Which way is up?

A sign post with one sign saying this way and the other saying that way.Signalling the right way to go has to account for cognitive abilities, visual acuity, and spatial awareness. As people age some of these abilities decline. Consequently, considering the needs of this group in wayfinding design will make wayfinding easier for everyone.  Mishler and Neider have identified five key points and explain them in detail in their article. They are: 

  1. Distinctiveness: the information should have cues that are informative to the route and can be distinguished from the surroundings.
  2. Consistency and standardisation: information overload can be avoided with the consistent placement, size, colour and shape of signage.
  3. Simplicity: limiting each sign to three or four units of information, because people tend to glance rather than read, and avoid visual clutter.
  4. Isolation: keep the signs away from other visual clutter to help focus attention in the right place.
  5. Reassurance: letting people know they are still on the correct route especially if the destination is a long way from the directional sign.

The title of the article is, “Improving Wayfinding for Older Users with Selective Attention Deficits”, in Ergonomics in Design.  Here is part of their conclusion:

“Because maps and other layout information may not be easy for older adults to use, providing environmental support through wayfinding signage might be the best way to mitigate these difficulties. However, visual selective attention, which is needed to find and read a sign, declines in old age, which makes it particularly important to adhere strictly to certain guidelines for signage design.

Adhering closely to the principles of distinctiveness, consistency and standardization, simplicity, isolation, and reassurance should help not only to improve wayfinding performance for all users but also to reduce the performance gap between older and younger users.

Providing age-inclusive signage could help to maintain high mobility in older adults, prevent them from becoming isolated from their communities, and therefore help to avoid the mental and physical health issues that tend to be comorbid with age-related isolation. Age-inclusive signage design is therefore an increasingly important topic in an aging population.”   

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Just add grass and a fence

before and after greening. vacant lot with overgrown vegetation and after with grass and a tree.Some major cities have neighbourhood lots that lay vacant for some time. It seems that a small investment in a fence and some grass can make quite a difference to the people that live nearby. The article, The case for building $1,500 parks, reports on a new study shows that access to “greened” vacant lots can reduce feelings of worthlessness and depression, especially in low-resource neighbourhoods. Using radomised control trials, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania observed cause and effect between access to green vacant lots and improved mental health. There were other benefits too such as decreased violence. The picture shows the before and after effect – simple and cost effective solutions. To find out more go to the article on the FastCompany website by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan. The original research report can be found in JAMA Network Open. Looks are everything.

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UD for a social and sustainable life

A long ladder is resting against the gutter of a two storey houseThe word “sustainability” mostly conjures up notions of clean and green, but social sustainability – an aspect just as important – has been left out of mainstream discussions. This point is made in Universal Design as a Significant Component for Sustainable Life and Social Development. The authors argue that both home and neighbourhood need to be considered for a socially sustainable environment. An evolving criteria for social sustainability is access to facilities and amenities that are vital for people to run errands and do all the everyday things. Going to the shops, a medical appointment, or the cinema should be available to all no matter their age or circumstances. There are useful explanatory graphs in this in-depth paper that emphasises well-being, safety and accessibility. The authors sum up in the conclusion, “The social aspect of sustainability should be emphasized in the mainstream discussion on sustainability because it influences human behaviour and quality of life in many ways”. They also point out that it is environmentally unsustainable to build homes that need major modifications, “which causes pollution, hazardous construction equipment and material and inappropriate methods of wastage removal”. The article can also be found in Asian Journal of Environment-Behaviour Studies.

Abstract: Universally designed environment provides comfort, adaptability and flexibility that can help to reduce human life cycle impact and encourage residents’ participation in the community. With that, the purpose of this conceptual study is to explore the concept of Universal Design (UD) as a significant aspect of social sustainability, based on professional practitioners’ and scholarly views. UD implementation in built environment may cater the needs of diverse users over the changing abilities throughout lifespan. This study concludes that UD has evolved as a significant component for sustainable life and social development within the individual’s own dwelling and the community as well.

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Mapping Norway’s Status of Accessibility

long view down a cobbled street to the Norwegian palace buildingHow do you know if your action plan for accessibility and universal design is actually being implemented? The Norwegian Government’s action plan to be universally designed by 2025 now has a tool to monitor progress to see how it is working. A standardised method to collect and measure data nationally has been trialled. The first results show that Norway still “faces many challenges to meet the government’s goals for Universal Design”. Data were collected on buildings and major facilities such as transport hubs, walkways, cycleways and car parks. Different techniques were used and discussed in the article, “Mapping Norway – a Method to Register and Survey the Status of Accessibility“. The authors conclude that while their system is not perfect due to the need to fully standardise and simplify complex data, they believe it will be valuable to municipal and recreational planners and developers. The article and others can be found in the Proceedings of the International Cartographic Association

The WHO posted an article in 2014 about Oslo’s Common Principles of Universal Design 2014 based on Norway’s 2025 action plan.

