Flourish by Design: a book

Flourish by Design is a book about designing for a better tomorrow. This edited book explores the difference that design can make for people, organisations, and the planet. Some of the topics are: bio-inspired materials, more-than-human design, sustainability, and urban acupuncture.

The introductory chapter begins:

“Design impacts everyday life, shaping the way we engage with the world and those around us. This is not simply limited to the ‘us’ as human beings but also the many other species we share the planet with. Considered in this way, our—human and non-human—collective future may seem uncertain amidst the many challenges we now face.

Front cover of Flourish by Design. A bright green background with black and white lettering.

“Climate change, social inequalities, and economic and political instabilities all represent complex, often interrelated problems that require significant and urgent responses. The level of collaboration, cooperation, and coordination needed to tackle these problems is increasingly vital. Yet from the current position, we may struggle to even begin to think about how to address such matters.”

Flourish by Design is a large volume with 32 chapters covering a diversity of design ideas and issues. You can download the full book here (10MB). Editors are Nick Dunn, Leon Cruickshank, and Gemma Coupe. Thankfully, it is open access – yes, the editors are keen for change.

Teenagers and transport

Transport, both public and private, is the glue that holds our everyday lives together across our lifespan. Consequently, it is expected that inability to get to places and activities will have a negative effect on our lives, physically and mentally. One group that is often left out of transport studies is later age teenagers. So researchers in New Zealand decided to look at the issues for teenagers and transport.

The rate at which young people are getting their drivers licence is reducing in developed countries. Walking, cycling and using public transport are all good for physical health. But if social and economic life is restricted, how does this affect mental wellbeing?

The researchers wanted to find out how transport impacted the wellbeing of students aged 16-18 years. They used the photovoice method which puts cameras into participants’ hands to help them document and communicate issues of concern. This participatory method puts the power with those who usually have little power to generate new knowledge.

Teenagers photographed their feet to document walking as the key aspect of getting around. They all walked at some point in their journey.

Image from ScienceDirect

A montage of teenagers feet documenting the transport mode of walking.

What teenagers said

Regardless of the destination, photos and narratives of those who lived close to town and were able to walk displayed independence, happiness and positive aspects of wellbeing. The key themes emerging from the study were financial, social and mental wellbeing, safety, and barriers to choice.

The financial aspects included the cost of getting a licence and the cost of fuel when a car was available to them. Getting to sport without a car was difficult. According to one participant, even if the bus ran regularly, rugby gear wasn’t allowed on the bus.

Social and mental wellbeing was enhanced by walking and for some, listening to music at the same time. Those who lived out of town did not walk as much due to distance, but they were willing to walk to school or to a friend if it was less than an hour.

Safety for cyclists was based on infrastructure where they were competing with pedestrians or vehicles. Safety for pedestrians was related to cars and the worry about whether they would stop for crossings. Pedestrians felt more unsafe at busy times when cars are coming and going with pick ups and drop offs. Out of town there are no footpaths and the hilly terrain reduces visibility for cars.

Barriers to choice and feeling trapped at home. Weather and the dark early mornings restricted choices of how to travel. Female students said wearing skirts prevents them from cycling. The public bus system is considered inadequate and perceived by all as a major barrier.

Walking is good

Delaying licencing and driving due to financial costs had the benefit of encouraging walking and therefore improved wellbeing. However, not having a licence was an obstacle which had a negative impact on wellbeing. Safety featured prominently in the photographs especially the dilemma of whether cars would stop for them on crossings. Complicated trip chains discouraged the teenagers from making the trip.

The title of the article is, The influence of transport on well-being among teenagers: A photovoice project in New Zealand. There is partial access, but you will need institutional access to read the whole thing. Or you can read the article on ResearchGate.

There is no reference to teenagers who are unable to walk or walk long distances. Perhaps they self-selected themselves out of the project.

From the abstract

Transport mobility greatly affect teenagers׳ ability to independently access their social networks, key activities and destinations. Consequently, it makes sense to consider the role that transport plays in influencing well-being among older adolescents. The aim of this study was to investigate how older teenagers perceive the impact of transport on their well-being.

