How ‘the user’ frames what designers see

Front cover of book Anthropology in BusinessUniversality in design gets a mention in the Handbook of Anthropology in Business. Megan Neese’s chapter raises a good point about terminology in the business world. She says, “Marketing teams talk about consumers. Research teams talk about respondents. Engineering teams talk about targets. Designers talk about users. These terms tend to be used simultaneously and somewhat interchangeably in corporations…”. So finding common ground is not always easy when developing a product. Neese’s chapter discusses the many layers needed in any design, such as, culture, function, regulations, industry initiatives, and social trends. It is thoughtfully written and easy to read.

How “the User” Frames What Designers See: What Cultural Analysis Does to Change the Frame is in the Handbook of Anthropology in Business, 2016, and is also available from Google Books 

Design knows no bounds

Front cover of The Routledge Companion to Design StudiesPenelope Dean discusses how boundaries among various fields of design emerge, what they do, and how they behave, and then proceeds to argue that there are no real boundaries, only discipline based notions of boundaries. She takes six perspectives including, how they erupt from within, how they are extrapolated, and how they evolve from shared principles. She concludes by saying: “Design is no longer the sole property of disciplines or professions… [d]esign is now public domain appropriable by anyone.” She goes on to say that we all have the freedom to design and “rethink how we choose and designate new worlds.” Isn’t that what universal design is all about?

Penelope Dean’s chapter, Free for All, can be found in The Routledge Companion to Design Studies, edited by Penny Sparke and Fiona Fisher and available from Google Books. Also available from Amazon.

Part IV of the book includes chapters on socially inclusive design, and socially responsive design among others. You can download the Table of Contents from Amazon. 

Penelope Dean is Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she teaches, theory, history and design, and serves as coordinator for the Masters of Arts in Design Criticism program. Her research and writings focus on contemporary architectural culture with a particular emphasis on recent exchanges between architecture and allied design fields.

Able to Fly: Boeing gets going

front cover of handbook of anthropology for businessOne of the first centres for universal design was set up in Japan, so it is no real surprise that Japan Airlines is pushing Boeing to re-think aircraft and air travel design especially as they not only employ many older workers, they also want to appeal to the older traveller. Anthropologist Kenneth C Erickson writes a very interesting chapter on this in Handbook of Anthropology in Business, which is available from Google books. He covers the whole travel experience from a user perspective using ethnographic techniques. It seems that Boeing, in trying to make the flight experience more convenient, might be adopting universal design principles without perhaps realising it. Here is an an excerpt from the latter part of the text:

“Boeing knows how important it is to see where you are, where you are going, and what things look like outside the airplane window. They’ve reconfigured the interior of the new Dreamliner so that windows are … roughly eye-level. The carbon-fiber fuselage allows greater structural strength and affords bigger windows, while light-sensitive glass obviates the need for those window shades that used to be difficult for passengers to manage […] And although we think of Boeing as making only the airplane, they also make jet-bridges and some of the display technology that shows seat availability for passengers waiting at the gate. This is evidence that Boeing already knows that air travel does not begin when passengers enter the plane; it is not inconceivable that they may broaden their view of travel further and include the entire process of baggage handling, making it, too, more transparent. […] And the work of flight attendants on the ground and in the air … can be made visible and appreciated, so they in turn may see and appreciate those whose bodies – and luggage – they care for. That’s where universal design fosters a good kind of globalization: through it we recognize our common, traveling humanity, and the difference between the temporarily able-bodied and the other dissolves, for a time, into thin air.”

The title of the chapter is, Able to Fly: Temporality, Visibility & the Disabled Airline Passenger, in Handbook of Anthropology in Business, 2016

Universal Design and Reasonable Accommodation

Logo for University of Carlos III Madrid SpainWhat is “reasonableness’ in the concept of reasonable accommodation” when it comes to applying accessibility and universal design? Professor Rafael de Asis Roig discusses this philosophical question in the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. He contends that the content of universal accessibility is “constrained by three types of circumstances that could be considered as the bounds for what is necessary, possible and reasonable”.

Australian Human Rights Commission logoFor anyone interested in the debate about reasonableness, and the application of “unjustifiable hardship” rulings by the Australian Human Rights Commission, this article explores reasonableness from different perspectives and concludes,

“Therefore, in accordance with the foregoing, it is possible to have a comprehensive vision about reasonableness in the disability domain. This demand makes it necessary to deem a measure as reasonable in the context of disabilities when:

  • It is justified because it adequately provides for full participation in society.
  • It shall be deemed as possible, taking into account the state of scientific, technical and human diversity knowledge.
  • It shall be deemed as a non-discriminatory differentiation or undifferentiation which is not harmful for physical and moral integrity and at the same time does not prevent from meeting basic needs nor avoids participation in society on an equal basis.
  • It shall be deemed as proportional and, therefore, entails more advantages than sacrifices within the context of human rights.
  • It shall be deemed as acceptable by the community to which it is addressed.”

