The open office design is dead. That’s according to the designers of offices for big corporates such as Google and Microsoft. The COVID pandemic has caused a major re-think of office design and how people best function in office settings.
Many workers have found open offices less than ideal workplaces. According to an article in FastCompany, apart from being noisy they reinforce sexist behaviour and make people leave their jobs.
The three design typologies in the article indicate good circulation spaces, but there is little in these designs that indicate inclusive design principles. For some people, working from home is still the optimum if office design and office culture do not make them welcome. However, these designs offer space to move around and interact with fellow workers rather than being tucked away in a nook.
The Library is an open floor plan with large working tables, individual nooks and comfortable chairs. Rather like an airport business lounge.
The Plaza is a kitchen and lunchroom space and encourages social activity. This is the part that people miss by working from home. It might encourage people back to the office.
The Avenue is, as the name suggests, a place for chance interaction with tables and stools and little nooks.
Inclusive design is often confused with designing for people with disability. It is true that inclusive design, or universal design, is not just about disability. But it should also include people with disability. After all, it is about designing for as many people as possible. Dan Jenkins makes an important point in his article – the number of excluded people is often underestimated and capability is frequently thought of in terms of “can do” and “can’t do”. However, this black and white approach doesn’t cater for those who “can do a bit” or “could do more” if the design was tweaked. But then there is the role of designers themselves.
The Role of Designers
How do we design for the full-spectrum of user experience, if the designers themselves do not present a variety of experience and perspectives? Inherent in their role, user experience designers, or UX designers, are required to design the overall experience of a person using the product.
Fabricio Teixeira and Caio Braga believe that diversity generates diversity. Touching on topics such as diversity in the design industry, inclusion, equality and equity and gender, this series of five articles explores design from within the industry to explore the impact that designers have on people’s lives.
Nike meets universal design again. They’ve improved their original Flyease design with a new shoe concept. They’ve found a totally different way of making the shoe easy to get on and off. So anyone experiencing trouble bending over, difficulty with fastenings, or just needing a speedy on and off will find this design excellent. When they are past their best they would make a great gardening shoe too – slip on and slip off at the door. Like all good designers who take a universal design approach, they’ve improved on their original design.
The secret of the new design is the way the shoe opens up to put on. The weight of the foot closes the shoe. Taking off is easy too. By stepping on the heel of the shoe (don’t we all do that anyway?) the shoe pops open. The Flyease Go shoes are an excellent example of universal design. They are easy, convenient and intuitive to use – for everyone. Well almost. Much will depend on the range of sizing.
It’s easier to go with what you know. Learning how to use new gadgets, appliances and devices takes extra time especially if unfamiliar with new tech. In some cases the designers of these products assume users have prior knowledge. An articleon the Choice magazine website covers the issues from the perspective of older users. Current younger generations will no doubt have similar experiences as they grow older. So it is worth considering everyone in designs and make them accessible.
Familiarity is the key to understanding any device. But there are many skill sets and assumed knowledge built into these designs. Claims that products are fun and easy to use is not the case for everyone. For example, assumed knowledge includes: a smartphone needs wi-fi in the home, which then means Internet experience. The ability to download and set up apps and email is also assumed. Then there’s software updates and virus protection. Even the manual needs to be downloaded and we haven’t even got to the phone interface yet.
People from middle age onwards are finding it difficult to keep up with changes. In spite of the research confirming this, it seems designers are not taking note. They still rely on advertising telling us that things are fun and easy to use. Real accessibility is rare. As we move further into a digital world it is easy to leave lots of people behind without realising it.
One good thing about the old landline phones that were fixed at the wall is that you always knew where it was. We’ve all had moments where we’ve forgotten where we put our mobile phone. What if your phone could find you by itself? Well, not quite, but what if you had a robot to bring it to you?
This was just one aspect of a research projectin Norway. The research paper reports on a small robotic table in a domestic situation – an alternative to other types of domestic robots. The research took a universal design approach to the design of the table using the 7 Principles of Universal Design.
The researchers were keen to find out what kind of robot would support an older person and, importantly, be accepted by them. Familiarity with the concept of robots was a key factor in acceptance as well as understanding what a robot could do. As most participants lived in small apartments, something small was also important.
