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.

Diversity, inclusion and wearables

An Apple watch is sitting across an Apple iPhone on a desktop.Clothing and fashion tastes vary from person to person, so it should be assumed that no two people will have the same taste in wearables. A study of women’s preferences and concerns about wearables found that in terms of aesthetics, they needed to have elements of personalisation to suit different situations and style. This is a case where one size does not fit all. Some were happy with brightly coloured and conspicuous wearables, while others preferred muted tones. Early commercialisation brought about large, ugly, clunky and very masculine-looking wearables that didn’t take off well in the market. So it is good to see some research on this aspect.

According to the research, important factors in wearables are the social and cultural connocations, how they portray women and whether women are ready to accept the attention these devices might bring. Privacy is another concern in terms of what these devices might give away through sharing information via social media. Of course, including a broad range of users in the design development is essential for success.

The title of the article is Diversity and Inclusivity in the Age of Wearables: A Buzzword, a Myth, an Uncertain Reality.  This is an open access publication that discusses how we use technology to empower individuals and improve our way of living in the world, particularly from the perspective of women.

Ikea add-ons for usability

A chart of the 13 different addons that Ikea has devised.Ikea is well know for its sleek designs, low profile furniture and hand-less drawers. So universal design has yet to hit their design studios. However, Ikea is compensating by trying its hand at accessibility with add-ons for their most popular furniture pieces. They’ve called them ThisAbles. However, you will need access to a 3D printer if you want one or more of these. A total of 13 designs are available. They include items like the EasyHandle, a big, Rubbermaid-looking grip that can be added to the seamless door of a Pax shelf, and the Glass Bumper, a plastic pad that protects the bottom of a glass-doored Billy bookcase from the bump of a wheelchair. The FastCo website has more on this plus the instructive video also shown below.

Editor’s Note: I wonder when they will wake up that many of these add-ons should be designed more aesthetically and included within the product for the convenience of everyone. My personal favourite is the handle for the shower curtain. The title of “ThisAbles” indicates that it is specialised design and not universal design. Any name or title with “Able” emphasised with a captial letter indicates “designed for people with disability” rather than for everyone. 

Packaging Case Study

A glass container of flour is laying on its side with the flour spilling out.Struggling to open packaging is frustrating, and for some people it is almost impossible. A new research paper describes a design framework based on user experiences. The researchers use the case of opening a packet of flour. They looked at information, instructions, size, transparency, rigidity, shape, material, handling and opening features. They recommend that all these factors be considered at an early design phase. The language is somewhat dense, but it shows the importance of considering a range of user abilities at the early design phase. Here is a section from the paper outlining the issues they considered.

“In general, the aforementioned work can be divided into packaging usability and packaging design studies. Because usability studies focus on the interaction between users and packages with little effort applied to establish connections between packaging features and usability, they have been limited in capability for identifying the responsibility of different packaging features with respect to usability problems. On the other hand, previous packaging design studies have focused on aspects of accessibility and connections established mainly between packaging features and ability to open packages. Accordingly, there is a necessity to link aspects of packaging usability to packaging features to achieve a better understanding of potential improvements in packaging design.”

The title of the article is, A Design for Affordances Framework for Product Packaging: Food Packaging Case Study in the Journal of Applied Packaging Research.  

Heavenly stairways

A man sits on the stairs in a home. The stairs are timber but there are no handrails only glass sides. The stairway is open to the living area.There is much to think about when designing and fitting stairs in a home, whether a new home or a renovation. Denver architect Doug Walters has 12 tips for safer stairways in his web article, “Beautiful Hazard”. Home stairway design should be both good looking and safe. The article uses photos to illustrate points.There is a link to some elegant solutions. I note that nothing is said about extending the handrail to the final tread in some examples.

Designing around people

Book cover - dark blue background with white writingDesigning Around People is the publication of sessions held across three days held at University of Cambridge (UK). Known as CWUAAT (Cambridge Workshops on Universal Access and Assistive Technology), it is an international gathering of people interested in inclusive design across different fields. Designers, engineers, computer engineers, ergonomists, ethnographers, policymakers and user communities, meet, discuss and collaborate. People come from diverse communities to this biennial workshop; France, India, China, Norway, Slovakia, USA, Denmark and many more. A good reference for anyone researching inclusive practice.

As the range of topics is diverse, individual chapters are available for purchase if you don’t have institutional access from SpringerLink.  You can download the PDF of the Preface and the chapter list from the link. 

Diversity, Design and Democracy

A young woman is wearing a pair of virtual reality goggles and looking towards the sky.Design is supposed be democratising, but according to the Design Council in UK, it seems designers have to look, or act, in a certain way. We should ask why in 2018 this is still the case. Design disciplines still lack diversity in teaching and learning – the majority are male and come from higher socio-economic groups. These points are made in the Design Council article about a father who has designed a virtual reality headset that is suitable for children and adults who get distressed with too much stimulation. Because he doesn’t fit the ideal designer stereotype he has been unable to get financial backing for his invention that makes a better life for his daughter and others. The video in the link explains it clearly.