Citizen design science as co-design

Co-design strategies vary according to the context and complexity of the project. Co-design processes are not new – academics have carried out participatory action research (PAR) for many years. Often these studies are about solving a social problem. New versions of co-design are emerging as a means of democratising design decisions. Citizen science is a version of co-design that has its roots in environmental monitoring. This method is now used in urban planning and design.

The transformation of a car park into a multifunctional public space is the subject of a citizen science paper from Turkey. The authors explain the project and how they went about engaging with citizens. The co-design process relies on communication between designers, residents, visitors and the local authority.

An additional outcome of the project was to establish a Citizen Participation Unit within the municipal authority to facilitate citizen coordination.

Graphic depiction of the Citizen Design Science framework.

A key element of successful co-design is finding ways to design with non-designers through every stage of the project. Establishing a common language is essential for understanding the needs and thoughts of all participants.

Local residents provide information and issues about the area to expert designers who then evaluate and document the information. To ensure participation of citizens who are blind or have low vision, 3D and relief formats of design elements were provided. Using roundtable discussions and digital mapping, two conceptual designs were provided to citizens for voting.

Citizen Design Science

Citizen design science is a synthesis of citizen science and design science that uses a bottom-up approach. The authors break down the process into three parts:

  • Citizen science – type of data collected from participation
  • Citizen design – citizens actively design
  • Design science – translation of citizens’ ideas into designs by expert designers

The study showed that people without prior design knowledge are able to work constructively with professional designers.

Four photos here. Top two show three dimensional modeling of concepts. Two bottom photos show people sitting at tables outdoors discussing designs.

The title of the paper is, Co-Design of a Public Space and the Implementation: Atakent (Car) Park. The paper has several illustrations of the project.

From the abstract

Citizen Design Science is a co-design strategy for urban and architectural systems that uses design tools for citizens’ observation, experience, and local knowledge. The strategy improves the planning, design, and management of cities, urban habitats, and architectural structures.

This study is about the transformation of Atakent Car Park Area into a public space using a co-design process. Using design science data, two conceptual urban design projects were prepared. This included 178 local citizens’ wishes, needs, and suggestions about the area. Participating citizens were asked to vote for their preferred project and the selected conceptual design was implemented.

The remarkable aspect of this study is the engagement of a layperson without prior design knowledge in utilizing active design tools to establish a common language with a professional designer. Despite the efficacy of this common language facilitated by the tool, it has inherent limitations.

Engaging people with intellectual disability in research

People with intellectual disability continue to be excluded from research practices. This is often due to social and economic factors such as limited education opportunities and access to services. Exclusion is easily perpetuated when you add systemic bias to the list.

Ethics approval processes often view people with intellectual disability as “vulnerable”. This makes their inclusion more difficult for researchers.

Four people are seated at a table but their faces are obscured. One is writing on a notepad. A coffee mug and laptop are on the table. Including people with intellectual disability.

The design of research methods systemically excludes people with disability and other marginalised groups. Consequently, their voices are unheard in health, employment, education and independent living research.

According to an article from the US, approximately 75% of clinical trials have directly or indirectly excluded adults with intellectual disabilities. Just over 33% of the studies have excluded people based on cognitive impairment or diagnosis of intellectual disability.

New methods needed

In response to the ethics and research design challenges, researchers are finding new ways to adapt their methods. The article discusses three approaches:

1. Adapting research materials and processes into individualised and accessible formats.

2. Adopting inclusive research participation methods.

3. Community participation and co-researcher engagement.

Although inclusion strategies are making progress, researchers are lacking helpful guidance. Consequently, including people with intellectual disability in research in a meaningful way requires more work.

The title of the paper is, Inclusive Methods for Engaging People With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Research Practices. This is a short paper and easy to read.

Technology and wellbeing

A related article on co-designing with people with intellectual disabilities looks at developing technologies. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

Involving people with intellectual disabilities on issues relating to their mental wellbeing is essential for developing relevant tools. This research explores the use of inclusive and participatory co-design techniques and principles.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities participated in a co-design process via a series of
workshops and focus groups. The workshops helped participants explore new technologies, including sensors and feedback mechanisms that can help monitor and potentially improve mental wellbeing. The co-design approach developed various interfaces suited to varying ages.

