Is your new kitchen gadget or appliance intuitive to use? How about the instructions on the device? Every model of microwave, even within the same brand, has a different operating system. This doesn’t help. And some of the icons that are meant to guide the user don’t make sense to everyone in the same way. So what can industrial designers do about creating inclusive instructions for domestic appliances? A human-centred design approach provides some answers.
Three researchers looked at how this problem can be solved because kitchen appliances are an essential part of life now. Their study took the perspective of older adults, which implies they are the only group with cognition and mental processing issues. Once again, what might be good for some, not all, older adults, will of course, be good for many others.
The researchers came up with a coding system to help designers and used a microwave as the case study. The coding system considers four aspects of users’ interactions with a microwave. Briefly they are:
Information processing – gathering and interpreting information
Interactions with the microwave’s user interface and control panel
Listening to the users as they use the device
Impediments to the user’s workflow
The study describes their process for developing the coding system for designers, and the details each of the four elements of the code. While other studies use a series of personas, this study used real people and their negative experiences. The researchers also linked the microwave use with ready meal packaging. This allowed them to see the difficulties in interpreting the cooking information and relating it to the device.
Getting it right for users
Simple turning knobs and switches with numbered dials are a thing of the past. So anyone who has difficulty transitioning to a digital display is going to be disadvantaged. Microwaves are an essential tool for people who have difficulty preparing a meal because they can heat ready-made meals.
Poor organisation of information appeared to be a powerful factor in influencing users’ information processing and interactions. The key appears to be getting both sequencing information together as well as activity grouping information. This poses further challenges.
Involving real people and not personas is the key to resolving design issues for users. The researchers acknowledge that getting it right for older people means benefits for many other users.
Is gender inclusive design the same as unisex design? If it is, does it work for all genders? Companies producing wearable technology interpret universal design as unisex design. But is this the best way to interpret it? When it comes to diversity and wearable technology some nuances are needed.
Companies making wearables are interpreting and implementing the concept of universal design in different ways. That’s according to some recent research by Jenni Hokka.
Wearable technology sits between fashion, design and technology. The concept of wearables covers many kinds of devices. Intelligent textiles to medical devices, and shoe sensors to fitness trackers are all wearables. As the technology changes so do the users. Sports watches were originally designed for male amateur athletes, but now they are used by all genders.
As niche wearables become everyday items, the designs need to change and adapt as well. That is, if you want to capture a wider market – and be more inclusive with designs. Being inclusive is what Hokka wanted to discover in her research. The first step is to find out what designers think universal design is and how they practice it.
Hokka discusses the history of design practice and the way design culture varies across nationalities. She took the approach of sociology of design in the research. Many companies want to be socially responsible and provide benefits to users, but are they capturing all potential users?
Some objects have a gendered user history
Design language reflects gendered thinking and needs to overcome this
Companies want to approach new user groups with inclusive design
Economic imperatives drive the need to appeal to the widest range of users
Inclusive design is more than a goodwill gesture
Four Finnish wearable products, two different rings, a watch, and shirt and shorts were the subject of the case studies. Suunto Sport Watch was not designed explicitly for men, but the size and shape indicate the imagined user would be male. Products designed to attract female users is usually done through stereotypical colours (“pinking”).
When male users are envisioned, the product is promoted with the most advanced technology. When female users are envisioned, the product is promoted as having style. But now Suunoto wanted to design a watch suitable for every situation. That means it had to look stylish and comfortable to wear night and day. The design language also had to change from unisex to gender-neutral.
The decision to design a unisex ring was based on the two companies in the study being small and therefore cost of production was a major factor. The Moodmetric stress management ring was originally targeted at the yoga market. Eventually it included the health care research institutions. The ring needed to be small and comfortably used in any environment.
Sportswear with digital sensors was considered mainly for women because of the fabric, But wearing lycra has become non-gendered. Myontec sportswear is more focused on scientific data than fashion. However fashion played a part in the development of the product. That’s because the sensors needed to hit the right muscles. Consequently, the placement of the sensors is the starting point for the whole design,
Solving the design problems
All the companies interpreted inclusive design as unisex design. However, their reasoning for implementing these ideals varied. Suunoto modified the size and colours of the products based on user feedback. User feedback lead to more inclusive products that are financially worth making. Inclusive design is therefore more than a goodwill gesture.
The rings were redesigned to be smaller because they are meant to be worn all the time. Designers believed men would not want to wear a large ring, which culturally is something women usually do. Consumer behaviour for these products don’t necessarily act on gendered social norms anyway. The lesson for designers is not to presume an gender-related user expectations.
The shorts and shirt clothing faced the dilemma of combing inclusivity and human diversity in the same product in practical ways. The design challenge involved more than gender – it had to accommodate different body sizes. However, there is more funding for men’s sportswear, which is creating a gender bias.