“Photovoice” uses photographs to enhance assessments of community needs, to empower participants, and to provide a comprehensive description of an issue. This method was utilized among senior secondary school students aged 16–18 in Southland, New Zealand (n=18; 50% male). Group discussions concerning transport and well-being provided richness and depth to each photograph displayed.

Transport infrastructure played a key role in supporting well-being among participants. Regardless of the destination, photos and narratives by participants who lived close to town, and who were able to walk to destinations as part of their daily trip chain, displayed independence, happiness and positive social aspects of well-being. Living farther away from town elicited photo stories of loneliness and decreased autonomy, with respect to transport.

Photovoice projects are a valuable way to engage youth and provide context for new research topics such as this. New knowledge generated by this project will inform future research focused on transport and the well-being of young people.

Prioritising inclusive design features

When money becomes a barrier to designing inclusively, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. From Qatar comes a paper which describes assessment criteria for prioritising inclusive design features. The research study assumed that designers were responsible for coming up with the right solutions rather than including users in the process.

The authors used a higher education context for their study. Educational environments lack adequate furniture in classes, auditoriums, libraries and eating areas.

Image of Qatar University showing the passive ventilation and cooling chimneys.

Aerial view of Qatar University showing the rows of thermal chimneys for passive ventilation and cooling.

For building upgrades, the authors concluded the need to prioritise criteria where the buildings were either partially or fully inadequate for physical access. The highest ranked criteria were, external access route, design and surface of exterior ramps and operation of entrance doors. These criteria indicate that people with limited mobility were the only consideration.

The participants in the study were access practitioners and experts within the facilities management team. It would be interesting to see if students with disability agreed with the proposed ranking of criteria. They would likely agree that getting into the building is the most important, but is that enough?

The title of the article is, Criteria and Challenges of Inclusive Design in the Built Environment. There is little new knowledge in this paper for universal design practitioners as many have moved on to embrace co-design processes. However, it is interesting to see a different perspective on the issues when funding is a barrier.

From the abstract

Ensuring an inclusive environment is the responsibility of architects, planners, engineers and facility managers. It is essential to ensure that buildings’ design and operation align with inclusive principles through regular assessments.

Many comprehensive assessment tools exist and are used in the industry. Decision-makers should be able to prioritise inclusive design criteria when issues such as funding arise.

This study aims to identify prioritized accessibility assessment criteria for people with disability in higher education facilities through the lens of experts. A targeted sampling methodology was adopted for the semi-structured interviews.

This study aimed to identify the accessibility assessment criteria in higher education facilities. The lens of experts provided justification for selecting the highest and lowest priorities.

The findings resulted in a list of highest and lowest criteria, and criteria with significant differences. Justifications for selections, and a close-up look into the influence of experts’ experience on the rankings was also part of the study.

This paper provides insight into significant inclusive design criteria for improved facility management decision-making processes and the strategy for managing the challenges of inclusive design in new and existing facilities.

Aged care design principles

While the principles of universal design aim to enable people to stay in their own home for as long as they wish, the principles are also applicable to aged care settings. Four principles underpin the Australian Government’s National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines. These principles are:

  • Enable the person
  • Cultivate a home
  • Access the outdoors
  • Connect with community

The four principles are, of course, applicable to any dwelling or place of accommodation. This is an example of universal design where specific features are essential for some and good for everyone. Consequently, the document is useful for anyone designing any type of home.

Front cover in bright yellow of the National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines.

The guideline provides detail on each principle. For example, the first principle covers acoustics, air quality, lighting, tonal contrast, supportive seating and comfortable temperatures. Before and after illustrations as shown below provide additional information. At the end of each sub-section is a checklist.

The authors have chosen to use six personas to bridge the gap between abstract concepts and lived experience of residents and staff. Three personas for each group is possibly too few and runs the risk of limiting a designer’s vision of the breadth of diversity. For example, cultural diversity is considered, but other characteristics such as marital status and sexual orientation are not.

