Is Design Thinking about inclusive design?

A desk with a large sheet of paper and pink post it notes. A person stands with their hand resting on the table.“Design thinking” will not produce inclusive design, according to an article in FastCo by Katherine Schwab. She claims it just maintains the status quo. She also claims design thinking privileges the designer above the users and limits their participation in the design process. In spite of being encouraged to empathise with users, the designer is the one deciding what elements of the users’ experience are relevant. This article has links to an essay from Harvard Business Review by Natasha Iskander who refers to a six step design process that claims to solve any problem. Iskander says that design thinking doesn’t encourage innovation. Rather, it is a strategy to preserve and defend the status quo, which means the designer remains in control. There is more in the article on Iskander’s challenge to Design Thinkers.  

Save the planet with universal design

Bathroom in an old house has been stripped and bare walls and old tiles remainThe Conversation lists 5 ways to reduce the amount of home renovation waste going to landfill, but fails to mention that incorporating universal design features to suit the lifespan would minimise the need for renovations in the first place. The housing and renovation industry might like us to re-model our homes as our needs change, but not only do we have to consider the renovation cost, we should also think about the environmental cost. Recovering materials and recycling along with other waste reducing strategies are a nice idea but a better solution is not to need major renovations that require partial demolition and major works in the first place. The Conversation article is titled. “Five ways to reduce waste and save money on your home renovation”.   

There is a window of opportunity to save on the cost of renovations and landfill going forward. The Australian Building Codes Board has put out an Options Paper on introducing basic access features in the building code for all new homes. The Options Paper is a long document, but there is a questionnaire at the end which you can use to submit your comments if you don’t have time to write a formal submission. Case studies are also welcome.

Regardless, renovations will be needed in existing housing stock as more people choose to age at home. For most people they will also want the renovations to include the dual principles of universal design and energy efficiency.  

More feminism needed in design

Perhaps grandmothers might bring a different perspective to design as they know about their own generation and that of their children and grandchildren. Jessica Tillyer poses this thought in, Design needs more feminism, less toxic masculinity“. She argues we should change our pre-conceptions about who generates ideas in design, and who has the voice and power to contribute to decision-making. Jessica asks how can we “bring the fullness of the human experience to every moment” and move towards design leaders who act as community organisers. “Less machismo, and more feminism”, says Jessica who begins the article on her observations in an airport gate lounge.  

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.


A salon of shear pleasure

A woman with dark hair is getting a haircut from a hairdresserCommunity workers sometimes say they are making change one conversation at a time. Making change one haircut at a time is what one hairdresser is doing. She has found a way to cut the hair of children with autism so it is not a major ordeal. The article comes from ABC News and has a video showing how it is done. The salon also caters for other people who often find it difficult to find a hairdresser that will accommodate their individual requirements.  People with disability like to look good too – something that is not often realised by others. The article explains how this hairdresser has adapted her salon and her skills to make a haircut an pleasant experience for all. Other services could learn from this example.

Clever design for assistive devices

A mannequin bust with hands showing the bracelets and necklace for the GPS. 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.  

Gender bias in diagnosis

A girl is on a trampoline in a back garden in the countryside.It’s unlikely that autism is a “male condition” according to research reported in The Guardian. It seems that girls exhibit slightly different behaviours to boys and this is why it goes undiagnosed. This is partially because girls are better as masking their traits. What’s this got to do with universal design? It’s another case of bias in design – this time in the design of science studies. More inclusive thinking is required in the design of medical studies and that means more co-design with people with disability and people from diverse backgrounds. The article includes a video of a girl and her parents explaining what it is like to grow up with autism. The article, “Thousands of autistic girls and women ‘going undiagnosed’ due to gender bias” is from UK.  

Invisible Universal Design

two people are walking towards a door that automatically opens.Richard Duncan reminds us about design features that we never think of as “accessible”. For example, how would supermarket shoppers manage without automatic doors? These doors are everywhere and we don’t think twice about it. But more to the point, we probably do notice any door that doesn’t open automatically when our hands are full or we are pushing a trolley or stroller. That’s when universal design becomes visible – when it’s not there.

When it comes to doors, the worst offenders are revolving doors and that is why many building codes require a separate door for people who cannot navigate the revolving contraption. Other devices we don’t think about are beeping noises at traffic lights. As more people have their heads down looking at their phones, this device designed for people who are blind has become good for many more. Lever handles and taps are now the norm because they are useable by everyone and probably more hygienic. Video captioning has also become a favourite for everyone watching social media on smart phones.  Richard Duncan’s article, Hidden Universal Design: Commercial doors, is on his Linked In page. 

Communication strategies for inclusion

Two green statues, one a man the other a woman sit facing each other in a gesture of communicating with each other.There are lots of reasons why some people have difficulty communicating. It can arise from a brain injury, a stroke, or a condition such as motor neurone disease. Inability to communicate easily often means that people avoid social situations due to feeling inferior. The Conversation article, We can all help to improve communication for people with disabilities, lists some of the simple things that remove the barriers to communication. They range from the kind of devices used by Stephen Hawking, to just giving the person time to finish what they are trying to say. Speech is just one aspect of the issue, hearing is the other. There is useful information under each of the headings in the article:

  1. Remove communication barriers
  2. Prepare for communication success
  3. Build a conversation together
  4. Use communication aids and alternative strategies when you talk.  

The story of Moments Cafe

A cafe counter scene with a person ordering at the counter.Good to see some creative thinking in opening a cafe that welcomes people with dementia. The Design Council article explains how this cafe started with two women who were working in a dementia care facility. They wanted to do more for people living in the community. With financial support from the local council and a crowdfunding campaign they raised sufficient funds to get the Moments Cafe up and running. The Cafe has an office facility above and this is used as an administrative centre for the additional activities they run. The article is a case study in the Design Council Transform Ageing series.