Sensory furniture for kids

Agirl sits on a bean bag style chair. Next to her is a desk and chair. The chair is designed to rock.Children with heightened sensory perception are at the centre of a new range of furniture and clothing by Target. They are designed to feel as if they are giving a little “hug”. Target has put a lot of research and investment into these products. It’s in keeping with their attempts at inclusive design, or designing for “fringe users”. Of course, these products can be appreciated by all children, but the research is saying that some children appreciate the sensory appeal more than others. The title of the article on FastCo website is, “Target’s newest furniture is for kids with sensory sensitivity“. The article shows a desk chair designed to rock, a foam crash pad, weighted blankets, and more. Not sure if these products are, or will be, available in Australia. But an  interesting read from a design point of view.

Ikea add-ons for usability

A chart of the 13 different addons that Ikea has devised.Ikea is well know for its sleek designs, low profile furniture and hand-less drawers. So universal design has yet to hit their design studios. However, Ikea is compensating by trying its hand at accessibility with add-ons for their most popular furniture pieces. They’ve called them ThisAbles. However, you will need access to a 3D printer if you want one or more of these. A total of 13 designs are available. They include items like the EasyHandle, a big, Rubbermaid-looking grip that can be added to the seamless door of a Pax shelf, and the Glass Bumper, a plastic pad that protects the bottom of a glass-doored Billy bookcase from the bump of a wheelchair. The FastCo website has more on this plus the instructive video also shown below.

Editor’s Note: I wonder when they will wake up that many of these add-ons should be designed more aesthetically and included within the product for the convenience of everyone. My personal favourite is the handle for the shower curtain. The title of “ThisAbles” indicates that it is specialised design and not universal design. Any name or title with “Able” emphasised with a captial letter indicates “designed for people with disability” rather than for everyone. 

Time to prototype building designs?

A man stands in a workshop with lots of tools around him. He is looking at something small in his hands.Almost all designs go through a prototype process before the final product is produced. The one thing that isn’t tested prior to final design is buildings. Bryan Boyer explores the issues in an easy to read article. He says that digital designers wouldn’t dream of taking a wild guess that their design will hit the mark for all users and ignore user testing. Building designs have an impact on people whether they are users or not. How would a user prototype work for a building? And How do we make it cheap and easy to quantitatively analyse the effect that buildings have on humans? These, and other questions are posed and discussed in this thought provoking article. While universal design isn’t specifically mentioned, it’s implied because Human Centred Design is focused on users, and not on the designer.

The title of the article is, Who Wants to Pay for a Building Twice

Good Design is for a Lifetime

A luxury free-standing two storey home with a large green space in front. There is a for sale sign on display.An article on an American home builder’s website has some good information and dispels many myths. The one about “ugly and costly” is dealt with well. While they are American designs, the principles apply elsewhere. The title of the article is, How Great Aging in Place Design Prepares you for a Llifetime. There are lots of examples on the website of kitchens and bathrooms. There is also a section titled Universal Design.

Editor’s comment: Few older people will use a wheelchair at home, but they might like to sit to do some tasks. So the idea of lower benches could be a mistake unless you know all home occupants are either of short stature or wheelchair users. All family members have to be catered for in a workplace such as the kitchen. Lower bench sections or adjustable height benches help here. A pull-out workboard in the drawer section of the cabinetry is also another way to provide a low workspace for children and others who might need it. Also, in Australia and elsewhere, few homes have the kind of space shown in the pictures to allocate to a kitchen, so designs need to be considerate of all likely kitchen users. Creativity is required. Lowering benches and not having under bench cupboards is the easy solution.

Image by Paul Brennan 

Crash testing women

A red car has crashed into the back of a yellow car and crumpled it in the process of a crash test.Nowadays, most of us use gender-neutral language, but has the design world kept up with this philosophical change?  An article in The Guardian discusses how women are mostly left out of designs whether it’s films, science, city planning, economics or literature. In the case of crash test dummies, it seems that only man-sized dummies are used. That is, European man-sized. The article ranges across workplace accidents, stab vests, and personal protective equipment among others. The article claims that research on workplace accidents is focused on men as if that will cover everyone. There are many thought-provoking ideas that challenge the status quo. Even crash test dummies need to reflect the diversity of the population. 

