Human centred design and inclusive design processes focus taking an empathic approach to the users. But what if you turn that around and design for empathy itself? To shift from being the empathiser to become an empathy generator? That was the question a team of designers in Finland wanted to know the answer to. Using socio-cultural design tools rather than physical empathy design tools, they created a co-creative process with the Finnish parliament.
Abstract:Globalisation and the mixing of people, cultures, religions and languages fuels pressing healthcare, educational, political and other complex socio-cultural issues. Many of these issues are driven by society’s struggle to find ways to facilitate deeper and more emotionally meaningful ways to help people connect and overcome the empathy gap which keeps various groups of people apart. This paper presents a process to design for empathy – as an outcome of design. This extends prior work which typically looks at empathy for design – as a part of the design process, as is common in inclusive design and human centered design process. We reflect on empathy in design and challenge the often internalised role of the designer to be more externalised, to shift from an empathiser to become an empathy generator. We develop and demonstrate the process to design for empathy through a co-creation case study aiming to bring empathy into politics. The ongoing project is set in the Parliament of Finland, and involves co-creation with six Members of the Parliament from five political parties. Outcomes of the process and case study are discussed, including design considerations for future research.
The report concludes that respondents gave a high degree of importance to green spaces, features that promote continuity and connection to local histories. Spaces that encourage social interaction were also important. Loss of identity or character of buildings, as well as being inaccessible and poorly lit, added to feelings of discomfort.
Editor’s comment: The speed of, and need for, urban growth must include population ageing in its plans. Dismissing the feelings of older people as being “out of touch” or “not liking change” can have unintended consequences.
A complex underground interchange station is a good subject for studying wayfinding. Legibility of the environment is more than just signage. In a short paper, the researchers from Singapore focus on different materials used to see if it makes a difference. They looked mainly at colour contrast and glare from lighting. Legibility of the environment helps people who cannot read signs as well as helping to quickly orientate people who can.The article looks to be a translation to English but the content is understandable.
Abstract: Getting lost and disoriented due to the lack of legibility of the space are common problems found in underground stations. Wayfinding inside underground stations is often thought as being solely supported by the presence of signage and directory maps as the tools that help users to understand their orientation and route better. However, the influence of materials on wayfinding in underground stations is often overlooked. Hence this paper presents a comprehensive examination of literature studies and an analysis on Dhoby Ghaut Station in Singapore as case studies. This station serves three interchange MRT lines and complex routes, which renders wayfinding issues even more urgent. The goal of this paper is to examine the potential of contrasting the material application for effective wayfinding inside the underground station. To identify aspects regarding the impact of selection and placement of materials applied (on floors, walls, and ceilings of underground stations), literature and case study are carried out. The results indicate that the materials used in underground station influences wayfinding in varying degrees.
Consulting stakeholders, public transport, footpaths and supportive legislation are key factors for making Melbourne more inclusive. This was the result of a recent research projectinvolving University of Melbourne, City of Melbourne staff and other stakeholders, including people with disability. The 18 page report is sufficiently detailed without being long-winded.
“Ideas that were considered to be both important and feasible were those relating to: consulting people with disability during planning, educating employers about inclusion and equal opportunity, increasing access to a diversity of employment opportunities, providing accessible government forms, advocating to the state government on the needs of people with disability, ensuring that the City of Melbourne is a visibly inclusive organisation, providing Easy English information about people’s entitlements, and training policy officers and local compliance officers about diversity of disabilities.”
Design-for-All / Universal Design studies are often discussed from a theoretic point of view or from a user participation standpoint. Few studies look at the practical tools architects could use to help them apply the principles of inclusive design.
A literature review from Europe sought to identify how to transfer design information to architects so that they could do more than just comply with access standards. Four criteria for translating user needs into design strategies were found. These will be developed into a tool in the next stage of the research. See the full paper for the criteria which are also neatly shown in a graphic above.
Note that Design-for-All (DfA) is mostly used in Europe, Inclusive Design in UK, and Universal Design elsewhere. As they are all based around the same ideas, the terms are used interchangeably. The term universal design is in the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability. This Convention came into being after the other terms were well established.
