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.  


An real close shave

An older man is being shaved by a younger man.How hard can it be to give a man a shave? Actually, it’s quite hard because razors are designed for self-shaving, not someone else doing the job. This is one time where specialist design is required – a razor for people who have the job of shaving others. Gillette fuses a razor blade with a tube of shaving gel to give shavers more control while keeping the mess to a minimum. For more on this novel idea, and how it was developed, see the FastCo article by Katherine Schwab and the video below.



Architecture and Accessibility Podcast

Panelists sit in chairs on the podium holding microphones.North Sydney Community Centre hosted a panel event for the Sydney Architecture Festival last month. I was honoured to be part of this panel along with access consultant Mark Relf and architect Philip Graus. Each panel member gave a short presentation before engaging in a conversation led by Fenella Kernebone. North Sydney Community Centre has compiled podcasts of each of the presentations and the panel conversation.

The key point of my presentation was that universal design is about the ones we love. (5 mins)

Mark Relf covered some of the history of how accessibility compliance in the built environment has evolved. (16 mins)

And Philip Graus used pictures to illustrate his point about how design should make people feel welcome. (6 mins)

The panel conversation ranged over several topics including housing. This was also a topic of particular interest to the audience in their questions from the floor. (30 mins)

The North Sydney Community Centre webpage has all the podcasts listed including the questions from the audience, and the biographies of panelists. The picture shows left to right, Jane Bringolf, Mark Relf, Philip Graus and Fenella Kernebone.

Jane Bringolf, Editor


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.