My Home or Care Home?

Queenie Tran stands in front of the large display screen, The words are Home is Home and Everything else is not home. That's the way the world is constructed.What kind of home do you want to live in? The comfortable and familiar home you have now? Or an institutional care home? Queenie Tran in a TEDx Talk, Designing the Castle – challenges the architecture and design professions to think about what designing for “the majority” really means. Who makes up this majority? The ABS statistics tell us that over one third of households have at least one occupant with a permanent disability. Not the majority, but not so much a minority either, and with an ageing population this will only increase. Time for architects and building designers to re-think what their majority really is and start designing for more than just two thirds of the population. They can make a big difference in our lives. The difference between being forced into an institution either in our later years, or by accident – just because our homes don’t fit us any more. 

Note: If you don’t have time to watch the full 10 minutes, skip to the 5 minute mark for the take home messages.


What is design?

Diagram showing the four orders of design: symbols, products, interactions, systems.For most people the word “design” conjures up thoughts of creativity, products, architecture, graphics, or the way something looks or functions. When it comes to innovation it is more than this.  What do we mean by design? on the Design for Europe website discusses the concept of innovation. Design has moved from traditional artifacts to designing processes, and orchestrating experiences, and even transforming systems. Design is also about generating fit across different elements so that it solves a The "fit" triangle with problem, citizens, government making policy. problem, fits the user and fits the provider of the solution. Interesting article that lists four principles to help make things fit in the best way possible. Anyone who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations is a designer. Seems we are or have been a designer!  


Typewriters: A device for vision loss

Close up of an old fashioned typewriter.Did you know that the typewriter was first invented by a woman who was losing her sight? This is a good example of how an invention for a disability can be good for everyone. The flexible straw and the touchpad are other such inventions. These are just three things in Kat Holmes’ book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design. You can read a review of the book published by MIT Press 
“Designing for inclusion is not a feel-good sideline. Holmes shows how inclusion can be a source of innovation and growth, especially for digital technologies”. It expands the customer base and boosts the bottom line. And this goes for any product or service, building or dwelling. 


Technology and smart cities for everyone

graphic showing hand drawn and coloured buildings in a child-like format.If you ignore the medical perspective of this article and the language, that starts with the title, “The future holds smart habitats for people with special needs”, there are some interesting ideas about smart cities and technology for everyone. The article provides some examples of how technology can enable the creation of smart living environments for people living a health condition or disability. The article is published in the Medical Futurist website, so the next step will be to have the journalist take a social view of people with disability. Special Needs? No, the same needs as everyone only designers aren’t inclusive with their designs. “Suffering from…?” No, living with …   “THE elderly”? No. Not an homogeneous faceless group. Need more talk of mainstream and inclusion instead of othering. However, for particular disabilities assistive technologies are necessary, but are often good for everyone. 


Universal Design: 5 ways to improve our cities

Auckland city skylineRichard Voss writes in Linked In about the necessity to take a universal design approach to urban design and infrastructure, especially as more people will be living longer and potentially living longer with some type of disability or health issue. He poses five ways to improve accessibility in the built environment which are explained in the article:

  1. Incentivise future proofing in accessibility 
  2. Realise that we all need inclusive design
  3. Combine common sense with building codes
  4. Create a new innovation industry around accessibility
  5. Set achievable target for each development sector

Voss concludes, “In my view the industry is well placed to tackle the Universal Design challenges ahead if we base our designs on the projected demographic. Often Universal Design principles can be included at no extra cost, if implemented early in the design process. If we act collectively as practitioners, researchers and legislators, then we will have diverse and integrated patterns of living in our cities.”

Editor’s Comment: Nice sentiments, which have been discussed time and again by UD converts, but we still see little change when in comes to thinking and designing for our future selves. Also note the interchangeable use of universal design, inclusive design and accessibility. 


Put the ability in liveability and lovability

A busy neighbourhood scene with different buildings and a tree in the footpath.Lucina Hartley writes a thoughtful piece about city lovability versus liveability. She asks what really makes us happy? It is far more than bricks, mortar and services. In her article, Hartley says it’s the softer values, like behaviour and experience that matter most. Livability describes access to physical attributes such as schools, shops and jobs. Lovability is about how we feel, which is important for our health and wellbeing. She cites different research studies of different types of neighbourhoods and their design features. In the context of big data is it important to know what we are measuring and counting what counts. The article has links to key references and is published by University of Melbourne. This magazine article is an easy read.

Editor’s comment: While these sentiments are commendable, they leave out a significant portion of our population who still don’t have basic liveability. That is, access to schools, shops, jobs and transport. And it is a very city centric view of the world.


Smart should also mean accessible and inclusive

Graphic showing silhouetted city outline showing links to homes, factories, offices, transport and other city servicesThe term “Smart Cities” usually conjures up ideas of good urban planning and linking with Internet and communications technology. But how can it be smart if it is not also accessible to everyone by incorporating the principles of universal design? There is a plethora of apps to help with navigation and destination selection, but these don’t turn steps into ramps, or garbage bins into seating. Aimi Hamraie writes about a new breed of accessibility apps that can make life easier, but they can also make it more difficult. “Nothing About Us Without Us” is great for political purposes, but maybe not so good when it comes to mainstreaming goods and services. Much is covered in this comprehensive article.


Designing good mental health into banking

Looking upwards to the gable of a federation building with the name Bank on itAccording to an article by the Design Council, mental health conditions can have an impact on spending, something which banks and financial institutions often neglect. Zander Brade, Lead Product Designer at Monzo, talked to Design Council about the importance of design and innovation in implementing a broad range of features to help people with mental health conditions. Research has resulted in Monzo designing product features to help people with mental health conditions, including real-time balance updates and an option to block transactions relating to gambling. Zander believes that accessibility applies as much to mental health as physical health, and that embedding accessibility within their services will ultimately benefit all their customers.


Home life is changing fast

A family room with a couch, cushions and a throw.A lot of people don’t feel “at home”, at home according research carried out by IKEA. This company has a vested interest in looking ahead to plan for customer needs and aspirations. So it was a surprise to find that a significant proportion of people, according to their worldwide research, don’t feel at home, at home. There could be many factors for this, but perhaps, in Australia, given we haven’t really significantly changed the basic design of homes for 100 years, could design be part of the story? Home purchasers only have the choices they are given by designers whether an apartment or a free-standing house – unless you can afford a architectural bespoke home. And these choices are mainly around cosmetic features. Time to re-think the way we live in 21st century, and the way our lives are impacted by home design and new technologies. A touch of universal design thinking might help – it is underpinned by being user-centric. See the article from the FastCo website for the overview of the findings and links to the IKEA report.  A fascinating read.


The sound of one hand clapping?

Large crowd clapping and cheering at a nighttime concertHere’s the dilemma. An audience clapping enthusiastically is seen as a good thing. But what if the sound has an adverse effect on people with autism or others who are neurodiverse? A UK university student union has banned clapping and introduced the sign language equivalent of applause –  the soundless “jazz hands” movement – for meetings and events. But what about people who are blind? Another opportunity for some creative thinking to find a way to include everyone. Perhaps some form of technology can help solve this problem too. See the article and video from BBC News to see what you think.