Design for Humanity: People and Planet

A silhouette of a person with arms outstretched around a globe of a mosaic of faces representing people of the world.Is the quest for inclusive design so difficult that we need so many different terms? Are new-fangled methodologies improving the situation if the aims are the same? Many different ways of promoting the process of designing inclusively is surely confusing everyone. Enter “Humanity-Centred Design”. This one is a bit different because it’s about the planet as well as people.

Many of our current and future designs will be inhabited by upcoming generations whose consumption patterns will have different values. According to an article from the UK designers need to embody the values of inclusion, ethics, empathy and cooperation. Designs will need to be meaningful to appeal to upcoming generations. Hence the proposition of a new paradigm or model – Humanity-Centred Design. 

The title of the article is, Humanity-Centred Design – Defining the Emerging Paradigm in Design Education and Practice

The Sustainable Development Goals also embody similar values and these are gaining traction in many fields of work.

The chart below is from the paper and shows the evolution from functional approach to a people focused approach to design.

A circular chart showing progression from function focused in the 1940s to humanity focused in the 2030s.

ABSTRACT: Product Design has been defined by several different paradigms as it has evolved to meet the needs and desires of people and in as new ways for companies to market products to consumers. As the needs and desires of people are now increasingly met by products at all price points in consumer societies companies need to embrace a new paradigm which will enable them to differentiate their products from the competition. In addition to the need for a new differentiation strategy for marketing purposes, people are also increasingly aware of both the limited and depleting natural resources of the planet and the prevalence of inequality and poverty present in the world.

A paradigm is emerging which enables companies to address all the above simultaneously. This paradigm and approach to designing products is referred to here as ‘Humanity-Centred Design’ in intentional reference to the ‘User-Centred Design’ and ‘Human-Centred Design’ methodologies which have been used by designers for the last 25 years. In this emerging paradigm there is a greater focus on designing products which are not only sustainable, but also actively contribute to the alleviation of poverty in all forms and promote human development and wellbeing worldwide, treating humanity as one global society. This paradigm is being taught to students of Product Design at Buckinghamshire New University to ensure that they are prepared to design products for the newest and future generations and the greatest proportion of consumers.

Inclusive Design: Knowing isn’t Doing

Hands and arms reach down to a table with a drawing and coloured post it notes. Knowing about inclusive design and actually doing inclusive design are two different things. That is, industrial design students can tell you what inclusive design is and that it is important, but there is little evidence it shows up in their designs. This was one of the findings from a study of design engineering students.

Inclusive design (ID) modules are integrated in several university courses but the uptake in industry is quite low. The aim of a UK study was to find out what factors can drive better industry outcomes to move towards ID. The report of the findings has some recommendations including briefly:

– Methods and tools need to be covered in more depth
– Class exercises and case studies to demonstrate advantages and disadvantages
– User involvement requires extensive resources
– Discussion and confrontation is also needed

There is more to be gained from reading the paper which is titled, Inclusive Design Education: How to Get it Right.

Abstract: The study reported in this paper aims to understand graduate skills in relation to Inclusive Design (ID) knowledge, tools and methods and how these are related to the curriculum delivered throughout their degree programme. It focusses on students graduating from the Product Design Engineering (PDE) degree programme at the University of Strathclyde. Two research questions are addressed – What Inclusive Design skills do Product Design Engineering graduates typically possess? How might the current curriculum be reviewed to facilitate the enrichment of Inclusive Design skills? Findings report on prevalence of ID tools, methods and skills in graduating students’ project work. A comparison is drawn between evidenced application of ID methods and tools and perceived skills captured from survey results. Reflections on current curriculum and pedagogical approaches are made with discussion focusing on potential adaptations to enhance ID skills in graduates completing the PDE course. Trends including which ID tools and methods are used most/least often or collectively are reported. A comparison is drawn between evidenced application of ID methods and tools and perceived skills captured from survey results. Reflections on current curriculum and pedagogical approaches are made with discussion focusing on potential adaptations to enhance ID skills in graduate Product Design Engineer cohorts.

