Highlighting the ‘Dark Side’

young people sit at a table which has a large sheet of paper and writing implements. They appear to be discussing something.Critical Design is a way of challenging stereotypes and prejudice. It is a way of looking at the world from the “dark side” of design thinking. A paper presented at a recent engineering and product design conference explains how design students responded to a series of workshops using the critical design method. The process does not focus on designing solutions. Rather, it focuses on designing to highlight the problem. The idea is to get the participants to think about the problem in greater depth. This is where satire and irony can be used to convey the message of stigma and exclusion. Students were also challenged to consider user empowerment, or how they might reshape societal and cultural stereotypes.

The authors explain, “it is essential that they are armed with design methods for tackling the challenges of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Furthermore, they must gain valuable experience of interdisciplinary work in order to be prepared for the ‘real’ world, outside of university”.

They conclude the article with, “Whether CD alone can help in battling stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination, and stigma – in so doing achieving a more diverse and inclusive society – we don’t quite know but are sure that it’s a good way to start!

The title of the paper is, Addressing the issue of stigma-free design through critical design workshops.  

Abstract:  Stereotypes and prejudices are a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon that can impinge on peoples’ wellbeing. Moreover, the power of public stigma can make users of certain products experience discrimination, alienation, and inequality. Such experiences increase the likelihood of individuals rejecting products, services, environments, etc. altogether, often depriving them of e.g. safety, efficiency, and independence. In a worst-case scenario this can lead to a stigmatised condition that triggers further inequality and exclusion. In an increasingly complex world, it is imperative that those responsible for addressing future needs, challenges, and demands, i.e. the next generation of designers, architects, engineers, etc., are adequately equipped as regards methods and tools for battling existing stereotypes and prejudices related to social growth and development in society. Through this, they will ensure that stigma-free design is a priority when initiating, planning, and executing future projects. The purpose of this paper is to describe what happens when critical design is used to explore the stigma associated with existing products, services, environments, etc. in the context of interdisciplinary workshops, and to discuss the results so far. Furthermore, the paper examines whether and how this upside-down way of thinking about and performing design is a good contribution to the fields of design, architecture, engineering, etc. as a method of both teaching and learning about equality, diversity, and inclusion.

A shoe for all

Grey and red basketball shoe showing the drop down back section and warp around fastener.Universally designed shoes? Why not? Many people struggle with laces, bending down to get shoes on and off, or poor grip because of arthritis. Velcro is still the industry standard for “functional” shoes, but fashion and style seems to have eluded the designers. It is the same with many things that are “good for people with disability”. But Nike has come to the rescue. While shoes for playing basketball aren’t for everyone, Nike has come up with a stylish version that is highly adjustable and easy to get on and off. It is a good example of universal design with style. However, Nike is an expensive brand. But perhaps some of the design ideas could be picked up by others? The shoe features a drop down back section and wrap around fastening section.

There are lots of reasons to use universal design principles when designing clothing and footwear. And back fastenings in dresses should have disappeared with the laced up corset (and the maids who fastened them).

Watch the video below of the designers talking about the brief they were given – to design a shoe suitable for an athlete and a person with a disability.

“Designed as a high-performance basketball shoe for WNBA player Delle Donne and as a usable shoe for her sister Lizzie. FlyEase shoes feature a magnetised heel that drops down to make it easier to get in to and out of and easier to open and close. Handy for people with limited dexterity, but also for people rushing to get their shoes on and off.”

What about a recycled shoe? Adidas has found a way to recycle your shoes – send them back and you get a recycled pair. Interesting concept that could take off with other products.

Open Sesame! Packaging made easy

Exploded view of the package and all its partsIn marketing terms, the packaging is part of the product. The package shape, colour and brand are important in enticing consumers to buy. But all too often we have to get a sharp knife, a pair of scissors and wrestle with the packaging in order to get to the product inside. Microsoft has come up with a nice solution to packaging their Xbox Adaptive Controller – a gamepad for people who might not have use of their limbs. Good thinking – no good having a nicely designed accessible product that you can’t get out of the box! The video below shows the simple but effective design. There is another video on the FastCompany website or see the engadget website. Package designers take note. 

The title of the article is How Microsoft fixed the worst thing about product packaging.

 

Graphic Design Everyone Can Enjoy

Front cover of the handbook. Bright yellow with black text.An excellent resource from Ontario, Canada on accessible graphic design. It’s everything you wanted to know but didn’t know how to ask. Graphic design covers creative design, visual communications, applied design and technology sectors. So the guide covers typography, digital media, web accessibility, Office documents, accessible PDFs, print design, environmental graphic design, colour selection and more. It’s written for an easy read and has a logical structure. At the end is a list of publications, links to websites and tools to help. 

There are so many little things that graphic designers can do to make their creations more accessible. The guide unpacks them to show it can be done with little, if any, extra effort. The title of the guide is, AccessAbility 2: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design.  

 

Co-design with older adults

A creative workshop scene. A woman is holding a pair of scissors, another is holding a pen over paper.Finding out what older people might want and need in their daily living experiences takes more than just asking them, especially if they have a cognitive impairment. A recent study found that using creative methods, such as drawing and creating models, older people can express their needs in a tactile format. This also creates rapport with designers who can then devise better mobility, dining and leisure activities. This method is enjoyable for all participants.