The title of the article is, In the hands of users with Intellectual Disabilities: Co-Designing Tangible User Interfaces for Mental Wellbeing.

People with intellectual disability and support workers

Abuse of people with intellectual disability focuses on extreme forms of violence at the expense of everyday indignities. Humiliation, degradation, and hurt have a negative effect on identity and makes it more difficult to recruit research participants.

An article by a group of Australian researchers recommends taking action to support both workers and people with disability for improved wellbeing. Here are the key points from their article:

  • Everyday harms are the little things that upset people, such as making unkind jokes about you, being ignored, or disrespected, are not treated as abuse
  • In our project, we called this misrecognition.
  • We looked at when misrecognition happened between young people with disability and their paid support workers.
  • Much of the time, people did not intend to cause harm, but the other person was still hurt by the things they did or said.
  • We can improve the way that people with disability and support workers work together if people understand how their actions affect other people.

The article is titled, Recasting ‘harm’ in support: Misrecognition between people with intellectual disability and paid workers.

Theatre, research and intellectual disability

This study aims to demonstrate how disability theatre contributes to inclusive research practice with people with intellectual disability. The title of the article is Disability Theatre as Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR). Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

This article describes how self-advocates (individuals with intellectual disability), theatre artists, researchers, and a community living society create social justice disability theatre as critical participatory research. It demonstrates how disability theatre can contribute
to and advance inclusive research practice.

Disability justice-informed theatre as CPAR has direct relevance to people with intellectual disabilities. It also offers a platform where self-advocates’ diverse ways to communicate and be in the world are honoured. Mentorship generates opportunities for self-advocates to learn, practice, and develop research skills.

The theatre creation process (devising, developing, and refining scenes) is research in itself where tensions are recognized as sites of possibility. Future research should explore strategies, and protocols for power sharing and problem solving within disability theatre.

Working from home: co-designing a housing toolkit

Working from home is one way people make a living in developing countries, but are their homes designed for this? One way to get a more suitable design is to involve the occupants in the design process. Researchers from the UK and Thailand used a co-design method to devise a housing and livelihood toolkit. The research explored the connection between ageing, housing, and livelihood for low income residents.

Housing for older people means much more than a physical dwelling space. Often it is a lifetime home and in developing countries it has to support their livelihood. Many older people and women depend on their home for their livelihood.

A woman is holding a straw broom in a footway between housing on both sides.

Klong Toey, which is located near Bangkok,, was the subject of the study. Bangkok Port Authority owns the land and wanted to evict residents to expand port facilities. Residents were offered cash compensation to relocate to new 24 storey apartments on the outskirts of the city. The affected families thought that moving out of the port area will take away their livelihood.

Co-designing in the context of low-income housing

Most of the literature on co-design comes from Western economies. Researchers needed to explore the ties between neighbourhood, housing, and livelihood using adapted methods. The outcome was a design toolkit whose purpose was to serve at a catalyst for design options. These were based around live-work housing and neighbourhood design for flats and houses.

Three livelihood groups emerged from the co-design workshops: service, cooking, and stocking/storing. Service is typified by hair salons, grocery stores and laundry. Cooking needs space for food preparation activities and dining space. Stocking and storing is for jobs that include recyclable waste and online selling. These three livelihood types formed the basis of the design toolkit.

Residents can use the toolkit to advocate for improvements to the living and livelihood conditions rather than being relocated. Other stakeholders – landowners, policy-makers, designers and community organisations can also use it. The toolkit helps stakeholders to identify, understand, and propose inclusive solutions acceptable to all.

Western housing design should also incorporate the concept of working from home. The COVID pandemic highlighted that homes need to have flexible space for work activities.

The title of the paper is, Co-designing a housing and livelihood toolkit with low-income older people for future housing in Klong Toey, Bangkok, Thailand.

Residents found the co-creation activities gave them the chance to imagine their own living and working space. The toolkit gave them a well-founded instrument for advocacy and negotiation.

A man and a woman stand behind a street stall selling cooked food.

From the abstract

This paper is about a research project involving low-income older people in Klong Toey, Bangkok. The aim was to co-produce a design toolkit to guide the development of live–work housing for low-income older people in Klong Toey.

A three-day co-design workshop was held with local stakeholders to develop design alternatives for their live–work activities. The researchers engaged with the users as facilitators and translators to produce design options that informed the toolkit.