Wearable technology products that need to be in close contact with the user’s skin to function must be a good fit for the user’s body. As wearable technology has transitioned to a widespread, everyday item, these products compete to appeal to ever-larger user groups.
This study investigates how designers of wearable technology a interpret the idea of inclusive design when developing their products for a diverse population. Four case studies, show how the diversity of the human body poses practical challenges for inclusive design. In addition inclusive design is also influenced by cultural understandings of gender.
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.
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.
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.
We know that as people grow older, the desire to stay in their current home increases. Different health conditions begin to emerge as we get older, and home design becomes an important factor in managing these conditions. Researchers from Italy chose to explore Parkinson’s disease in relation to home design using inclusive design methods.
Parkinson’s disease is one of the most frequently occurring neurological conditions along with dementia. Parkinson’s disease affects voluntary movements which make daily tasks more difficult.
Similarly to other studies, the researchers found the size of the bathroom the main area of difficulty. This is for manoeuvring in a wheelchair or shower chair and placement of a shower seat.
People with reduced mobility find stairs difficult. But the visual impact of stairs can reduce “freezing” in people with Parkinson’s disease. However, overall, participants in the study preferred a single level dwelling. Being able to work in the kitchen from a seated position was the third most important factor. The design of kitchen appliances also emerged as a design factor along with furniture design.
The article has some explanatory drawings and pictures depicting their design solutions. Many of these solutions are beneficial for other health conditions and disabilities. Circulation space within the home is the main criteria for all of them.
Participants reported frustration with products immediately identifiable as “products for the disabled”. The authors note that although these products are useful, they are stigmatising. Consequently they are often rejected by those who could really benefit from them. Their appearance makes them different from “normal products”.
As with the universal design approach and co-design methods, places and products for people with disability are good for everyone.
“…designers often forget the meaning and full force of the words human-centred design as a fundamental affirmation of human dignity…”
Designers have “the responsibility to continuously search for what can be done to uphold and enhance the dignity of human beings as they lead their lives…”
Note that the authors make reference to inclusive design being different from universal design and design-for-all. Their distinction is based on the notion of universal design being only for people with disability. This is often the case in the United States, but is not the case in Australia. The term universal design is embedded in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, this does not mean it is exclusive to people with disability.
Consequently, the terms inclusive design and universal design mean the same thing. Human-centred design also has the same goals, but has emerged from the ergonomics literature.
From the abstract
Inclusive design is an approach that puts users at the centre of the design process. This means working with people rather than working for them. This article focuses on the application of inclusive design and human-centred design approaches specifically aimed at Parkinson’s disease.
The article describes a case study of the applied methodology for solving challenges posed by Parkinson’s disease. The case study shows how an inclusive design mindset favours a holistic and creative approach, capable of bringing together different user groups throughout the various stages of the design process.
Design consultant David Townson discusses his seven principles of human-centred design in a Design Council blog article. He has spent his career developing products and services to make them work for people. He argues that users are human beings – that includes every human being a design impacts.
New designers often miss this subtle point and focus on a specific primary user, says Townson. And there could be more than one primary user. The factory-workers that make it, the courier that delivers it, the installer, and the mechanic who fixes it. Even the person who disposes it at the end of its life.
“All design should be human centred, it’s as simple as that. And I mean human-centred, not ‘user-centred’ or ‘user-friendly’”
David Townson, design consultant
7 principles of human-centred design
According to Townson, these are briefly, the seven principles of human-centred design:
Get past your own great idea. Observe the environment in which you are designing, watch people in that environment, talk to people and observe them in shops.
Don’t be restricted by your own knowledge. During the research process ask smart, naive questions. Eliminate all your assumptions and turn them into validated knowledge. Being convinced you know everything isn’t conducive to that outcome.
Spend time with real people in real environments. Observation of people is crucial. It is this keen and open-minded observation that triggers off a great idea in the first place. That’s how the famous OXO Good Grips came to be designed.
Identify other users. Following on from the OXO story, the designer discovered that it wasn’t something only his wife needed. They identified expert users – chefs.
Follow your users lead and needs. Chefs wanted it too. But they wanted a blade with steel. So that’s what they did and improved the design.
Think about the whole journey of the product. As a designer you cannot just stop at your primary user as the product has a life before and after that and impacts on people beyond them. Think about what happens during and at the end of the product’s life.
Prototype and test your idea. Prototyping forces you to share your ideas rather than developing them in a vacuum. Seek out people who may have a different take on things allowing you to validate your idea and gain constructive feedback from potential users – beyond the easy feedback given from family and friends.
It isn’t just about consulting with humans in the design process. It is about understanding the impact that design has on us as humans. Sarah Williams Goldhagen argues that people undervalue good design. There is no such thing a neutral when it comes to design of the built environment. It has either a positive or negative effect on people.
