A picture of Bernard Hartigan receiving the award
UL lecturer Bernard Hartigan, far right, receiving the Compasso D’oro award as lead designer on the XoSoft project along with soft robotics lead Christian Di Natali, IIT and project coordinator Jesus Ortiz, IIT
Wednesday, November 9, 2022

A lecturer at University of Limerick is to give a public talk on his work as a designer, which saw him win a prestigious international design award earlier this year.

Bernard Hartigan, a lecturer in Product Design and Technology at UL, was awarded the ADI Compasso D’oro, one of the most prestigious and oldest institutional design recognitions in the world, for the design work he led on behalf of UL for XoSoft, a soft modular biomimetic exoskeleton to assist people with mobility impairments.

The award winning Compasso D’oro designs are permanently housed and on display within the ADI Design Museum in Milan, Italy.

The UL lecturer will kick off Design Week at UL with a public talk on his work on XoSoft and more widely on his career as a designer, which includes a custom Volvo Ocean Race life jacket and the co-designed Bouyency Aero vest, with five-time Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainsley’s Americas Cup team, while working with Spinlock.

A host of famous names have worn the Spinlock vest Bernard designed – including Catherine, Princess of Wales and climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The biggest challenge for the designers was to create a lifejacket durable enough to withstand mile upon mile of Southern Ocean slamming, but lightweight and comfortable enough to encourage the sailors to wear it, around the clock, for eight months. 

Bernard will describe how the learnings from these projects led to XoSoft, and why he thinks projects he is currently working on like the Hard Irish Dancing Shoe are so important to undertake from within the University due to the impact his work can have on people’s lives.

“It’s a privilege to get the opportunity to design life-changing and enabling products,” he explained.

Bernard was brought onto the teaching team because of his reputation as a talented designer with over 15 years international industry experience where he developed a unique skillset in soft materials production, footwear design and production, pattern making and international apparel business models. Apparel and wearable design are an established area in the world of product design and a highly sought-after skillset in industry.

In addition to the XoSoft project, Bernard is currently working on a PhD in the research area of Product Design and Performing Arts which focuses on mitigating against dance injuries through the redesign of the heavy Irish dance shoe.

He was awarded the Compasso d’Oro at a ceremony in Milan in June. This award is a huge honour and a significant metric for the School of Design’s design-research output.

On winning the award, Bernard said: “We are extremely delighted with this award. It is a fantastic recognition of this European multi-disciplinary project that brought together groundbreaking soft actuation technology, biomechanics analysis and user centred product design, with academic partners such as The Italian institute of Technology, Saxion University, Zurich University of Applied Sciences, and the University of Limerick.”

Professor Leonard O’Sullivan of UL’s Rapid Innovation Unit said: “The ADI Compasso d’Oro is a very prestigious design award. This award recognises the central role Bernard had in designing this highly innovate soft exoskeleton to assist people with walking impairments. On the XoSoft project UL led the user centered design of the product.

“Bernard has a huge wealth of experience in designing soft products which he applied in this instance to this high technology health product. This award further builds on UL’s reputation in design both nationally and internationally.”

Professor of Architecture and Head of School Merritt Bucholz said: “The ADI Compasso d’Oro is a very significant achievement for Bernard Hartigan and for the School of Design at University of Limerick. The fact that projects like XoSoft, developed at UL, outside of a commercial environment, win very prestigious award like ADI Compasso d’Oro speaks volumes to Bernard’s skill and integrity as a designer, and points to the important role that non-commercial design plays in driving innovation, as well as underline the kind of innovation and partnerships UL designers are known for; bringing together technology and health-care in a great design that has a real impact on people’s lives.”

Bernard Hartigan’s public lecture will take place on November 15 at 5pm in in the SAUL studio (CG-042) at UL. To attend email Sylvia.Carroll@ul.ie.


XoSoft, a soft modular biomimetic exoskeleton designed to assist people with mobility impairments


The Spinlock custom lifejacket designed by Bernard Hartigan and as used in the Volvo Ocean Race

A shot of the lifevest in use in the Volvo Ocean race

A shot of the lifevest in use in the Volvo Ocean race