Measuring the benefits of UD

A picture montage showing various urban settingsThe benefits of inclusive design and the way it contributes to wellbeing are difficult to measure. David Bonnett writes in a Design Council article that being able to explain the benefits is important. While it is relatively easy to apply inclusive thinking to new buildings, homes, and transport, older buildings are another matter.  Bonnett points out that, “Tesco, Sainsbury’s and other retailers will readily justify expenditure on inclusive design by improved retail figures. Regrettably our public health professionals do not yet have a similar cost benefit analysis to draw on”. While the benefits seem really obvious to many, intuition is not enough – it has to be quantified.

This Design Council is running a CPD program to raise awareness of the importance of inclusive environments. There is other useful information on inclusive environments on this website. 

Walkable, rollable, seatable, toiletable.

A busy pedestrian street with lots of restaurant tables on both sides.We need a broader term than walkable to explain how everyone can be actively mobile in the community, says Lloyd Alter. In his blog article he adds that unless you are “young and fit and have perfect vision and aren’t pushing a stroller… many streets aren’t walkable at all…” Alter takes his point from a new book where other terms are coined:

  • Rollability. Walkability isn’t enough anymore
  • Strollerability, for people with kids
  • Walkerability, for older people pushing walkers
  • Seeability, for the vision impaired
  • Seatability – places to sit down and rest
  • Toiletability – places to go to the bathroom.

“All of these contribute to making a city useable for everyone. So we need a broader term for this” says Alter. His suggestions are activemobility, or activeability to cover all the ways different people get around in cities. He says he is open to suggestions for a better word. I thought Universal Design would cover all of the above.

There are links to other articles related to this topic such as street furniture designed for discomfort, and how investment in public toilets would reap many benefits. 

Survey: Housing design needs overhaul in UK

A distance view of different houses in a UK town.A survey of 4000 UK residents shows that most people (72%) want every new home to be accessible for people of all ages and level of ability. The survey was commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. But there seem to be some contradictions. While 72% said this is a good idea, almost half the respondents said it wouldn’t make a difference to their decision to purchase a home. Only one third said it would make a difference. It looks like a case of “I’ll worry about it when the time comes”. Of course when the time comes it’s often too late. Few people plan for older age, chronic health conditions or disability when it comes to housing design. 

Other information from the survey shows that almost two thirds of respondents don’t think their current home would be suitable to age in place, with nearly half actually worried about it. Centre for Better Ageing produced a press release with the survey information. There is another article on this topic on The Parliamentary Review website.  

Editor’s comment: The market mechanisms of demand and supply don’t apply in this situation where purchasing decisions are not always rational. In this situation the public purse has to pick up the fallout in terms of increased falls, longer hospital stays and aged care places. 

Inclusive illustrations: What’s in a face?

Four male and female couples with different skin tones and face shapesIf there is no photo or graphic to go with a story, it’s often left to someone else to choose a picture. Often this is a stock photo that might not convey the intended message. Stock photos of older people are often patronising: young and old hands, or a young person looking lovingly at an older person. Similarly, stock photos of wheelchair users often use non-disabled models and not people with disability. So this is a timely article and guideline from an illustrator about how to add diversity to your brand whether an organisation, service or a product. The title of the article is, Your Face Here: Creating illustration guidelines for a more inclusive visual identity.

“Words can set the tone for a company, but it’s the pictures that give it a face. Illustration has yet to find its place in the tech world, because it’s often unconsidered and thrown in on the fly. Whether being used to distill complex messages or add a touch of whimsy, illustration is one piece that makes up a company’s visual brand identity.”  There are other interesting design articles on this blog site.

Also have a look at these stock photos of older people and see what you think.

Seeking best case examples in home design

Australian Network for Universal Housing Design is seeking good practice examples of universal design in housing, either as a new dwelling or a renovation to an existing dwelling. ANUHD will not be appraising these examples, but they should show how they meet the principles and features of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines or similar guidelines. ANUHD will collate these examples and will launch them on their website in March 2019 for visitors to see. 

If you know of or have designed a good example of universal design in housing, please complete the submission form in Word or in PDF, or send to ANUHD directly by email by 28 Februrary with the following information:

  • Name of Architect, Designer or Builder
  • Contact email/website
    (Website visitors can then contact you directly for more information.)
  • Type of building
  • Description (100 words)
  • Photo (that does not identify the residents or their location)