Better bus stops

The roadway is marked with the words "bus stop" in yellow lettering.How difficult can designing a bus stop be? Turns out there are lots of elements to consider. Bus stops are one element of an accessible and inclusive travel chain. Each country has their own format or standards for bus stops. But this doesn’t help visitors who are unfamiliar with the design and how it works. 

Accessible bus stops are more than a stop sign and perhaps a seat with a shelter. It has to fit within an accessible urban environment. Footpath materials, information and communication and street furniture all have a part to play. A bus stop outside an airport in Portugal is the subject of a case study. The researchers looked specifically at older travellers. They were able to compare bus stops back home with the one at the airport and give useful feedback and share ideas. Portugal is a favourite destination within Europe so there were many comparisons.

The results were generally consistent across the responses regardless whether the respondent had a disability. Many of the responses were fairly obvious, such as barrier-free footpaths and no obstacles around the bus stop. Shelters with seats at a suitable height and easy to read timetables rated as important. Of course, a bus stop is useless if you can’t use the bus, so low floor buses were important. 

The paper is titled, An Evaluation of the Universal Accessibility of Bus Stop Environments by Senior Tourists. It was published in the International Information and Engineering Technology Association. It is open access. See also Contributions of tourism to social inclusion of persons with disability for more about inclusive tourism in Portugal. 

Abstract: Sustainable mobility demands an integrated approach covering all modes of transport in a built environment designed for everyone. Social inclusion strategies required the improvement of transportation for people with reduced mobility. Universal accessibility has been incorporated into urban renovation processes, settlement, housing and transportation. Assessments have been made in measuring the performance of spatial indicators and usually consider technical parameters and/or user perception. In the context of accessible tourism, infrastructures and services have been adapted to be inclusive for all. Accessible built environments are required hence urban spaces, buildings, transport vehicles, information technology & communication, and services must bear in mind the approach of Age Sensitive Design. The research project Accessibility for All in Tourism focuses on bus stops designed to be age-friendly and inclusive. A questionnaire was developed for the elderly tourist aged 60+ about their perceptions of bus stop environments in their countries. Findings indicate that elderly tourists with disabilities are more critical of the existing accessibility conditions, and have a greater perception of the inclusive characteristics of bus stops. Furthermore, although older people take barrier-free spaces into account, there is some criticism around pedestrian crossings, bench design and the lack of room for wheelchair users.

UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), user experience (UX) and universal accessibility (UA), are basically the same – inclusion. So why should we be in a muddle about terms? For most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, it’s not a big deal.  But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?

Nevertheless, researchers find it frustrating not to have one term to cover the concepts. That’s because it makes it difficult to know if people are talking about the same thing when sharing research findings. The debate among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. Some putting forth arguments that they are all different things. Others lamenting the problems of not having a consistent terminology. A few delve into philosophical arguments.

A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments haven’t abated. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful. 

The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.

Editor’s Note: I also wrote on the topic of terminology in relation to housing design, Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? 

Abstract: Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.

Minimum building standards and myths

A flight of steps with handrails and an adjoining ramp lead to a public building. Minimum access standards for the built environment do not guarantee accessibility. Unfortunately, we still have designers who aren’t interested in best practice, just ticking the compliance box. It also means that access is a last thought and remedies, such as ramps, are tacked onto the “grand design”. But universal design should be the grand design if we want equitable and dignified use by all. 

The Access to Premises Standard of 2011 has improved accessibility to new buildings, but it is not the total answer. They only go part way in creating inclusive environments. An article in Sourceable addresses some of the issues and the myths that remain within the property industry. The myths are explained in detail in the article and are listed below:

      1. Access is the same as universal design.
      2. Universal design in more expensive than access.
      3. The Australian Standard for Access considers all people with disability.
      4. The dimensions in the Australian Standard provide independent access for everyone.
      5. Minimum compliance guarantees all people with disability cannot use everything in a building.
      6. Access consultants know everything about access, disability and universal design.

