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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
At last some creative design thinking in assistive technologies. No, assistive devices do not need to look ugly and purely functional, but too often they are. The FastCompany website has an interesting article about technology designed to be discrete and not stigmatising. Probably the most interesting design is a robot disguised as a coffee table that is also a walking aid. Then there is the GPS navigator for people who are blind that is designed as bracelets. Not keeping up with the App world and the move from CDs to Spotify? There’s a device to help which is especially useful for people not born in the digital age. The link to the coffee table is well work a look.
Patricia Moore is well-known to those who have followed the fortunes of universal design for some time. She was the researcher who dressed and behaved as an 80 year old woman and found first hand the discriminatory treatment older people face every day in the built environment and socially. Her latest article with Jörn Bühring asks designers and business leaders to use social and emotional intelligence in their designs. They claim the philosophic challenge is to ask “Why not?” rather than “Why?”
“Designers don’t speak of limitations, instead they tend to focus on possibilities. The emergence of ’inclusivity’ in design supports the conviction that where there is a ’deficit’, we will present a solution. “Where there is ignorance, we will strive for enlightenment. Where there is a roadblock, we will create a pathway”.
Cite paper as: Bühring, J., Moore, P., (2018). Emotional and Social Intelligence as ’Magic Key’ in Innovation: A Designer’s call toward inclusivity for all – Letter From Academia, Journal of Innovation Management, www.openjim.org,
Tanisha Cowell gives her perspective on seat design as an occupational therapist and interior designer. She says her five features for great seats is not rocket science and seems common sense, but as always, it’s the little details that make a difference. Of course backrests and armrests get a mention, but also where to place seating, say in a park or a cafe. Did you think about colour contrast and height of the seat, or even the thickness of a seat? Tanisha has something to say about these too. And what about a cushion for the leisurely Sunday breakfast at your favourite cafe?