A place should inspire uses and passers by. If it doesn’t support what people need to do then it is eroding wellbeing and impoverishing people’s lives. This is especially the case when you can’t even get into a place or space because it is inaccessible. Goldhagen goes on to say that good design is less about personal taste and more about human bodies and minds. Goldhagen’s article is in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health. It is titled, What is Human-Centered Design? Should Anyone Care?
Office design is at least one factor that will entice people back to the workplace. Legal practice offices have to consider the comfort and accessibility of both staff and visiting clients. An article in the Law Society Journal has design tips for an accessible and inviting office environment. It is based on a conversation with an interior decorator and an architect.
“There is the unquestionable need to provide a habitat for workers that feels inviting, appealing to work within, accessible and safe.”
Architect Fiona Dunin says that areas to support staff, not just clients is important because it builds culture within the office. It’s important to focus on acoustic and visual separation, and in open plan offices, distinct meeting places and separation between public and private space is required.
Accessible for all
When it comes to accessibility, the architect and the decorator discuss vision impairment. Consequently they advise contrasting colours and textures to delinate doors, stairways and meeting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms.
For people with hearing impairment, good acoustics to avoid reverberation are a must. Sufficient circulation space, or space that can be quickly adjusted to create more space when need is an obvious requirement. Assistance animals also need to be accommodated particularly as there is a trend for anyone to bring their trusted friend to work.
The title of the article is, Throwing light on law office design, but the ideas are good for any office. Legal offices, similarly to others, no longer need to be cluttered with boxes and papers and fax machines. This leaves room for a greater focus on inviting and accessible design features.
The article was written by Cat Woods.
Access Consultants’ Magazine: Focus on Workplaces
The Association of Consultants in Access Australia (ACAA) magazine has an edition that focuses on workplaces. Office fit-outs, workstations, emergency evacuation, working from home and the virtual world are all covered. Some content includes reference to Standards and is technical in nature.
Mary-Ann Jackson and Saumya Kaushik discuss issues from the perspective of COVID-19 and working from home. Eric Martin gives technical detail on office fit-outs. Inclusive and accessible online events and meetings are covered by Art Phonsawat.
Access Insight is available to view on the issue platform or you can download a pdf version.
Mealtimes are made easier with a range of small kitchen appliances. But can everyone use them? Meal preparation is something most of us do every day. It’s not until you can’t do it that you realise how much it impacts on wellbeing, independence and quality of life.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee worked with General Electric to develop an audit tool they can apply to the design of their small appliances. The tool can be used by engineers, retailers and individuals as well. The title of the tool is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). It includes 7 features: doors, lids, dials, on/off water reservoirs, buttons and “ready” indicators. Both physical and cognitive conditions were considered in the development of the tool.
Over a quarter of Americans have a disability. These affect mobility, self-care, and household activities including meal preparation and housework. Preparing meals at home is a powerful way to reduce the risk of depression, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
Small kitchen appliances play a significant role in meal preparation and have the potential to help increase the independence. Currently, very few guidelines exist to ensure that small kitchen appliances are accessible and usable.
This paper discusses the development of the Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). The tool allows practitioners to score the accessibility and usability of common small kitchen appliance features based on their client’s impairments. It also helps with choosing more usable small kitchen appliances.
The Pain of Design
Arthritis is a common condition and is not often referred to as a disability. However, the pain of arthritis is disabling. So how to design out pain? Design Councilran a workshop with people with arthritis. They found that no-one was interested in special products, which are often stigmatising. So the principle of inclusive design became the top issue.
“Inclusive design is crucial. You have to step away from the idea that it’s “older people” having a problem and start looking at a universal problem and therefore a universal solution.”
Most importantly, people want desirable, stylish, mainstream products that anyone would want to own. People don’t want medicalised, stigmatising equipment. Clearly, including the user-voice is the way to design for all rather than the mythical average. We all want usable products and appliances.
The articleis titled, Ollie Phelan of Versus Arthritis writes about the importance of the end-user being at the heart of design, and can be accessed on the Medium.com website where there is more information.
What does universal design mean in the 21st century? Universal design concepts have evolved from barrier-free design for wheelchair users to inclusion for all people. Diversity, equity and inclusion are the key words now. But how many designers have moved with the times and how many think they are access standards?
How much do interior designers understand about universal design? In the context of designer education, this is an important question. So what do interior design educators understand universal design to be? A study from the State University of New York found there was a good general understanding. However, compliance to access standards was also thought to be universal design.
Researcher, Eric Dolph, provides an historical context to show how the definition of universal design has evolved from designer responsibility to a values-based and human centred approach to design. That is, from the design of things, to a design process.