The article is by Joe Manton who concludes, “If we allow ourselves to be constrained by the minimum we will never aspire to the maximum. The legacy will be mediocrity.”  The title of the article is Minimum Compliance Means Missed Opportunities and Mediocrity

 

Queensland Inclusive Tourism Guide

Front cover of the guide showing a man in a red shirt with his arms outstrechedWith borders opening up and people anxious for a get-away, the tourism industry is set for a boost. However, not everyone will be able to take advantage of new-found freedoms. With no international tourists likely for a while, tourism operators need to make the most of the local market. That means being more accessible and inclusive.

The introduction to the Queensland Government’s guide, Inclusive Tourism: Making your business more accessible and inclusive, begins, “This guide has been developed primarily for tourism operators, to help them:

    • increase their knowledge about the market for accessible tourism
    • develop strategies to improve the accessibility of their operation to appeal to a wider range of visitors of all abilities and ages
    • understand their legal obligations in relation to inclusive and accessible tourism.

The guide also includes information to assist people with disability in planning a holiday. Local government can use this guide to: support and promote inclusive tourism across businesses, festivals, events and public spaces; and to incorporate inclusive and accessible design into their design codes and planning guidelines. Download the guide from the link on the Queensland Government website.

See also the UTS Inclusive Tourism publication explaining the economics of inclusive tourism.

Slips, Trips and Falls: More can be done

A brown shoe is about to step on a banana skin.Slips, trips and falls account for a significant proportion of hospital stays. But we seem to accept this as inevitable. Lots of energy goes into educating older people and others to avoid falls, but the issue is much broader. A group of passionate people think we can improve the situation by developing and testing floor surfaces that minimise the risks. This diverse group came together in a conference earlier this year.

The Slips,Trips and Falls international conference brought together a diverse group of professionals all keen to prevent accidents. So they had everything from technical specifications to footwear. The proceedings have five main sections which are worth a browse:

– Design and technical standards in architectural design; 
– Issues of slip resistance measurement;
– Ergonomics, rehabilitation, footwear and innovative products;
– Analysing accidents and the causes of falls; and
– Biomechanics, human behaviour and ageing.

It seems that Spain is ahead of the pack when it comes to testing and standards development. They demand a high level of compliance for slip resistance in the built environment. That transfers to Spanish flooring products. That means any flooring products sourced from Spain have been thoroughly tested.

A yellow A frame sign indicating a safety hazard of a wet floor.Much of this conference is technical, but the bottom line is that we could prevent many falls and hospital stays if we had the same emphasis on ensuring products had good slip resistant properties. While the Livable Housing Design Guidelines promotes slip resistance, this is one area which is often ignored. The other concern is that technical standards are lacking in Australia for homes and the public environment.  

A short video gives some of the key points from the conference. The link is on Richard Bowman’s page on ResearchGate. The video is subtitled due to the different languages spoken. A nicely filmed piece. Richard Bowman’s paper is also available on ResearchGate. 

Design and Diversity: Getting started

Three girls of colour smile at the camera. They are in a room with rows of chairs. As the Black Lives Matter movement continues across various industries, it becomes clear that white people still dominate. According to one survey in the US, just 3% of designers identify as Black. Consequently, things we use every day are designed from white experience. And young people don’t see designers who look like them. But just employing more people of colour or from different backgrounds is no guarantee of culture change. It’s culture change that makes the difference – not just workforce diversity. 

Black boys in action on the basketball court.An article in FastCompany discusses how young people of colour are being offered free courses to develop their design skills. Mo Woods who works for Microsoft explains how design agencies can connect with communities as part of the change process. He runs a not for profit that offers free design courses and workshops. It shows how design can be a viable career. Getting into communities isn’t easy. Mo Woods provides the example of starting a basketball program and then introducing a design element such as sneakers or team logo. This creates an entry point for introducing young people to design. Woods’ project is called the Inneract Project.