The outcomes for the resident personas are explained alongside each checklist. They provide some of the “why” certain features are required by individuals.

Overall, this is a useful guide for aged care in any context – indeed for all people. After all, home is the centre point of our lives. Below is a page from the guidelines showing before and after illustrations.

A page from the Aged Care Design Principles showing before and after designs.

Inclusive Design Wheel for transport

The University of Cambridge’s Inclusive Design Team, have applied their Inclusive Design Wheel to transport. As with many frameworks, it lists a step-by-step process, but with a twist. It is a co-design process. The key principle of the Inclusive Design Wheel is that the process is highly iterative and involves users.

The Inclusive Design Wheel for Transport consists of four phases of activity: Manage, Explore, Create and Evaluate

The Inclusive Design Wheel for transport showing the four phases of the framework.

The Wheel is flexible and it is not always necessary to carry out all activities in every iteration. Successive cycles of Explore, Create and Evaluate are used to generate a clearer understanding of needs.

Each of the four phases is broken down into guiding tasks. For example, in the Explore phase, engage with users, examine user journeys, and capture wants and needs. In the Create phase, involve users, stimulate ideas, and refine ideas. In the Evaluate phase, agree success criteria, gather expert feedback and gather user feedback.

The Inclusive Design Wheel is a detailed online toolkit. While some of the steps appear obvious, the step-by-step process keeps you on track. This is a useful tool which can be applied in other contexts.

The underpinning research

The Inclusive Design Team completed their Dignity project on digital access to transport. They worked in four European cities to see how best to help travellers and providers. The aim of the project was to see how all stakeholders can help bridge the digital gap. They did this by co-creating more inclusive solutions using co-design methods. Their Inclusive Design Wheel is the result and is applicable to all aspects of public transport.

The evolution of paper-based train and bus timetables to digital formats has benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, digital formats offer more detailed information to help plan journeys. On the other, the amount of information can be overwhelming – that is, if you can find what you are looking for. And if you don’t have access to digital services then this format is of no use at all.

At first glance the Inclusive Design Wheel looks complex. The research team used feedback from the research project to fine tune the framework to its current form.

A graphic showing a complex circular chart with many elements. It looks very academic and take time to read and perhaps understand.

The Dignity report is long, comprehensive, and uses academic language. It details the methods in all four cities: Ancona Italy, Barcelona Spain, Flanders, Belgium, and Tilbug Netherlands.

Healthy and inclusive communities

The stories of lived experience provide important nuanced details that are rarely picked up in survey questionnaires or comparing one group with another. One way to capture lived experience is by using “photovoice” – a method of visually recording experiences. This method reveals detailed ways of creating healthy and inclusive communities for all.

Five Canadian researchers used the photovoice method to discover the everyday barriers and facilitators mobility device users face. Participants not only provided photographic evidence, they related what it meant for them as an outcome. Unsurprisingly, footpaths, road crossings and road maintenance and construction featured strongly in their findings.

Photos of environmental barriers provide important information for urban planners. They can see more clearly how the small details matter. This image shows an uneven footpath and no clear access to the bus stop.

A narrow footpath and a nature strip with a bus stop. The bus stop has no seat and there is no pathway or concrete apron for the bus stop. Passengers have to cross the grass to get to the bus. Healthy and inclusive communities.

Participants in the study captured physical characteristics that both helped and hindered their ability to navigate the environment. Objective assessments such as access audits, do not reveal the complex interaction of social participation and health. Lived experience and the everyday stories, on the other hand, provide this valuable information.

This image shows a woman with a walking aid and a man with a baby stroller need to pass on a narrow path encroached by gravel and mulch.

Image by John Evernden

A woman with a wheelie walker and a man with a baby stroller meet from opposite directions on the footpath. In order to pass, one of them will have to walk and wheel on the gravel which is encroaching on the footpath.

Key points and themes

Five key themes emerged from the study.

En Route: the usability and safety of the physical path to reach a destination, road crossings and traffic signals. Included in this theme are footpath width, maintenance and surface materials.