The title of the article is, Participatory Design with Older Adults: Exploring the Latent Needs of Young-Old and Middle-Old in Daily Living Using a Universal Design Approach. You will need institutional access for a free read. Published by SpringerLink.

Abstract: In 2017, global population aged 60 years or over reached nearly 963 million, becoming twice the figure recorded in 1980. Not surprisingly ageing population will continue to accelerate due to continuing decline in fertility and improvement in survival in major diseases. When people who are suffered from cognitive or physical impairment, they often feel alone and experience different degrees of social loneliness. This paper discusses co-design experiences with various stakeholders to explore latent needs of older persons in their daily living using a universal design approach. Through iterative use of creative methods, freehand sketching and physical models, older adults can express their needs in a more accurate, tactile format. Findings reveal that commonality of interest among older persons are important in building rapport among other participants. It also helps designers develop assistive design related to health care, mobility, dining and leisure activities involving older persons, benefiting society as a whole.

Designing for Diversity

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalitiesDan Jenkins says that inclusive design is often confused with designing for people with disability. It is true that inclusive design, or universal design, is not just about disability. But it should also include people with disability. After all, it is about designing for as many people as possible. Dan Jenkins makes an important point in his article – the number of excluded people is often underestimated and capability is frequently thought of in terms of “can do” and “can’t do”. However, this black and white approach doesn’t cater for those who “can do a bit” or “could do more” if the design was tweaked.

Editor’s comment: Many have written on this topic, but it is good to keep the conversation going. I hope his ideas do actually include people with disability and older people. “Diversity” is often thought of in terms of ethnic and gender diversity. If not careful, this can exclude a much wider range of people, including children, older people, and people with health conditions. 

It would be a pity if “universal design” were to be interpreted as “disability design” and “inclusive design” as designing for non-disabled groups of people. Disability covers all ethnic and gender groups as well. Dan Jenkins is based in the UK where the term “inclusive design” is used more than “universal design”. 

Sunday Designers: Can they really design?

A decorative design that looks like a fish and flowers.What makes a talented designer? This question was put to Yasushi Kusume, Innovation and Creative Manager at IKEA. The answers are not new – get a good team of designers together from a range of disciplines and keep people at the centre of the design.
The article on the Design Council website looks at this and the question of “Sunday Designers”. This is what they call the DIY movement in Japan. The article also discusses the move towards making design a step by step process. Design is not a step by step process – often called “design thinking”. One step by step process does not fit all.

“In today’s business world, knowledgeable, skilled and talented designers are valued less than the actual process steps defined by ‘design thinking’. The perception is that those steps are more important than the competencies involved. In ‘The Design Thinking Movement is Absurd’ Lee Vinsel, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “In the end, design thinking isn’t about design. It’s not about the liberal arts. It’s not about innovation in any meaningful sense. It’s certainly not about “social innovation” if that means significant social change. It’s about commercialisation.”  

What does inclusion actually mean?

Graphic of stick people in various poses with the caption, "Inclusiveness,, looking at everyoneKat Holmes found the origin of include was to “shut in”. Similarly, the origin of exclude was to “shut out”. Maybe “inclusion” is not the right word for describing the inclusion of everyone in products, places and things. Holmes explains in the video below, that the topic of diversity is discussed in her workplace as gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, ethnicity, and race. Disability is usually mentioned last in the list, if at all. “But it is the one category that transcends all other categories”, she says. “Abilities are constantly changing”. 

Holmes’ offers an alternative way for designers to consider diversity, and is based on her book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design. An engaging talk for all upcoming designers in any field. And not just professional designers either. We all design things every day, so we all have a role to play. 

Editor’s Note: I discussed this issue in a 2009 paper. Inclusion is problematic inasmuch as it requires those who are already included to invite into the group those who are excluded. Semantics can be important. What we need is inclusiveness – that’s where inclusion has already happened and there are no exclusions. Inclusion is a futuristic concept insofar as it is something for which we are striving, for if it were achieved, no discussion would be needed.

Colour Kindness

A group of people standing holding a pink banner with the words You are Not Alone, but you can't see the word NOT because it is in pale red and blends into the background colourIt’s one thing to talk about colour blindness, but it is quite another to see what it looks like to the 6-10 percent of the population that have colour vision deficiency. Axess Lab has produced an excellent set of successes and failures using real life examples of colours used by web designers. These examples provide really good guidance for anyone involved in web content and design, as well as printed material. The blog page has links to more information. There is a nice pic of what a football field looks like to someone who can’t see red and green – so it’s not all about the web – it’s all around us as the picture shows. If you want to see more on this topic see ColourBlindAwareness Twitter feed. 

The banner in the picture shown should read You Are Not Alone, instead it looks like, You Are Alone.

Sensory furniture for kids

Agirl sits on a bean bag style chair. Next to her is a desk and chair. The chair is designed to rock.Children with heightened sensory perception are at the centre of a new range of furniture and clothing by Target. They are designed to feel as if they are giving a little “hug”. Target has put a lot of research and investment into these products. It’s in keeping with their attempts at inclusive design, or designing for “fringe users”. Of course, these products can be appreciated by all children, but the research is saying that some children appreciate the sensory appeal more than others. The title of the article on FastCo website is, “Target’s newest furniture is for kids with sensory sensitivity“. The article shows a desk chair designed to rock, a foam crash pad, weighted blankets, and more. Not sure if these products are, or will be, available in Australia. But an  interesting read from a design point of view.