The toolkit was developed under the overarching AgeingHood project. It was inspired by the unique housing and livelihood needs of the older people of Klong Toey, who often run small businesses from their own homes. Ageing, housing and livelihood are interrelated aspects of the lives of low-income older people in this area of Bangkok.

The project also led to impacts such as supporting residents’ live–work needs assessment and positive engagement and collaborative working with various local stakeholders.

Engaging with local communities

Co-creation and co-design processes are gaining traction in urban regeneration projects across the globe. A study of three different urban regeneration projects in three countries shows the flexibility and value of this method. Successful implementation of equitable and inclusive public space also depends on a multi-sectorial approach.

The three cities in the study were Dhaka in Bangladesh, Maputo in Mozambique, and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The research group consisted of an architectural firm, and academics from three universities in the relevant countries.

Seven challenges emerged: inclusive mobility, housing, climate change, local economy, governance, gender and participatory planning. The one thing the case studies have in common is the value of engaging local communities.

Aerial view of Dhaka city in Bangladesh showing densely packed apartment buildings.

The case studies offer different situations for learning and are explained in detail. The participative process revealed a stark imbalance in the inclusion of girls, women and marginalised groups in planning processes. The researchers repeat the call by others to include a diversity of user groups in co-creation methods.

Rapid urbanisation and inadequate public transport in the Global South has lead to half the people having their mobility restricted. This means they are less likely to access employment, education and recreational facilities.

Public space is often a place for trade and commerce in the Global South. Informal economies sustain livelihoods where there is little demand for labour. While this type of economic activity can revive public space, it can also foster unjust distribution of public space.

The title of the article is, Creating Resilient Public Spaces – a Global Perspective on the Conditions for Integrated Urban Development.

From the abstract

Inclusive and sustainable design is crucial for creating equitable and climate-resilient urban environments. This paper presents a research project that involved case studies in three cities on three continents – Dhaka, Maputo, and Santo Domingo.

A participatory design process was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and 2022 through academic urban living labs in our partner cities. Urban design solutions for regenerating public space were co-created with local communities.

This approach aimed to ensure that the proposals were holistic and responsive to the specific needs and aspirations of the local communities. The case studies encompassed sites reflecting diverse urban contexts. The urban lake of Shahjahanpur Jheel in Dhaka, public spaces surrounding the centre of Maputo, and a central expressway in Santo Domingo.

Researchers identified the needs and aspirations of local populations for these places. Co-creation opportunities and place-making events empowered residents and local entrepreneurs to take an active role in the transformation of their neighbourhoods.

Established participation tools were adapted to each local context and new techniques were developed for specific user groups. Young professionals were included in the design process through cooperation with local universities. Academic partnerships and the cooperation with local city administrations also supported capacity building and
knowledge exchange.

The results of the process included integrated urban strategies, urban designs, architectural solutions, and cost estimates for implementation. We identified seven overarching challenges that need to be addressed. They were, inclusive mobility, housing, climate change adaptation, local economy, governance, and gender-sensitive and participatory planning.

This paper presents how the challenges were identified and addressed through the applied research approach for the design of public spaces in Dhaka, Maputo and Santo Domingo.

Healthy and inclusive neighbourhoods in Florence

Participatory action research was at the centre of a project for the Municipality of Florence in Italy. The focus was on green and public spaces and involved several different stakeholder groups. The outcome was the creation of a “health map” with design ideas to enhance the neighbourhood.

Co-planning activities involved citizens and researchers used different methods and tools at different times.

Abstract

As recognised in the scientific literature, the topic of healthy cities needs to be addressed at the neighbourhood scale, as health has a place-based dimension. The contribution is based on the Quartieri Sani Hub (Healthy Neighbourhoods Hub) ongoing research, aiming to investigate the issue of health and wellbeing through an integrated approach based on spatial and social knowledge, in order to define strategies and design scenarios for an inclusive and healthy neighborhood.

The paper presents the methodological approach defined within this research project for merging different aspects of the healthy city, leading to the definition of a transdisciplinary and multi-scalar conceptual framework in which the characteristics of the built environment that promote healthy lifestyles are systemised.

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.