Thresholds: Accessibility issues in the transition spaces from outdoors to indoors at a destination. Difficulty getting into shops and other public places limited access to goods and services.

Temporal Rhythms: Fluctuations of accessibility with circadian and seasonal variations as well as urban practices. Differences between day and night where it is easy during the day but not at night. Temporary closures to footpaths due to maintenance meant going back home or trying to find another route.

The Paradox of Accessibility: Fluctuation of accessibility due to inappropriate usage or of conflicting user needs. Participants also found examples of poor attempts at accessibility such as a ramp leading to sand or gravel, or a ramp with a steep grade. The conflict of cyclists using the wider footpaths was also an issue.

Making Change Happen: Actions and solutions to improve the accessibility. Participants were not passive in accepting the status quo. They showed pictures where they had successfully lobbied for changes to a business or a community building. Participants also showed the converse – places where their lobbying had not yet brought about change.

Installing kerb ramps, footpaths and pedestrian crossings are essential physical improvements. However, changing social and urban practices have a role to play as well. The participation of people using mobility devices needs to go beyond tokenism. That means involving users in decision making process – a universal design concept.

The title of the article is, Creating inclusive and healthy communities for all: A photovoice approach with adults with mobility limitations.

From the abstract

This study used photovoice to document the lived experience of 30 people with mobility limitations to see how their interactions with the urban environment affected their mobility, participation and health.

Five themes emerged: 1) En Route, 2) Thresholds, 3) Seasonal variations, 4) The Paradox of Accessibility, and 5) Making Change Happen.

Accessibility exists along a continuum, which acknowledges people with mobility limitations to cope with environmental barriers and maintain their health. This requires an understanding of accessibility that integrates physical, psychological and social dimensions.

Social Value Toolkit for architecture

Design impacts both social and economic value to a community, but how do you measure and track it? The RIBA Social Value Toolkit has the answer. The Toolkit makes it easy to evaluate and demonstrate the impact of design on people and communities. A research project by the University of Reading provided the evidence for the Toolkit.

“If we cannot define what we mean by value, we cannot be sure to produce it, nor to share it fairly, nor to sustain economic growth.” (Mazzucato, 2018)

“Social value is created when buildings, places, and infrastructure support environmental, economic and social wellbeing to improve people’s quality of life.” (UK Green Building Council)

Front cover of the Social Value Toolkit. Deep blue with light blue text.

The underpinning concepts for the Toolkit are based in the wellbeing literature. Social value of architecture is in fostering positive emotions, connecting people, and in supporting participation. The Toolkit has two parts. A library of post occupancy evaluation questions, and a monetisation tool that links to other post occupancy evaluation processes.

Eilish Barry says that if we don’t define and measure the social impact of design, it will be pushed further down the priority list as costs rise. Generating social value is useful for potential future residents as well as designers and developers. Barry poses five recommendations for industry in her Fifth Estate article:

  • Knowledege sharing is vital
  • We need a common language
  • Social value should be part of the design process
  • Methodologies need to be flexible
  • Opportunity for collaboration (Eilish Barry pictured)
Eilish Barry is smiling at the camera. She has dark brown hair and is wearing a black top.

The Social Value Toolkit

The library of questions means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They cover positive emotions, connecting, freedom and flexibility, and participation. Each of these has a monetary value attached.

The dimensions of social value in the built environment context.

A diagram showing the dimensions of social value in the context of the built environment. Jobs, wellbeing, designing with community, learning, using local materials.

The approach to monetising social outcomes is based on Social Return on Investment. There are several different ways to measure this.

  1. Value for money: Willingness to pay extra for something you value.
  2. Time is money: The value of savingtime.
  3. Subjective Wellbeing valuation: Putting a value on wellbeing – most appropriate to understanding the impact of design on end users.

The Toolkit references the Social Value Bank, an open access source that contains a series of values based on subjective wellbeing valuation.

The Toolkit is briefly explained on the Royal Institute of British Architects website where you can download the 2MB document. Or you can access the document here.

