Design details and everyday experiences

Title of the article in white text over an image of the top of an escalatorWhat is it about designs that either include or exclude users? Many designs are everyday – the things we hardly notice. That is, until we have difficulty using them. Design students need to see how exclusion happens.

Deborah Beardslee takes the perspective of physical ability to analyse how inclusion and exclusion happen in the design process. She notes that most designs work reasonably well for most people even if they aren’t designed that well. But we are all familiar with some degree of compromised experience. For example, hard to read instructions, doors that are difficult to open, places difficult to navigate and generally unappealing places.

Beardlee’s article will be of interest to design educators as well as practitioners. It focuses on examining everyday interactions with commonplace items with analysis of several examples. The aim of the paper is to encourage strategies for educating designers to be more inclusive. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive, High Quality Decisions? Macro/Micro Design Impacts within our Everyday Experiences, and was accessed from SEGD.org Universal Design webpage.

Abstract:  Age and physical ability are natural filters for assessing the successes of designed objects, messages, and experiences. Design problem solving contributes (or not) to the resolution of challenges faced by aging and/or physically challenged individuals as they interact with products and contexts in the built environment. This paper examines some design details, solutions, and situations that impact everyday inclusivity and quality of experience, and suggests approaches toward understanding and increasing interaction success for all of us.

The comparisons presented in this work are intended to initiate an evolving platform for the discussion and development of design education strategies and content that prioritize aging and physical ability issues. Some familiar macro and micro examples have been chosen to illuminate everyday user interactions, challenges, and considerations. Ideally, increased exposure to these aspects, through audience-, age-, and ability-related projects, courses, and curriculum, will strengthen awareness and empathy in young design students, and encourage thoughtful, and more inclusive, design in the future.

Bath Tubs: Fashion vs Function

A bath tub sits in int he middle of the room. It is taller than the standard bathtub and sculpted into a shape with high ends with thin sides.The current bathroom trend is freestanding bathtubs. But the glamour of this kind of tub is washed away when you can’t use it or have an accident doing so. The transcript of a podcast by the Universal Design Project discusses the pros and cons of these bathtubs. Here are a couple of pertinent snippets from the discussion:

“A lot of times when someone is curious about universal design or accessibility, they’ll do a quick Google search to see what they can learn about it. Usually, they’ll search for pictures too so that they can get a better idea of how someone might have implemented universal design features in the past. But we’ve found that many times these pictures aren’t really depicting universal design and it’s very possible that architects and builders will see these pictures assume the design works for everyone, and run with it, and that might not be the best thing to do, especially in bathrooms.

“Most of our design advisors agreed … that they are dangerous and not functional. … [One of]the biggest flaws of this tub is that the sides are way too tall, the edges are way too narrow and it’s way too deep. These three flaws have a huge impact on how someone is able to get in and out of the tub. 

The podcast goes on to recommend some design improvements, but that “we really needed to go with a regular tub set up”.

Freestanding tubs are meant to stand away from walls. There are two problems with this. The tub is usually near a wall but not near enough to put a steadying hand on the wall or access a grab rail if needed, but not far enough away to make cleaning easy. In situations where the shower is over the bath as well, a grab bar is probably essential.

The best part about this fashion is that free standing bath tubs are usually set in larger bathrooms. This has to be a plus for accessibility, bathing children and for helping someone in the bathroom. 

Freestanding tubs, are they safe? is part of The Universal Design Project Good Fit Bad Fit series, and you can access the podcast as well as the transcript.  

Interior design for better hearing

Interior of a room showing a white sofa with right angled sections.Sooner or later most of us will lose a portion of our hearing – some to the point where it affects our everyday life. How to design inclusively for people who are hard of hearing is the topic of an article in ArchDaily. It lists six design tips and outlines features that can assist people to work and socialise more easily:

      • Interior layout and visibility
      • Brightness, light and reflections
      • Multisensory spaces
      • Acoustic optimisation
      • Materials, objects and new technologies

The article, Architecture for People with Hearing Loss: 6 Design Tipsconcludes with: “In short, a truly inclusive design does not always necessitate hyper-awareness of special considerations, but can simply mean incorporating needs that tend to be basic for everyone, regardless of their physical conditions.” There are links in the article to other resources.

