysuit was warm. Everyone wanted to understand how it worked. It was a booth where even the men had fun. They asked me about the technology or the choice of batteries. It was a nice experience.
I first encountered warm fabrics in the form of electric blankets, which at one time did not have the best reputation. But you have had five years of development.
People show me blankets from China for 150 crowns. Of course I ordered samples and took them apart to the last thread. A quilt has the advantage that you do not have to worry so much about the size and cut, at worst it will be a pillow. But when you have something on your body, it has to be exact. A big factor is whether the heat will be an inch up or to the left, how the battery will be positioned.
The biggest challenge was to get the connectors to actually work, and the washing was also a challenge. We worked with experts from Sweden to do the testing. We did 200 cycles, which means 4 months in the lab where the bodysuit is not only washed, but also stretched or pulled over mannequins. I could not watch it, it was complete torture.
You must also be a psychologist, you have done a lot of testing with female users.
We have had four different rounds of testing with women and each round of testing has had several rounds. If you have enough money, the agency will arrange the testing. But how do you do testing at, like, a school when you first start out? You will rarely have ideal conditions and it is nice to be able to test the product yourself and not be afraid.
I was looking for girls through social networks, I needed different types of characters, moms and teenagers. We went through long and short term tests. During the in-depth interviews, you have to introduce all the participants to the project, prepare the questions, write down the answers and then evaluate them so that you do not influence anyone.
Psychology in design is a huge topic. Testing was not really addressed at the faculty, so next semester I promised to do a lecture for young designers and I will show the methods we used on the bodysuit.
Throughout the development process, you worked on other projects. I imagine medical manufacturing is dominated by large multinationals. Were you encouraged at work to work on your personal project?
It is a narrow and specific field with many limitations, and I think I cannot do without international cooperation in the future, so my goal is to work on it. But we can do healthcare here, the main centres of activity are Prague and Ostrava. I have worked with Tesla Medical for a long time and I thank them for their support. I have already come for an interview at the Body Moody prototype. They saw it as a bonus, they saw something real that I had already managed.
At Tesla Medical I worked on a device for non-invasive treatment of incontinence. Now I am a designer at BTL where they have physio, cardio and aesthetic medicine. They took the bodysuit as a reference that I could get things done.
Your product helps a lot of women, is the internet generation pushing you into a position of being a fighter for their rights?
Yes, but I am mainly a technician and designer, a fighter for design in healthcare. I have other ideas about how smart textiles could help. But for now, the projects are secret, and after five years of intensive development, I need a break. I go on holiday up north, and when I get cold, I warm up with a bodysuit.
Interview was led by Pavel Fuchs