Vulnerable groups, or vulnerabilising housing?

The term “vulnerable” was used repeatedly during the COVID pandemic to label people with certain health conditions, and anyone over the age of 70 years. Transport professionals also talk about vulnerable pedestrians as if other pedestrians are “normal” pedestrians. So, is there such a thing as vulnerable groups, or are people subject to vulnerabilising conditions? In the context of housing, Ilan Wiesel and Emma Power discuss the question of vulnerable groups or vulnerabilising housing.

Much has changed in housing design and technology yet homes remain inaccessible. The authors discuss the role of the housing industry and their role in maintaining the status quo on inaccessibility.

A new home showing the entry with six steps to the front door. Vulnerable groups or vulnerabilising housing?

Wiesel and Power discuss inaccessible housing as a ‘vulnerabilising assemblage’. There is a growing body of literature that lists the direct harms of inaccessible housing. However, their study considers both direct harm and future harms and documents these. The paper begins with an academic focus, but many readers will find the case study more interesting.

The paper discusses the conceptual shift from vulnerable to vulnerabilising, and then conceptualises the groupings of vulnerabilising things and processes. The authors side-step housing as a market or a system and think about it as a group of different ideologies and subjectivities. The assembly of this collection of ideas, actors and markets is not fixed but changing.

Exposure to harm

The case study explores the nature and experience using an online questionnaire and in-depth interviews. “Exposure to harm” is used to identify participants’ concerns about how they are exposed to possible harm in their home. The risk of injury or further injury emerged strongly. It creates significant emotional stress and this is harmful as well.

A man with spinal cord injury broke his leg several times transferring from his wheelchair in the bathroom. Many years later, a major bathroom modification prevented his falls. This is an example of home design vulnerabilising his body. (Image courtesy Caroma)

Modified bathroom showing level entry and a toilet with armrests fitted. Vulnerable or vulnerabilising?

The fear of homelessness and risk of house fires and the ongoing stress and worry about these risks also affected mental health. And then the worry of forced institutionalisation.

There is much to unpack in the case study and a long list of the many harms inaccessible housing brings to occupants. And not only current occupants but to those who will occupy the home in the future. Disabling conditions are a fact of life and can happen to anyone at any time.

From the abstract

The concept of ‘vulnerabilising’ marks a shift in the focus of analysis and intervention away from individuals and groups labelled vulnerable, towards the processes that generate and reproduce vulnerability.

To that end, we develop a framework that conceptualises how ‘vulnerabilising assemblages’ operate. We mobilise assemblage thinking and engage with theoretical debates on the nature of vulnerability as a universal, albeit unequal, human condition.

Addressing inaccessible housing as a case study, we identify three mechanisms through which people with physical disabilities become vulnerable:

  • through exposure to harm;
  • through erosion of defenses against harm; and by
  • legitimising or motivating harm.

We call on researchers, policymakers and grassroot activists to shift their attention from vulnerable bodies to vulnerabilising assemblages.

The title of the article is, Primed for harm: Inaccessible housing as a vulnerabilising assemblage.

Public transport: Trips not made

It’s easy to measure the trips made on public transport and produce statistics as a guide to transport planning. But what do you do about trips not made – how do you measure them? The only way is to ask people for their public transport stories about trips made or foregone. Qualitative research is as valid as any other method, but it doesn’t give simple answers in the form of statistics.

Iutruwita/Tasmania has no passenger rail services apart from scenic train trips for tourists. The bus is the main public transport service. Otherwise it is taxis or rides from friends and family.

Two yellow buses.

A qualitative study of 30 young people with disability in Tasmania reveals the importance of public transport in everyday life. Without access to it, people with disability are unable to work, get an education, and choose where to shop. Getting to medical appointments are difficult or missed unless someone drives them.

The researchers used community chats, World Café methods, and individual chats to gain information from participants. The research team recruited young people with disability as researchers as well as participants.