 

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Progress on UD in Norway: A review

Tall houses are reflected in the water.The houses are different colours, yellow, red and blueNorway’s planning policies have been underpinned by the principles of universal design since 2000. With a focus on policy, not design detail, this means everyone has to think about inclusion and accessibility in everything they do. Olav Rand Bringa, author of the early reports and papers on universal design in Norway, writes a review of progress with Einar Lund. In the introduction, they discuss the work and writings of British architect Selwyn Goldsmith that go back as far as 1963. In his last book in 2000, Goldsmith articulates his disappointment that little progress for access and inclusion has been made. The review asks the questions, What did we learn? and What did we Gain? In short, new buildings, outdoor environments, websites and more are all designed according to universal design. However, there is much to do with the existing environment. The paper Picture of the front cover of the Norwegian Action Planconcludes with, “And Universal Design, will it remain a particular design-concept in the future or will it simply be what everyone associates with good design? We should have good reasons to expect the latter.”  Also of interest is the Nordic Charter for Universal Design initiated in 2011, and the main policy document, Norway Universally Designed 2025 that was updated in 2016.

Abstract: The national policy in Norway have since the last part of the 1990s been organized in programs that erected actions including national authorities, municipalities, regional authorities and private enterprises. What have we gained by our national activities to mainstream inclusive and accessibility policy for persons with reduced capability through the principles of Universal Design? Have we made society accessible to everyone and prevented discrimination. Are the results visible? We can measure results on several sectors, inter alia public buildings, outdoor areas, central communication hubs, public transport and the occurrence plans for Universal Design in municipalities and regions. Through several programs and action plans the Norwegian government has developed a sectoral approach for including persons with disabilities in the society. The majority of ministries have participated in these plans. Local initiatives, local councils for disabled people, and later on municipalities and county administrations were supported by national authorities as complements to regulations and laws. In addition, guidelines and assisting funds were used. The main objective was to redefine the national policy, using better defined national goals and introducing Universal Design to replace accessibility as the basic tool. The mainstreaming of the accessibility policy, where Universal Design was included in relevant sectors and activities, was a crucial part of the strategy. The national policy was organized in programs that erected actions focusing on how to reach, inspire and include municipalities and regional authorities in their own struggle for Universal Design. Through the mainstream approach ministries have both earmarked economic transfers to their own agencies and used steering documents guide to these agencies how to implement Universal Design in their advisory services, in practicing laws and regulations and in their own planning and building activities.

The full title of the paper is, From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What Did We Learn? What Did We Gain? What
Now? 

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Cities and the NDIS

A distant view of Melbourne city buildings. In the foreground is a wide footpath with trees either sideThe overall aim of the NDIS is to enable people, previously excluded from mainstream activities, to join in and participate. However, the rest of society hasn’t caught up yet and the NDIS isn’t set up to make those changes happen. That’s up to the people who are not NDIS recipients. The Conversation has an article based on research carried out by University of Melbourne and La Trobe University. The research team has produced a report, How will the NDIS change Australian Cities?  This paper sets out the research agenda on the urban policies that we need if the NDIS is to meet its aims. Housing is a key factor in this policy mix. And it is not just the built environment – services have to shape up too. The Conversation spells out the issues well. 

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Universally designed infrastructure planning

An aerial view of a new highway junction with overpasses.One of the underpinning tenets of universal design is to involve users in the design process – at the beginning. Involving citizens in early stages of design can avoid costly retrofits, but more importantly, it is more likely to give people what they want. That means they are more likely to use it. Transport planning can also be universally designed. An article in The Fifth Estate argues that to leave out citizens is asking for trouble, and it is also undemocratic. Infrastructure is a public thing regarless of  who owns it, runs it or controls it. It is about good city governance. Planners need to do three things:

  1. consult and engage citizens early in infrastructure planning
  2. improve quality and access of citizen engagement at the strategic planning stages
  3. use more sophisticated strategic planning tools and practices to improve decision-making

The original article was in The Conversation. 

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Can UD create social sustainability?

aerial view of a big city with skyscrapersApplying the principles of universal design at the formation stage of planning can lead to harmonious, accessible, sustainable and healthy cities.This is the conclusion of a European study. The study looked at the design and development of city space from the perspective of the varying levels of human capabilities. The overall aim of the research was to raise the quality of urban planning, and to develop tools for healthy cities compatible with the principles of sustainability. You can download the PDF of Sustainable Urban Development: Spatial Analyses as Novel Tools for Planning a Universally Designed City, by Joanna Borowczyk, in EconPapers, 2018, vol. 10, issue 5, 1-16.

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The compassionate city

A brick terrace house fronts the footpath and has lots of pot plants in front of it.The Dutch idea of the Woonerf has been picked up again, this time by Jenny Donovan of La Trobe University. Using some graphics, she shows how design can affect our decisions to either walk, drive, use public transport or not, and whether you feel welcome in the environment. She covers the key elements of a Compassionate City where various design elements can meet the needs of a range of people and create more harmonious behaviours. There are several links in the article to other related reports and articles. The article originates from The Conversation.  

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Compression and depression

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.Compressed urban footprints might be related to higher rates of depression. Drawing a long bow here? Maybe not. In, Mind over matter: The restorative impact of perceived open space, the authors argue that the loss of natural open space could be having a detrimental affect on mental health: “By 2050 three out of four people will live in urban environments.This premium on open space will reduce vital access to the healing effects of undisturbed nature”. The article by David Navarrete and Bill Witherspoon discusses some of the neuroscience about enclosed spaces, lack of natural light and other factors and how they relate to our perceptions of the world around us. There are references for further reading at the end of the article. The article was posted on the Conscious Cities website.

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