The article, Reasonableness in the Concept of Reasonable Accommodation, was published in The Age of Human Rights Journal, 6 (June 2016)

An earlier unpublished article tackles the issues of human rights and “unjustifiable hardship” in the Australian context by Schraner, Bringolf and Sidoti which discusses the issues from an economic perspective. Written in 2012, it pre-dates the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Cognitive disability digital accessibility guide

Front cover of the cognitive disability media access guideMedia Access Australia has produced yet another great media guide for including people who have a cognitive disability. The Cognitive Disability Digital Accessibility Guide is designed to provide practical, step-by-step information for designing and delivering effective best-practice web and digital communication. It provides useful information on:

  • Guidance on policies and technical standards that best apply to people with cognitive disabilities in an organisational context.
  • Creating websites that support people with a cognitive disability.
  • Developing documents structured and written in ways that support people with cognitive disabilities.
  • Preparing communication messages for people with a cognitive disability.
  • Understanding how best to support people with cognitive disabilities in their ability to use computers and mobile devices.

The Guide also covers traditionally-implemented accessibility guidelines of WCAG 2.0 Level AA as well as looking at the increasing relevance of Level AAA requirements. It also delves into the role of affordable consumer devices such as tablets and helpful apps.

Of course, if the design is suitable for people with cognitive disability, there is a very good chance it is going suitable for everyone.

People with cognitive disabilities or impairments include: acquired brain injury, autism, dementia, developmental disability, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and learning difficulties in general.

4 Myths of Home Accessibility

Picture of a paintbrush and chisel acting as handles on cupboard doorsDeborah Pierce writes that any construction project is a daunting endeavour, but illness and injury complicate everything. Ageing can be full of surprises, but asking others what to do can cause confusion when everyone has different advice. Also there are a lot of myths floating around and she addresses these well in the article:

  • Myth 1: Accessible equals institutional
  • Myth 2: Accessibility is expensive
  • Myth 3: Accessibility takes up space
  • Myth 4: Access upgrades detract from re-sale value

The article is by Deborah Pierce on It includes design ideas and includes informative pictures.

Picture shows a paintbrush and a chisel being used as cupboard handles. Good for people needing extra grip, but maybe confusing for someone with dementia – editor.


Small but accessible homes

Floor plan for a 52 sqm homeDeborah Pierce has written a great book on accessible homes. It is an American publication with an emphasis on wheelchair users, but the ideas are useful for anyone trying to re-think how they design homes to be more inclusively designed. Also good for anyone planning renovations in preparation for later years. One of the myths is that small can’t be accessible. Deborah puts this to rest with this 52 square metre design shown in the diagram. She notes that because ramps take up more space than steps, the assumption is that everything has to be bigger. Not having a ramp is of course part of the solution, but so is minimising corridor and hall spaces and having fitted storage and furniture where possible.

Deborah is featured on the website where there are otheFront cover of the book The Accessible Homer useful resources.   You can find out more about Deborah and her book, which has many ideas and pictures.


Public wayfinding “in-the-wild” study

Picture of railway station and successive dynamic signs at each platform entrancePublic displays are becoming more sophisticated, animated and dynamic, but are not often used for wayfinding. Three architecture researchers from University of Leuven in Belgium conducted an “in-the-wild” study at a railway station to test various display designs to see which would give the best wayfinding information.

The method and results are carefully documented with some interesting findings and conclusions. Graphics, charts and photographs add to the explanations and considerations for designers in the use of symbols, colours and spatial distributions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they discovered that different people have different ways of seeing, using, and interpreting signage and wayfinding cues.

The study by Coenen, Wouters, and Vande Moere is Synchronized Wayfinding on Multiple Consecutively Situated Public Displays.

Also available from the Research Gate site.

Architecture student attitudes

Faculty of Architecture University at Buffalo State University of New YorkOne way of encouraging and increasing the uptake of universal design strategies, is the education of architecture students. This is probably one of the first studies of its type in the area of how introducing students to the principles of universal design can have a positive effect on attitudes towards people with disability.

Published in the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All, the authors, Hitch, Dell and Larkin from Deakin University, also review some of the related literature. The title of the article is, Does Universal Design Education Impact on the Attitudes of Architecture Students Towards People with Disability

From the Abstract: The aim of this study was to investigate the attitudes of architecture students towards people with a disability, comparing those who received inter-professional universal design education with those who had not. Architecture students who had previously participated in inter-professional universal design education had significantly less negative attitudes. This study suggests education around universal design may promote more positive attitudes towards people with a disability for architecture students.


Inclusion: Rights vs Economics

Sign showing symbols for wheelchair access and baby stroller accessBill Forrester writes in his latest blog post that one problem of moving from the medical model of disability to the social model, is that the issue of rights seems to take centre stage and the discussion of economic benefits gets lost. Tourism and travel is a perfect example of where many economic gains can be made. Too often travel and tourism companies forget that people with disability travel with families and friends. Consequently the losses are far more than just one potential customer. Disability is classified as something different and around that a set of preconceptions are built that shield it from a market view, says Forrester. There is a link to his research on the blog page. He argues that preferences for holidays are the same as the general population. I can attest to that.

Photograph on a sand dune of 18 passengers and 4 driversEditor’s Note: I have just returned from two weeks on the Canning Stock Route in Western Australia. If you don’t know this area, it is desert – sand dunes, and a 2000km string of wells built for cattle and their drovers in a past time. The road is sand, the shelter is the tent you put up each night and take down each morning, and the transport is 4×4 or better still, 6×6 vehicles. On my trip were 18 passengers and 4 drivers. No passenger was under the age of 60 and the eldest was 86. Older people clearly want to keep doing the things they’ve always done. The spirit of adventure lives on!  Jane Bringolf.

The top picture was taken at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, and the lower picture is of the 18 passengers and 4 drivers on the Canning Stock Route trip.