Another unknown that was more challenging was figuring out what shape the prosthetic should be to allow for Jary’s casque to regenerate. As the cancer had already eaten up significant parts of the casque by the time the designers saw Jary, it was anyone’s guess what it used to look like, and what it could become.
“That was a big question mark then,” explains Chow. “What we did was to take reference from existing hornbills to find a good solution. We did predictive curves to see that as long as our inner structure did not interfere (with the growth), we could build the outside.”
As part of the design process, the team 3D-printed a model of Jary’s beak (middle) to test-fit their prosthetic design (background) and surgical guide (foreground). Photo by Don Wong
Having figured out the prosthetic design, the last piece of the puzzle—and the most crucial—was ensuring a perfect fit. As there was no way of testing their work directly on Jary, the designers had to come up with an alternative. From their experience designing surgical guides for operations on humans, they created one for the hornbill to help the surgeon cut out the affected area more easily and with precision. Two prosthetics of different thickness were also created so the vets could try out on the day of the surgery to see what works best.
During the surgery, dental resin was applied on the new casque to seal any remaining gaps.
Photo by Wildlife Reserves Singapore
While the surgery was successfully carried out in October 2018, the designers had to wait a week to confirm their client approved of his new 46-gram prosthesis. Much to their relief, Jary did not reject the design and even coloured the white prosthesis yellow with a dye from his feathers during preening—a clear sign of acceptance. Prof Yen reveals that no one in team realised the choice of material would allow this user to complete the design.
“You can barely tell that there has been a surgery now,” says Chow. “When you see how design can help recover the function of the hornbill: it fits the criteria and even exceeds our expectation… all in all it adds up to being a successful project.”
The experience has opened up the doors for the team to explore other ways of designing for animals. It could even be useful in their work of designing for humans too, adds Prof Yen.
“We all live in a manmade environment, so lots of problems are quite similar,” he says. “And, humans are animals!”
This story is an extract from By Design: SINGAPORE, Reframing What Design Is, a publication by In Plain Words and Modular Unit. It is supported by the DesignSingapore Council and first published for Singapore Design Week 2019.