“They explained that they needed a robot that could help them with moving things around in the home, a robot that could bring them objects, or a robot that could help them with household activities.” It was a participant who came up with the idea of a table to bring the telephone and a cup of tea. And what if the table kept the phone charged and always within reach?
An interesting project taking a universal design approach from conception to prototype. The title of the article is, Situated Abilities within Universal Design – A Theoretical Exploration: The Case of the T-ABLE – A Robotic Wooden Table.
Abstract—This paper investigates Universal Design (UD) through the idea of designing for situated abilities, rather than focusing on designing for disabled users. This shift in perspective from disabilities to abilities is explored through the design of a domestic robot that integrates into our homes, in a familiar way. We explore the concept of designing for situated abilities through a proof-of-concept robotic wooden table, the T-ABLE, as an alternative design for domestic robots. Finally, the paper identifies four dimensions of situated abilities.
Observations during the 2011 Tsunami disaster in Japan showed that the colour of signage matters a lot. A short research paper outlines the colours and colour combinations that are easily seen and interpreted quickly by people who have one of the colour blindness conditions. The result is colour combinations for everyone.
The results of this study and other colour studies are reflected in the Japanese standards for the paint, printing and design industries. The colour scheme-set contains 20 colours and is divided into groups depending on whether things are small scale or large scale. Bright pink turned out to be a colour for large signage. For more on the colours go to the Open Journal of Social Science and download the five page article, “Color Barrier Free Displays in Disaster Situations”.
There is much written about older people and their attachment to their home, but what about furniture? I’m sure most of us are familiar with grandfather’s “favourite chair”. So, what makes it a favourite? Comfort, ease of use, or does it go further than that to self image? A study on furniture in later life has some interesting findings for furniture in all types of housing.
First, some interesting questions. What kind of relationship do older people have with their furniture? How does moving to a new home affect their relationship with their furniture? What can that relationship tell us about the affect of furniture design on older people? The study found that older people had emotional bonds with their existing furniture. It is part of their identity. This leads to the conclusion that it is important for people to take their furniture with them when they move. It gives a better sense of home even if it is a new environment.
Issues arise in places such as nursing homes where staff have their preferences for furniture design. Also, family members can make choices that aren’t the preferences of the older person. As with many studies, the conclusion includes the need to involve older people in the design process, particularly in residential care settings. Furniture can support and enrich older people and should be part of understanding the living conditions and their emotional bonds, culture and history.
The background is the lack of furniture that responds to the demands of older consumers and the lack of knowledge about relationships between people and furniture in their home environments and in various forms of elderly care environments. Generalizations made regarding old people’s needs have proved to be too limited in scope to meet their needs and wishes. The purpose is to improve knowledge and awareness concerning the ways in which old people act on, are influenced by, reflect on and appreciate furniture in their homes.
The results show that there is great variety in what old people express regarding furniture and reveal a diversity of interests, needs and wishes. In the light of these results, it is unreasonable to reduce old people to a homogeneous group or attempt to specify their needs in advance. Despite this, the results reveal needs and wishes for furniture that provide comfort, pleasure and independence and that contribute to desired experiences of dignity, meaningfulness and freedom.
Is the quest for inclusive design so difficult that we need so many different terms? Are new-fangled methodologies improving the situation if the aims are the same? Many different ways of promoting the process of designing inclusively is surely confusing everyone. Enter “Humanity-Centred Design”. This one is a bit different because it’s about the planet as well as people.
Many of our current and future designs will be inhabited by upcoming generations whose consumption patterns will have different values. According to an article from the UK designers need to embody the values of inclusion, ethics, empathy and cooperation. Designs will need to be meaningful to appeal to upcoming generations. Hence the proposition of a new paradigm or model – Humanity-Centred Design.
The chart below is from the paper and shows the evolution from functional approach to a people focused approach to design.
ABSTRACT: Product Design has been defined by several different paradigms as it has evolved to meet the needs and desires of people and in as new ways for companies to market products to consumers. As the needs and desires of people are now increasingly met by products at all price points in consumer societies companies need to embrace a new paradigm which will enable them to differentiate their products from the competition. In addition to the need for a new differentiation strategy for marketing purposes, people are also increasingly aware of both the limited and depleting natural resources of the planet and the prevalence of inequality and poverty present in the world.
