Seeing with saying: wearable AI

close up of the device sitting on the right arm of the wearer's glasses.Orcam MyEye is a wearable for people with low vision. It tracks your finger, reads what the finger points at and announces it. The device is worn on the arm of a standard pair of glasses. This is also a great device for people who have difficulty reading. Another design idea for one group that also suits another. The captioned video clearly shows how it works.

From the CoDesign website: “There is a clever, intuitive interface based on a gesture everyone understands: pointing. All users have to do is point at whatever they want the device to read; the camera identifies their hand, then takes a picture of the text and reads it. It’s so precise that you can point to a specific line on a page and it will start reading from that point. “We believe that pointing at something is the most natural thing a human does,” says Aviram, who serves as the company’s CEO. 


Technology, Design and Dementia

Most people with dementia live at home and can often benefit from a range of technologies – but what are the best and when should they be used? In a PhD study, Tizneem Jiancaro of the University of Toronto has sought some answers. The thesis looks at three perspectives, developers, people with dementia, and the caregivers and significant others. Design factors were considered alongside emotional factors as well as usability. Not unexpectedly, “…empathy emerged as an important design approach, both as a way to address diversity and to access users’ emotional lives”. The title of the thesis is Exploring Technology, Design and Dementia. It can be downloaded from the University of Toronto.


Beauty: The 8th principle of universal design?

Liz Jackson on stage wearing black and using a purple caneDesigner Liz Jackson from New York, tells her story in a video talk of how she became known as the woman with the purple cane. She has a theory that when parents tell their children not to stare at someone who looks different they take this behaviour into adulthood. In a straightforward manner she laments how designs for people with disability are so often ugly. She critiques the seven principles of universal design for not including beauty in the list; focusing only on functionality. And that every design designs for exception because there will always be someone left out. This 15 minute talk is well worth the time. If you can’t access the video there is a full transcript on the site.  

Wall banner saying The essence of universal design lies in its ability to create beauty and mediate extremes without destroying differences in places, experiences and thingsEditor’s note: Aesthetics are mentioned in the fuller length of the seven principles of universal design. This quote from Bill Stumpt and Don Chadwick, points this out: “The essence of universal design lies in its ability to create beauty and mediate extremes without destroying differences in places, experiences, and things”. However, it seems that if designers only ever look at the short list of principles, an eighth principle should be added – Thou shalt make it beautiful!




Lighting up for everyone

A large arched walkway at night with purple bougainvillea flowers overhead. The pathway is well lit but has the line shadows of the arches across it. The design of lighting does more than just overcome darkness. According to David McNair, after food, lighting is the most important factor for supporting physical wellbeing. This is particularly so for older people and people with dementia. McNair, a lighting engineer, has written a book on the topic, Enlighten: Lighting for older people and people with dementia. It is written with care professionals, engineers, architects and designers in mind. Dementia and acquired brain injury can affect visual perception and well designed lighting can help overcome some of these issues. Aged Care Insight has an article about the book and also has a podcast interview with one of the book’s authors.

Editor’s note: The picture shows how the line shadows of the arches fall across the pathway. These can look like steps, or the distant arches can look too small to walk through. Not knowing if there are steps or if the arches are big enough can affect confidence in getting out and about. However, from personal experience, this is a very pleasant area to walk in the evening (Brisbane South Bank).  



Design principles to live and die by

A text box with a grey background and white text with the heading: 8 Design Principles to Live and Die By, According to Facebook, IBM, Pentagram and MoreThe Fastcodesign website has another interesting article about design. Every designer has the principles they work by.  So they asked eight prominent designers who were either judges of or honored in the 2017 Innovation By Design Awards: “What is the one principle you never compromise on?” The answers are consistent with universal design principles: Good design is both invisible and obvious; Ignore trends; Ban mediocrity, Design to elicit emotion; Articulate your purpose, honestly and explicitly; Users are people not statistics; Design thinking isn’t for designers and; Design for the big idea. See the article for the designers’ explanations.

An abstract pattern of muted blue and orange squares of different sizes.