The intention of the principles of universal design is to give an overview of designing inclusively. But what does universal design mean and how do you measure it? What if there was an assessment tool for access and inclusion? Would this change the attitudes of designers to think about the diversity of the population in their designs? If an assessment tool helps designers to think universally then this will be a step forward. The risk is that this type of research ends with yet another checklist and a “tick the box” approach by designers.
Researchers from Italy have tried their hand at finding a method for evaluating universal design in the built environment. Their research paperconcludes that two methods are needed: the involvement of users, and the use of indirect methods such as checklists. They aim to continue their research into developing a tool for assessment of inclusion, and to “stimulate the continuous and lasting improvement of inclusion from a UD perspective through the application of shared and measurable data”.
Book reviews can reveal good information in their own right. One such case is the review of Aimi Hamraie’s book, Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. The book traces the history of universal design from the 1950s in the United States to current ideas. Hamraie discusses issues from both a design and a disability perspective. This is an academic text that would be of value to both design and disability studies. Other articles about Hamraie posted previously are:
People with dementia find new places and routines challenging. So when it comes to going to hospital they often experience increased anxiety and disorientation. The design of the hospital environment can have an effect on this group. That’s the finding of some new research carried out in hospitals where they interviewed patients and family members. “The voices of patients, particularly persons with dementia and their APs, are a crucial element in helping hospitals to fulfill their role as caregiving and healing facilities”.
Abstract Objectives: Research was conducted to investigate the impact of the hospital environment on older people including patients with dementia and their accompanying persons (APs). The article presents key research findings in the case study hospital.
Background: For many patients, the hospital is challenging due to the busy, unfamiliar, and stressful nature of the environment. For a person with dementia, the hospital experience can be exacerbated by cognitive impairment and behavioral or psychological symptoms and can therefore prove to be a frightening, distressing, and disorientating place.
Method: The findings are based on a stakeholder engagement process where the research team spent approximately 150 hr observing within the hospital, administered 95 questionnaires to patients and/or APs, and conducted 12 structured interviews with patients and APs. A thematic analysis was employed to analyze and generate key themes emerging from the process.
Results: Themes were grouped into overarching issues and design issues across spatial scales.
Conclusion: This research confirms the negative impact of the acute hospital setting on older people with cognitive impairments including dementia and delirium. The multiple perspectives captured in this study, including most importantly people with dementia, ensure that stakeholder needs can be used to inform the design of the hospital environment. The research points to the value of understanding the lived experience of the person with dementia and APs. The voices of patients, particularly persons with dementia and their APs, are a crucial element in helping hospitals to fulfill their role as caregiving and healing facilities.
The longevity revolution is here, but we haven’t prepared for it. The way cities are planned and homes are designed hasn’t really changed since mid 1900s. This lack of foresight is having a significant effect on people over 65 years who are not getting any younger. This is a common problem for most developed nations. The Design Council in UK tackled this topic in “The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design“. Their article contains some small scale but effective case studies, showing various ways to address the issues with inclusive thinking. It includes home modifications, ways to finance home and community upgrades, transportation, and the application of the WHO Guidelines for Age Friendly Communities. Educating designers and planners is of course paramount as well as involving citizens in the design and development processes. The article ends with a summary of recommendations. Their conclusions resonate with the principles of universal design:
“If we are going to be successful in creating homes and places which meets both fast rising demand, and the diverse and individual needs of older people, our thinking needs to be much broader. We need to consider how we help people afford better housing and plan their finances; how we develop long-term special plans and a workforce with the right skills; and how we use existing policy levers, such as expansion of personal budgets, to best effect. We need a whole-population, whole-place approach to planning for our future health, care, housing and support system at both the national and local levels.”
Building regulations stipulate certain access requirements, but what do people value most and will they be high cost, particularly in retrofits? Using Stated Preferences analysis and cost-benefit data, researchers found that some features suited a wide group, while others suited only a few. The question then is, if the feature for the few costs the most, should it be included or ignored in a retrofit?
The authors commented that by, “using the projects results and calculation tool in prioritising, more emphasis will be put on measures that improve the buildings’ quality for a wide audience. Such measures may easily be forgotten if one only focusses on the most obvious deficits.” Among high benefit features, were good lighting, visual and tactile markings, and stair handrails.
An interesting study that reveals the preferences of building users and the value they place on certain features and the related costs. This can be compared with features set down in access standards where the value for users is not assessed, nor the costs.