A paradigm is emerging which enables companies to address all the above simultaneously. This paradigm and approach to designing products is referred to here as ‘Humanity-Centred Design’ in intentional reference to the ‘User-Centred Design’ and ‘Human-Centred Design’ methodologies which have been used by designers for the last 25 years. In this emerging paradigm there is a greater focus on designing products which are not only sustainable, but also actively contribute to the alleviation of poverty in all forms and promote human development and wellbeing worldwide, treating humanity as one global society. This paradigm is being taught to students of Product Design at Buckinghamshire New University to ensure that they are prepared to design products for the newest and future generations and the greatest proportion of consumers.
The seven classic principles of universal designwere developed in the 1990s and are still applied in many contexts. The concept of universal design continues to evolve. Today, the concept is better understood as a way of thinking about inclusion throughout the design process. Newcomers to the concept of universal design often try to apply the principles literally rather than as a guide for design thinking. Maybe it is time for a product recall?
The classic principles are not themselves intuitive to use. And herein lies the problem. Consequently, Steinfeld and Maisel devised the 8 Goals of Universal Design in 2012. The 8th Goal is about cultural inclusion. These goals are easier to apply and more suited to adaptation to different design disciplines. However, they have yet to receive the same attention as the classic principles.
Not surprisingly, there have been many academic papers critiquing the seven principles. Academics are now arguing nuances between universal design and intuitive design, or applying principles in a tick-box fashion. One such paper is focused on the third principle, simple and intuitive to use.
The author concludes that as a design principle it doesn’t work because it doesn’t say how it is done, but is useful as a reminder to think about a broad range of users. It is worth noting that the researcher did not consult with users during the design. Rather, an example from an existing design was used to critique the principle of intuitive to use.
The author reports on the application of an automatic locking system on a toilet door on a new train in Norway. The trains were designed with the principles of universal design. This includes an electronic door locking system for the toilet. However, this system has many passengers confused in spite of written instructions and icons. Consequently passengers have found themselves in embarrassing situations due to the door not being locked. Clearly there is something wrong with the design for everyone. It fails the test of intuitive to use. But is this a problem with the principle, or the designers who failed to properly test the design? Did following the principles give unfounded comfort to the designer such that no product testing was used?
Abstract: Several design guidelines recommend to design for intuitive use and marketing often advertises products as intuitive in use – but what does it mean for a design to be intuitive? One design guideline that embraces intuitive use is described by the principles of universal design. The third principle says that the design should strive for ‘Simple and intuitive use’ regardless of experience and cognitive abilities. This article will examine the concept of intuitive use and address the case of an automatic toilet door system that, even though universally designed, seems to be confusing to many users. From the literature, the focus will lie on the concepts of affordance and familiarity, due to its relation to intuition. The case is further used to evaluate these concepts and to see if principle three of universal design is possible to fulfill. The article concludes that the principle is a good reminder of an important concept; however, the design process needs supplements from other design literature to fulfill the principle.
The resulting waste from product packaging is causing global concern. When it enters our oceans and food chains it becomes more personal. It’s also a personal concern when you can’t open the packaging without considerable effort or help. Packaging should suit both the consumers and the environment. So how to make packing easier to use and more sustainable?
A research paper from Thailand brings together universal design and sustainable design. It looked at three main elements of packaging: what appeals to the buyer, level of environmental impact, and the functionality. Disposal after use was also considered. Using a case study of a fried chicken container the researchers developed a prototype for testing whether the correlation of universal and sustainable design principles could work together.
This is obviously early work and more to be done, but it is a good start. The article will be of interest for designers of packaging, including the graphic design.
The title of the articleis, Correlated Key Attributes for Sustainable and Universal Design: A Case Study through Meal Packaging in Thailand.
Abstract: The study reports results of a series of research efforts to examine congruence between two design principles: universal and sustainable design concepts. The methods mainly adopted the focus group interview and the survey. A paper tray for fried chicken was used as an illustrative case to test the design attributes. The findings of the first stage indicated that the packaging executive agreed that both universal and sustainable designs played important roles in the current packaging trends and could be considered as integrative design. … The final finding indicated that the key structural factors of the proposed package with the correlated design attributes were easy handling and opening and facilitation of disposal. The extent of consumer satisfaction was subject to the right package structure and strength as well as clear information provide through graphics, pictures and symbols in order to provide guidance for disposal after use.