Tactile models popular with everyone

A metal model showing a town layout in relief with Braille on buildings and streets. There is a church and lots of houses and a town square represented.Tactile models of buildings and spaces are made with blind people in mind to help them orientate in unfamiliar surroundings. Many are found in tourist destinations where they can also provide information about the building or space itself. It turns out that sighted people like to use them and touch them too. While this can cause some problems with inappropriate use, there is another, unexpected up side. The author argues that tactile models may become a “completely valuable, universal tool for learning and a great way of studying architecture in an alternative way”. The article reports on a study of this perspective of tactile models. This is another example that highlights the idea that so-called “designing for the disabled” is in fact, designing for everyone. The title of the article is Tactile Architectural Models as Universal ‘Urban Furniture’(“Furniture” is a bit misleading in this title).  


Smart phones and shopping

four young people sit on brick steps. Three of them are looking at smartphones. There are three young men and one young woman. It looks like summer as the men are wearing shorts.Smartphones are now the device of choice. Survey question: would you rather give up your smartphone or sex for a year? The answer could surprise you. The video below shows how to present products for sale in a format suitable for smartphones and fast scrolling viewers. Taking a simple photo, or packshot, of the product rarely gives enough information for purchasers on a small screen. The first part of the video gives the answer to the question above. At about ten minutes into the video, Sam Waller explains all the reasoning behind the design of product pictures to give information clearly and quickly. Good for selling and good for buying – inclusive thinking. The thinking behind the designs could be applied to any type of product or service. It makes the information easy to access on a small screen – the device of choice for so many of us. Research is showing we are gravitating to the smartphone in greater numbers and leaving the computer screen behind. 

Sam Waller is with the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge and has done extensive research with Unilever on this project. The EDC is also the home of the Inclusive Design Group and the Inclusive Design Toolkit.


Glasses give live captioning

A bearded man is shown wearing the glasses described in the articleCaptioning of videos and TV is now being recognised as a mainstream convenience for any viewer. Captioning in theatres is an improvement for people who are deaf, but the way they are delivered can be a bit clunky and can be distracting for other audience members. Closed captioning glasses have arrived thanks to two young inventors. You can read their story in the Smithsonian magazine. People with hearing loss can now go to the movies with these live captioning glasses without anyone else being affected. They designers claim the glasses also work in social situations, such as the dinner table, where speech is transcribed into text. With hearing loss one of the most reported disabilities, inventions like these can be life-changing. You can see a video on how it works and to read a review .


Inclusive Design Toolkit turns 10

five members of the inclusive design group stand behind a table with the toolkit displayed. Each person is holding a card with a word. The words spell out 10 years inclusive design toolkit.The Inclusive Design Toolkit has proved to be an invaluable tool for designers and it’s received a revamp for its tenth birthday.  Also updated is the exclusion calculator which gives a great guide to how many potential users might be excluded from a design. The news bulletin from the Engineering Design Centre that produces the Toolkit and other resources has information on:

  • The tenth anniversary of the Inclusive Design Toolkit and what has been achieved in that time
  • New exclusion calculator for better assessment for vision and dexterity
  • E-commerce image guidelines for mobile phone viewing
  • Impairment simulator software for vision and hearing is now freely available and very handy for showing people what vision impairments look and sound like.

The Engineering Design Centre has made great progress in inclusive design. It began with funding to work with business and commerce to show the business benefits of including as many people as possible in the design. The design team continue to break new ground keeping users at the centre of the process. Their resources are good for working out how to include everyone.

The picture shows left to right: Joy Goodman-Deane, Sam Waller, Mike Bradley, Ian Hosking, and John Clarkson.


Clothes that speak – literally

The picture shows white rectangular tags that provide audio description and they are also tactile.We live in a visual world where we make judgments about people and things according to what they look like. So that’s why fashion, or at least looking good, is important to most people. But how do people who are blind work out what to buy and what to wear? On the AARP Facebook page is a video of a fashion designer who has taken this on board and designed some garments that solve the problem – they even talk to you! Included in the garments are tags (pictured) with QR and colour codes that generate audio description. You can find out more about Camila Chiribogo and the award she won for her work in “disrupt ageing design challenge” run by AARP. Wearing fashionable garments is part of feeling included in mainstream society.

Note: if you want to see closed captions on the video links, click the wheel icon on the videos.