The verbatim accounts provide good insights into the importance of public transport in everyday living. This was especially the case for people who do not drive or own a car. And of course, if it is difficult for people with disability, it is likely difficult for many other people. For example parents with young children and older people.

Key points from the study

People with disability find using public transport difficult. Across the system there were tension points in physical, cognitive, digital accessibility, reliability and affordability. Briefly, the themes emerging from the study were:

– Difficulty planning the trip – confusing and poor access to information.

– Difficulty getting to the bus – unsafe surface, poor lighting, long distances.

– Nervous/uncomfortable wait for the bus – lack of real time information, no shelters or seats.

– Being vigilant on the bus – crowding, bullying, driver-passenger interactions, not knowing whereto get off.

– Stuck getting home – unpredictability of services and lack of real time information.

The sum total of the stories resulted in a refrain of “I can’t do anything”. There was a sense of restriction and missing out. “Unless you have someone to take you, you can’t go.”

The article is titled, “I have mentally cancelled a lot of trips”: Trips not made by disabled people due to public transport inequity in lutruwita/Tasmania.

From the abstract

People with disability of all ages continue to experience transport disadvantage. Barriers to transport have been well documented. However, less is known about the consequences of journeys not made because of these barriers.

In this article, we share the trips not made and their impact on the everyday lives of 30 disabled people. The participants were disabled young people, from lutruwita/Tasmania, Australia.

Health, work, education, seeing friends/family and leisure trips are forgone due to public transport not being inclusive of disabled persons. Their stories suggest public transport use is still dependent on who you are, where you live and the complexity of the journey.

For transport equity, substantial change is needed in how the transport user is considered in transport planning and network delivery.

Footpaths are key for children

Built environment designs and research studies rarely consider children. At best, research singles out children for attention as needing special arrangements. The same happens for older people. However both generations often want or need the same things. Indeed, footpaths are key for children, older people and everyone else.

A research paper by Lisa Stafford focuses on children with disability – a group rarely considered in environmental planning and policy. That’s despite the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities including children.

It’s important to study everyday practice, actions, meanings and understandings children have about places and spaces.

A child wearing a pink jacket sits on a stone wall. A pair of crutches are propped up next to her. They have red and blue handles. Footpaths are key for children.

“Taken for granted” mundane activities of an individual’s life reveal how people use and act in everyday places. Conversely, it also shows how those places shape the lives of individuals – especially in what they cannot do. Stafford’s qualitative study reveals the everyday lives of children with disability and what they can and cannot do outside the home.

From the findings

Children with disability lacked freedom to move and engage in everyday activities. For example, driveways and disconnected footpaths meant this was as far as they could go. Cars going too fast meant that riding a bike did not feel safe. “I’d like to go over the road to say hi without having to worry about people speeding”, said one participant.

Stafford’s paper reports verbatim conversations with children which makes for interesting reading. Children had their movements constrained, not by disability, but by the design of the environment.

What a street looks like, the function it serves and the activities it permits are based on socio-cultural norms. Streets are full of assumptions about the people who use them.

Shows the street of a new housing development with driveways for cars but no footpath for people

Although footpaths are key for all pedestrians they are not consistently provided in local streets. Walkability continues to be measured by the road rather than the footpath.

The title of the article is, Bounded at the driveway’s edge: body-space tensions encountered by children with mobility impairments in moving about the neighbourhood street. The first part is very academic, but the second part reveals interesting ideas.

From the abstract

The neighbourhood is influential in encouraging children’s independent mobility and activity participation. However, its influence on the everyday experiences of children with disabilities is not well understood. This article is about the accounts of ten nine-12 year olds from south-east Queensland, Australia, who have diverse mobility impairments. The study reveals that mobility is a conditional act.

Conditionality is understood by the way social and spatial factors intersect to influence one’s mobility about the street – or in this case coerced immobility. The mismatch between children movement and the neighbourhood environment is revealed. It is intensified by the absent footpath, with repercussions for their activity participation.

The findings suggest the importance of understanding diverse body-space practices in mobility studies and the need to contest ableism in street design to create inclusive walkable neighbourhoods for all.

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