Digital first and last mile

A young woman is sitting in a bus shelter and looking down the road. The shelter is lit and has an information board.

Many car trips in Australia are less than 2km. So there is room for a re-think in personal e-mobility and digital solutions.  The Future of Place organisation recently ran an online workshop on the digital last mile. It drew together technology and data solutions to support first and last mile experience. The key question was what does the last mile of the future look like? It therefore follows: will everyone be included in the digital first and last mile solutions?

Four guests gave their expertise to the workshop. Katherine Mitchell reminded us that regular commuters have high levels of digital literacy. But not everyone has a smart device. She focused on accessibility, safety, confidence and wayfinding.

Damien Hewitt posed the idea of bus stops offering more local information, not just about transport or timetables. Stephen Coulter discussed the opportunities for micro-mobility and e-mobility. With 12 billion car trips of less than 2km made each year it’s time for transformation.

Oliver Lewis advocated for a greater level of digitisation to manage assets for real time experiences for users. He also introduced the idea of “Digital Twins”. An example of a digital twin is a digital 3D model of a real physical object or process. It helps predict how a product will perform.

Workshop participants gave their ideas via a process of “card-storming”. The results were captured in a document on the Future of Place website. 

Design justice in engineering courses

Typical engineering courses have plenty of design content but they lack concepts of design justice. Engineers have done much to improve lives for the better. However, there are instances where the opposite occurs and unintentional harms are caused. Time to introduce the concepts of design justice into engineering courses, according to a recent paper.

Using a design justice lens, the inequities in the built environment come to light. Design justice seeks to address the ways in which design decisions perpetuate systemic injustices.

A six lane highway through an urban area.

The paper describes how undergraduate students were tasked to assess an established neighbourhood where major highway now divides what was a thriving neighbourhood. Students were asked to review the case using principles of design justice.

Principles of design justice

The 10 principles of design justice are compared to the Engineering Code of Ethics. This is important because engineering ethics are about engineer practice, not who they design for. For example, avoiding conflicts of interest is not the same as being collaborative and a facilitator of design. The list of principles focus on the users of the design and introduces elements of co-design. These principles shift the focus from their skills as engineers to their skills of listening to and understanding users.

Self reflection on the learning

The author tracks the methods used and then uses direct quotes from students to highlight the learning. Here are two examples:

“The real lesson of the exercise though is just how big of an impact design can have on people and how long that the impact can be felt even generations later.”

“I have been aware that design can cause unintended harm but have never had a list of principles to reference when creating a design. I can now use this list to create just designs in my life.”

A group of men in hard hats, and with tools in their hands, stand near a bulldozer in an urban road. A run down apartment block is in the background.

The principles of design justice are a good framework for engineers and others involved in design. The engineering profession is seeking ways to improve diversity and inclusion within their ranks. Now it is time to ensure diversity and inclusion is part of their everyday activity.

The title of the paper is, Incorporating Design Justice Activities in Engineering Courses, and good for all built environment educators.

Teaching engineers empathy

Universal design and empathetic design for engineers discusses similar issues. Here is an excerpt from the abstract.

This article explores the relevance of universal design and empathic design in education. Universal design focuses on creating accessible and usable products, environments, and systems for individuals with diverse abilities.

Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, encompassing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Teaching empathy to engineers is emphasized as a crucial aspect. By developing empathic skills, engineers gain a deeper understanding of user needs and perspectives, leading to more inclusive and user-centered design solutions.

Effective communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions, active listening, observation, and perspective-taking are explored. The article also explores methods for measuring empathy, thus enabling engineers to assess the effectiveness of their empathic design approaches. The challenges facing students, teachers, and university authorities in implementing such courses are also bulleted.

Spatial justice and creative co-design

Inclusive design concepts go beyond codes and standards. This requires new approaches using creative practices according to Janice Rieger’s new book. She presents creative co-design methods well beyond standard workshop techniques. For designers in any discipline these techniques shine a light on spatial justice and creative co-design methods.

The case studies centre on museums, malls, universities and galleries illustrate co-design methods applicable to other public places. The book exposes ableism in architecture and design and stimulates debate about current practice. Rieger challenges and expands our understanding of power in architecture and design that creates injustices.

Using a justice-based lens the case studies in each chapter have take-aways for creating inclusive, universally designed places and spaces. The language in this text is generally for professionals and scholars.