Deafness is a major cause of social isolation and inability to work effectively. Hearing aids are only a partial solution – that’s because they amplify all sounds including background noise. Being able to see the face of someone talking is a great help. Captioning of live events and videos is a must for taking in information and enjoying the plot of a movie. 

 

Interior design for brain trauma

A set of technical drawings with a set square and pens sit on a table top. Dementia and autism have received a lot of attention in the design world, but what about people with brain injury? I suspect some of the design solutions are similar. Using a human centred approach an exploratory study looked at developing a prototype home that could address common symptoms of people traumatic brain injury. The idea is to minimise negative feelings and behaviours. The title of the article is, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and the Built Environment. It lists design measures for different symptoms. The article is technical in parts, but the background, findings and conclusions provide some interesting reading. Also good for those involved in Specialist Disability Accommodation

Anyone involved in dementia and autism studies relating to the home environment should also find this interesting. Health practitioners who know about the health side of things, should find the home design ideas useful. The authors from University of Nevada conclude that “The strength of these designs is that they do not call attention to a differing ability,…” That’s also what universal design is about.

Abstract  Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) are often connected to the development of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease commonly found in athletes, military veterans, and others that have a history of repetitive brain trauma. This formative exploratory  study looked at person-centred design techniques for a person with CTE. The person-centred design method used for this study was based on a two-tiered reductionist approach; the first tier was to identify common symptoms and concerns associated with CTE from the literature. This information provided specific symptoms that were addressed through brainstorming ideations. Each singular ideation accommodated the singular, or small cluster of symptoms, that affected a person with CTE in a residential environment. This method of understanding a health condition through its symptoms, and then designing for those symptoms can extend the practice of interior design by providing probable solutions to specific health symptoms, thereby including designers into the healthcare team. Commonly identified behavioural and physical symptoms of CTE served as the factors of analysis and thus a variable of design. The health condition symptoms became the variables of design, and each symptom was assessed through additional data obtained from the literature for environmental causality, mitigation, or accommodation. Once the outcomes were determined, each design implication was assessed for its relationship to specific design actions.

Universally designed mealtimes

A busy array of small kitchen appliances and cooking utensils.Mealtimes are made easier with a range of small kitchen appliances. But can everyone use them? Meal preparation is something most of us do every day. It’s not until you can’t do it that you realise how much it impacts on wellbeing, independence and quality of life. 

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee worked with General Electric to develop an audit tool they can apply to the design of their small appliances. The tool can be used by engineers, retailers and individuals as well. The title of the tool is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). It includes 7 features: doors, lids, dials, on/off water reservoirs, buttons and “ready” indicators. Both physical and cognitive conditions were considered in the development of the tool.

The title of the article is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT).  

Abstract:  Over a quarter of Americans have disabilities. The impacts of these disabilities are pronounced in 3 areas: mobility, self-care, and household activities (including meal preparation and housework). Preparing meals at home is a powerful way to reduce the risk of depression, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Small kitchen appliances play a large role in meal preparation and have the potential to help increase the independence in meal preparation of people with disabilities. Currently, however, almost no guidelines exist to ensure that small kitchen appliances are accessible and usable. This paper discusses the development of the Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). This tool allows practitioners to score the accessibility and usability of common small kitchen appliance features based on their client’s impairments. The SKA AUDIT assists practitioners and their clients (and potentially the general public) in choosing small kitchen appliances that are more accessible and usable, in accordance with the user’s level of ability.

 

Breakfast Toast Made Easy

one slice of toast sits on a small white place.How much design thought is needed to make the common pop-up toaster easier to use? An article by industrial designer Ayushi Suri gives us the answer in step by step detail. If you’ve ever wondered how designers go about their projects, this article shows the amount of work and detailed thinking that’s required. In this case Suri had a look at other designs for inspiration. They included fast trains! At the end of the article are pictures of an attractive prototype. I particularly liked the dial for selecting the level of browning. This kind of design is good for people with reduced dexterity and grip strength. It meets most of the 7 Principles of Universal Design – simple and intuitive to use, perceptible information, low physical effort and tolerance for error. 

 

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.