Designers’ thoughts on universal design
In his study, Dolph gave four definitions of universal design to interior design educators. The aim was to see which ones were understood as universal design. The definitions were:
1. Inclusive design is socially focused and grounded in democratic values of non-discrimination, equal opportunity, and personal empowerment. (Tauke 2008)
2. The design of interior and exterior environments to meet prescribed requirements for people with disabilities. (United States Department of Justice, 2010)
3. The design of products, information, environments, and systems to be usable to the greatest extend possible by people of all ages and abilities. (Mace et al., 1991)
4. A design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, heath and wellness, and social participation. (Steinfeld & Maisel, 2012)
Definition 2 was a foil as it is a statement about minimum access rather than universal design. It generated a mixed response with educators recognising the definition as universal design.
Definition 3 was the most recognised. Given this is the most quoted definition in the literature and in guidelines, the result is not surprising.
A review of scholarly work indicates a shift in the definition of universal design. Originally, the focus was placed on physical access to the built environment. This has developed to a more contemporary vision that addresses issues of social justice. This has significant implications for those teaching universal design.
In 2018, educators teaching in interior design programs were surveyed about the infusion of universal design content within their curricula.
Responses revealed a generally high level of understanding regarding the definition of universal design. This article presents the survey results of interior design educators’ perceptions of the four definitions.
Historical context of universal design
The concepts of inclusive design and universal design are often presented from a disability perspective. However, the concepts have evolved in the last 50 years to embrace the breadth of human diversity. For those new to the concepts, an historical context is helpful in understanding inclusive design in the 2020s.
A recent paper takes a “design for disability” approach to the history of inclusive design. It also claims there is little written on this topic. This might be the case in academia, but much has been written elsewhere. The authors present a timeline for the evolution of inclusive design, but it’s purpose is not entirely clear.
For the record, universal design and inclusive design have the same goal – they are not different ideas. Nevertheless, they do have their roots in different places.
This is one of many papers still talking about the concept itself but this will not aid implementation in the real world. While we are looking at history, and arguing over terminology, we are not looking at those who have the power to include.
The interconnectedness of historical events means there is no one fixed starting point. Instead it is a process still going on today. The idea of co-design is introduced, but whether we need more research is a moot point. But we could do with research into co-design and action-based learning in this context.
Anyone interested in the field of universal design and inclusive practice will find the article interesting. It discusses the evolution of concepts and narratives. The article comes from the UK hence the use of the term “inclusive” design.
Editor’s comment: Do we have to keep talking and mulling intellectually over this word or that, or this narrative or that? We need research into why we don’t have inclusive designs throughout society. Navel-gazing the issue is not spreading the word. We already have enough research on body shapes and sizes and cognitive and sensory conditions, for example.
Inclusive design is often misunderstood as designing specifically for people with disability. Similarly, the term “diversity and inclusion” is associated with people from diverse backgrounds. Designing for diversity means both – designing for as many people as possible across age, ability and background
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.
Universality in design gets a mention in the Handbook of Anthropology in Business. Megan Neese’s chapter raises a good point about terminology in the business world. She says, “Marketing teams talk about consumers. Research teams talk about respondents. Engineering teams talk about targets. Designers talk about users. These terms tend to be used simultaneously and somewhat interchangeably in corporations…”. So finding common ground is not always easy when developing a product.
Neese’s chapter discusses the many layers needed in any design, such as, culture, function, regulations, industry initiatives, and social trends. It is thoughtfully written and easy to read.
We all experience packaging that is hard to open without a knife, scissors and even teeth. Ergonomic researchers from the University of Wollongong provide an overview of a presentation about packaged food. Their study of packaged hospital food revealed some obvious results – much of it is difficult to open.
Lift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: food and beverage packaging has no regard for people with low dexterity. In hospitals it can mean missing out on a proper meal.
Many people are frustrated by packaging and have issues opening it. A series of 3 studies was undertaken with well people aged 65 years and over in NSW examining their interaction with routine hospital food and beverage items.
The researchers checked for strength, dexterity, time taken and nutritional status. The most ‘problematic’ items were – tetra packs, cheese portions, boxed cereals, fruit cups and water bottles. Most packs required greater dexterity than strength while some packs could not be opened at all. For example, 39% of subjects could not open the cheese portion.
The overarching message is the need for manufacturers to design easy to open packages. Packaging has an important role to play in food provision and if well designed, assist older people remain independent and well nourished.
The title of the article is, “Lift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: the challenges of hospital food and beverage packaging for the older user”. Alison Bell has published more on this topic, including a PhD thesis.
A case study
Researchers use the case of opening a packet of flour. They looked at information, instructions, size, transparency, rigidity, shape, material, handling and opening features. These are all factors to be considered at the early design phase.
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. The study looked at three main elements of packaging: what appeals to the buyer, level of environmental impact, and functionality. They also considered disposal of the packaging. Using a fried chicken container the researchers developed a prototype to see whether universal and sustainable design principles could work together.
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.