The title of the article is, One Microsoft designer’s quest to make the industry more inclusive.  An interesting project where designers also end up on their own learning curve.

There is another article on the same topic, People of color are wildly underrepresented in design. This game hopes to help fix it. It’s about a board game.

Neighbourhoods for every age

Shows the street of a new housing development with driveways for cars but no footpath for peopleDesigning universally requires the involvement of users of all ages and abilities in the design development stage. Inviting them to comment at a later stage assumes only cosmetic changes are needed to the “grand design”. But inclusive design begins right at the stage of design “thought bubbles”. 

Using the experiences of children and older adults, two case studies illustrate the need to utilise universal design principles in neighbourhood planning and design. The authors discuss how universal design is the bridging concept for joined up thinking for greater liveability for all ages. However, entrenched practices based on compliance leave no space for the application of voluntary guidelines whether for one age group or another.

Planning neighbourhoods for all ages and abilities: A multi-generational perspective, is an academic paper. It has several photographs illustrating the findings and the points made in the case studies. 

Abstract: Taking a more integrated approach to planning our neighbourhoods for the continuum of inhabitants’ ages and abilities makes sense given our current and future population composition. Seldom are the built environment requirements of diverse groups (e.g. children, seniors, and people with disability) synthesised, resulting in often unfriendly and exclusionary neighbourhoods. This often means people experience barriers or restriction on their freedom to move about and interact within their neighbourhood. Applying universal design to neighbourhoods may provide a bridging link. By presenting two cases from South-East Queensland (SEQ), Australia, through the lenses of different ages and abilities – older children with physical disabilities and their families (Stafford 2013, 2014) and seniors (Baldwin et al. 2012), we intend to increase recognition of users’ needs and stimulate the translation of knowledge to the practice of planning inclusive neighbourhoods.

 

Finding Your Way: Learning from users

A university campus map showing buildings juxtaposed to each other with no semblance of order.University campuses are some of the most confusing places to visit. There seems no sense of order with buildings set up higgledy-piggledy fashion. Finding you way takes more than a campus map. Given that most campuses have buildings added as the years go by, creating a good wayfinding system is always going to be a problem. However, learning from users is a good start.

Wayfinding around an Oslo university is the subject of an interesting study. There were four main parts to the user-centred design: understanding, envisionment, design, and evaluation. Interviewing users and scenario testing helped with understanding. Envisioning entailed testing different media to find the most suitable ways to communicate information. The design phase Oslo Met University showing an old brick facade.translated the information into prototypes. The evaluation phase used two types of user testing.

The researchers conclude it was a great learning experience for them. It showed how important it is to include users in the design process. The title of the article is, User-Centred Design for a Not Straightforward University Wayfinding.

AbstractOsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University receives thousands of students and visitors annually. Its main campus consists of many buildings in which students, staff and visitors navigate. Unfortunately, navigating around the campus can be challenging, as the existing wayfinding system is complex and not straightforward. This paper presents a problem-based approach to address the wayfinding challenges around the campus. A group of European Project Semester students followed a user-centred design approach to involve participants throughout the four main phases of the study—understanding, envisionment, design and evaluation. Interviews and scenario-based user testing were conducted to identify the underlying problems. The findings indicated that the numbering system for rooms was inconsistent, and the signage was not clear, visible and coherent for all the buildings on the campus. Using graphic design principles and wayfinding guidelines, a new consistent room numbering, a signage system and a mobile navigation app were proposed, developed and evaluated. The results showed that the new wayfinding system was clear and easy to understand, and it can be applied in all buildings. We observed a shorter time spent navigating to a specific room, and no mistakes was made. The app was found to be a useful and helpful tool for wayfinding. As a result of this study, the authors highlight the importance of involving users throughout the entire research process, which is our most significant learning experience as a group.

The campus map in the top picture is the Parramatta South campus of Western Sydney University. It has several heritage buildings going back to the time of early settlement. Many new buildings continue to be added.