Perspectives of power leads the discussion followed by issues of ableism and how to design differently. Here Rieger uses her experiences of using short films and multisensory storytelling. Part 3 looks at constructing inclusive experiences followed by a look at spatial justice in the future.

The title of the book is, Design, Disability and Embodiment: Spatial Justice and Perspectives of Power. The book is available for purchase from the Routledge website with access to a preview and the table of contents.

From the Overview

This book explores the spatial and social injustices within our streets, malls, schools, and public institutions. Going for a walk, seeing an exhibition with a friend, and going to school are conditional for people with disability.

This book stimulates debate and discussion about current practice and studies in spatial design in the context of disability. Case studies of inclusive design in museums, malls, galleries and universities challenge and expose the perspectives of power and spatial injustices that still exist within these spaces today.

The international case studies purposely privilege the voices and perspectives of people with disabilities, to expose the multisensorial perspectives of spatial justice in order to understand inclusion more holistically through embodiment.

This book is for anyone in the design or arts who want a world where spatial justice is possible. It offers a new perspective of spatial design through critical disability studies, allyship and codesign, where tangible approaches and practices for inclusive design are explored.

From Rob Imrie’s review of the book

Highly regarded researcher and author Rob Imrie has written a review of Rieger’s book in Disability & Society. He writes of her challenge to the power of ableist architecture and the bias towards sight and seeing. Here are two pertinent extracts from Imrie’s review:

“For Rieger, echoing earlier work by Oliver (1992), about the need for emancipatory research, there can be no such thing as inclusive design based on data generated by conventional social relations of research, in which disabled people are objects of the process. Rather, what is needed is a transformation in the conduct of research, in which disabled people participate in a process of co-design. While the book describes a variety of co-design projects, I wonder if these are sufficient in tackling disablism and spatial injustice?”

“[Rieger’s observations] raise the question of how far design professionals are willing or able to cede control, and embrace a different set of relationships with their clients and users? More importantly, how will such changes transpire, given that much of the design of space is channelled through corporate development companies, in which architects have little influence?”

Community driven design

Architectural competitions can bring design quality to cities. But the design competition process misses the opportunity to engage deeply with the public. And that means social value could be missing too. The process of community driven design competitions addresses unequal access to design decisions and cultivates social ties.

“Design has a role in building social capital. During a design competition, there are opportunities for placemaking and designing in social connectors.” Georgia Vitale

Image: 11th Street Bridge Park. Courtesy OMA + OLIN

An aerial view of 11th Bridge Street Park which spans a river. It was community driven design.

Community consultation takes many forms, some of which are perfunctory while others are more meaningful. That is, meaningful for the public – the users of places and spaces. The judges of architectural design competitions are other architects. So how does community consultation and engagement fit into this process?

Vitale’s article explores the drawbacks of limited or no meaningful public participation or interaction with users of the building or place or other stakeholders in design competitions. This is at a time for an increased need for social capital to be included in the planning and design process for more socially sustainable communities.

Social infrastructure, shared spaces and streets, and public transport are the outputs of design. However, community engagement with diverse community members helps create new connections. it also encourages people to become involved in the lives of their neighbours. That’s the social benefit of community driven design competitions.

Case Study

Vitale uses 11th Street Bridge Park DC as a case study. The goal is to knit together the two communities on either side of the river. And that’s without displacing people in the marginalised neighbourhoods on the eastern bank.

Bridging community and design: a new way forward is the title of the article in The Fifth Estate. See the original article for links to cited research and case study.

Co-design and engineering education

Project-based learning is common within engineering education, particularly in design courses. This is where students follow a standard design process to solve a specific problem. In some cases, students are paired with community partners to solve real-life problems.

A research paper documenting how engineering students engaged in co-design methods uses the design of a clip mounted on a mop bucket as an example. The aim was to make the mop and bucket easier to move and transport. What began as a two-week design assignment turned into a 10 month iterative co-design experience. The result was the implementation of a successful product for multiple users across campus.

The commercial mop bucket did not have a restraint for the mop when the bucket was being wheeled to a new place. The users were concerned that the mop could cause an accident on campus. They had complained about it, but until the student project nothing had been done.

A black commercial mop bucket similar to that used in the project.

The case study

Over time, using the mop bucket, the “pet peeve” eventually became something really annoying. The community partners became worried about the unpredictability of the mop handle. The new clip not only secured the mop handle, it improved the ergonomics for the users. The co-design process also revealed how users felt their worries were ignored and how they felt belittled.

The paper, Embracing Co-Design: A Case Study Examining How Community Partners Became Co-Creators explains the process and the outcomes. Both the actions and reactions of the students and community partners are documented. With the success of this project, the authors hope more engineering educators will promote co-design in their project-based assignments. A good example of how good solutions emerge when everyone works together.

Co-design ensures the desires, opinions, and concerns of people affected by the design, are incorporated. This widens the circle of designers and improves the final design and the experience for all participants. Incorporating community partners early in the process produces more novel ideas and improved ergonomic products.

In addition, communities tend to embrace the solution more and support its long-term maintenance because they were involved in decisions. However, it’s important to make sure no marginalised voices are excluded, unintentionally or otherwise.

From the abstract

Co-design increases the number of voices in a design project, which enhances the experience for all co-creators and produces a better product. A case study is presented of a ten-month co-design project-based learning experience between two engineering design students and two community partners during a first-year engineering design course, which resulted in the implementation of the device across campus.

This paper evaluates the elements of co-design in the design process that was employed, documents the design product that was produced, and examines the experience of the community partners through a qualitative study. The design process demonstrated an increase in the amount of collaboration between co-creators as the project progressed and identified 15 iterations of the design.

Comparing the experience of community partners throughout the design process, five themes emerged from the semi-structured interviews: (1) emotional effects, (2) physical and mental effects, (3) productivity, (4) safety, and (5) job satisfaction. Documenting the experience of community partners throughout the design project can encourage educators to adopt co-design practices in project-based learning.

Teaching engineers empathy

Universal design and empathetic design for engineers discusses similar issues. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

This article explores the relevance of universal design and empathic design in education. Universal design focuses on creating accessible and usable products, environments, and systems for individuals with diverse abilities.

Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, encompassing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Teaching empathy to engineers is emphasized as a crucial aspect. By developing empathic skills, engineers gain a deeper understanding of user needs and perspectives, leading to more inclusive and user-centered design solutions.

Effective communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions, active listening, observation, and perspective-taking are explored. The article also explores methods for measuring empathy, thus enabling engineers to assess the effectiveness of their empathic design approaches. The challenges facing students, teachers, and university authorities in implementing such courses are also bulleted.

Access Audit Handbook

The Royal Institute of British Architects has updated their Access Audit Handbook in conjunction with the Centre for Accessible Environments. Access auditing is an evolving concept and means different things to different people. Some take it as being compliant with a standard while others consider aspects beyond compliance.

The Access Audit Handbook is priced at £40.00 from either the Centre for Accessible Environments or the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Fortunately, the Ergonomics in Design for All Newsletter explains the content of the document. In doing so, the newsletter provides an synopsis of some of the key concepts in the handbook.

Front cover of the access audit handbook.

Similarly to Australian Standards, British Standards only apply to people with disability and do not cover any other groups in terms of access and inclusion. This is despite other groups who fall under anti-discrimination law. The handbook addresses some of these gaps. For example:

Faith spaces, prayer facilities, features relating to women’s safety and their well-being, including pregnancy and menopause, baby feeding and changing, and non-gendered sanitary and changing facilities.

A woman cradles a new baby in her arms. They are both white skinned.

There is guidance on neurodiversity and reducing sensory overload, anxiety and stress, such as quiet rooms. Designers are asked to plan logical wayfinding with straight lines, and create curves rather than corners.

Technology is evolving on building accessibility, space and wayfinding, and auditors need to keep up with these developments. Lift destination control systems are a case in point where people no longer press a button for their floor. The central control system can be very confusing where there is a bank of lifts.

Case studies

The handbook recommends engaging with building users for insights into the level of accessibility and to keep them engaged throughout the project. There are six case studies: a theatre, a zoo, a parish church, a university science lab, and an outdoor space. The case study of an inaccessible heritage town hall shows how to create an accessible community building.

The handbook has 32 checklists for the external environment, internal building space, management and communication.

Thanks to Isabella T. Steffan and Ergonomics in Design for All for the content of this post.

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