How might we design…

Howe might An abstract pattern of muted blue and orange squares of different sizes.The “How might we” design prompt is outdated. It might generate innovative ideas, but it leaves some design gaps. And who is the “we” in how might we? It’s the people in the room not the users or customers. Consequently, it risks making biases and assumptions invisible. The prompt tends to look inward instead of outward. This is the view of Tricia Wang in her blog post. 

Wang explains the prompt was originally meant to shift designers to think outside the box. But this open-minded problem-solving approach is no longer suited concepts of diversity and inclusion. This is particularly the case when the design team lacks diversity. 

Wang discusses how designs lack gender balance and how design reflects the needs of those in positions of power. When it comes to user-centred design, “sticking ‘how might we’ in front of a wicked problem is not useful”. The article has several examples that support her argument. 

A replacement for ‘how might we’ is ‘Who should we talk to?’  and ‘Why are we doing this?’ Wang explains:

WSW: Who should we talk to? This prompt explicitly recognizes that there are people outside the room who should be considered and consulted.

WAW: Why are we doing this? This prompt forces some level of introspection for team members. It is still somewhat internally focused, but makes designers examine their true motives.

The title of the FastCompany article is, The most popular design thinking strategy is BS

Cover of the book Inclusive design toolkitA different approach is to check out the statistics on how may people are potentially excluded from a design.


COVID and accessibility

A street bench has yellow tape across it so that people cannot sit. We live in a world of sanitsation and social distancing, but who is asking how COVID impacts accessibility? Staying at home is familiar to many people with disability. It’s not new to many older people either. Perhaps that’s why COVID and accessibility is not a topic of immediate concern for policy makers. However, there is a story to tell here. 

Claire Francis and Katie Jennings say they can’t help but notice that access has taken a back seat. Here is an excerpt from their article in a short Sensory Trust blog article:

“From the tight one-way systems in the local shop to the removed seating in venues and public spaces it’s high time that we rethink how access and safety can co-exist. Coronavirus seemingly came out of nowhere leaving venues with little time to adjust and amend to become safe, but it seems like these measures have come at the expense of essential access provisions.”

They discuss the effects of safety measures and how these can aggravate existing difficulties. Mask-wearing and one-way entries are just two. Cities need to adapt to our need for safe distancing in outdoor spaces. Creating space between seats by using planter boxes is one way to sit and social distance. It’s also time to re-think the width and quality of footpaths.

The Sensory Trust in UK has other good resources.

5 ways to improve accessibility of cities

Aerial view of an expanse of a housing estate.Richard Voss reminds us that all of us are ageing all the time. Consequently, we need to think ahead in the design of our cities. He makes a good point that by the time the ink dries on new access codes they are already out of date. His five ways to improve accessibility of cities are based on universal design principles.  These don’t date, they evolve.

First, he recommends providing incentives to include universal design features in housing.  As we know, this mitgates major renovations, especially at a time when you can least cope. Lifemark in New Zealand has the answers here.

Second, Voss says we have to wake up to the fact that we all need universal design. He points out that accessibility is not all about wheelchairs.

Third, we should combine common sense with building codes. Here Voss talks about merging universal design with heritage codes. 

Fourth, create a new innovation industry around accessibility. Voss says we should get universal design embedded in the retrofit of buildings. It will make them more sustainable and resilient as well as accessible.

Fifth, set achievable targets for each development sector. Discussions around inclusion affect every sector: workplaces, retail, hospitality, transportation, etc. Links between disciplines are essential.

Voss concludes that universal design has no extra cost if implemented early in the design process. Unfortunately, not many people believe this because from past experience, change usually means extra cost.

The article by Richard Voss was posted on Linked In. 


Let’s make bus shelters interesting

A graphic depicting three line drawings of bus shelters.Hobart City Council launched a design competition to make waiting for a bus less boring.  The community co-design competition was about making bus shelters more interesting, safe, accessible and socially connected. The first stage of the competition drew international interest. This indicates that it’s definitely time to make bus shelters interesting with practical technology-based solutions. 

The shortlisted ideas for the bus shelters is on the Council website. Although the competition drew international attention, the shortlist features firms from Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart. There is a link to the 120 entries in issuu magazine format, which look far more interesting. The magazine format is also in PDF (9MB).

Patients at the centre of hospital design

A large reception area with soft seating in the new hospital.
Image courtesy Halkin Mason in FastCompany article

No-one wants to go to hospital, either as a patient or a visitor. But thoughtful design can improve the experience. This is especially the case in hospital wards where children are very unwell. Putting families and patients at the centre of hospital design makes for a more welcoming place. 

An article in FastCompany tells how the architect went about putting families and patients at the centre of design. A design committee made up of families of patients acted as an advisory group. Parents whose babies and children experienced long-term hospital stays were consulted. Useful information emerged such as the distance to bathrooms and the lack of privacy for dying children.

The feedback was instrumental in guiding the final design. For example, the devastating experience of watching child die in an open ICU bay led to having only private rooms. Doctors’ experiences with over-stimulated children guided colour and lighting choices. Natural light and access to outdoor spaces were also essential. 

The end result was not perfect, but the participatory design process made the hospital a better place. Clinical staff also informed the design process and made them think about the way they deliver care. 

The article is titled, See inside a hospital designed by patients, and has several highlight the design ideas. 

A related article is the presentation by Stefano Scalzo at UD2021 Conference. 

Microsoft renews commitment to accessibility

Microsoft icons.The ‘disability divide’ is only set to get wider. So it’s good news that Microsoft plans to to be more accessible and inclusive. That includes their workforce culture as well as accessible technologies described in their Inclusive Design Toolkit. Microsoft’s commitment to accessibility includes people with disability in their action plans.

According to an article in an IT industry magazine, Microsoft plans to increase training and recruitment of people with disability. It plans to use industry collaboration and recruitment across GitHub, LinkedIn and Microsoft Learn communities. Suppliers are another group they are targeting for creating a culture of accessibility.

A black and white graphic of stick people in various states of being.In 2019 Microsoft produced an Inclusive Design Toolkit.  Their key advice is to recognise exclusion, solve for one and extend to many, and learn from diversity. You can download the toolkit in sections. it has case studies and videos.

The magazine article is titled, Microsoft pledges to bridge ‘disability divide’ with renewed commitment to disability, has more detail about the use of AI in software. 

Good that companies that promote inclusive products and services are realising they need an inclusive workforce. 

Ageing in neighbourhood rather than retirement villages

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundOlder people know what they want in terms of housing and their neighbourhood. But has anyone asked them? Two researchers in Queensland have. This research came about because of serious concerns about congregate living during the COVID-19 pandemic. In their research findings, the researchers challenge the ideas of local planners. They say we need to look at ageing in neighbourhood rather than retirement villages.

The researchers found that local councils can act as a catalyst for the market to change and innovate. They propose infill developments with a mix duplexes and mid rise apartments with easy access to services. This would create age-friendly neighbourhoods. The article in The Conversation has lot of images and diagrams to illustrate their arguments. The title of the article is, Ageing in neighbourhod: what seniors want instead of retirement villages and how to achieve it

It is time to move away from focusing on what older people can no longer do to what they can be encouraged to do. That is the healthy ageing approach. Too often they are treated as a health problem. Older people know what’s best for them. Given the opportunity they can create solutions.

The table below shows the key features that make a home and neighbourhood a good place to live as they age.

The Fifth Estate has an article that extends the discussion on this topic into smart cities. The title of the article isThis is how we create the age-friendly smart city


Spot the Robot Dog senses how building space is used

Spot the Robot dog has four yellow articulated legs stands on a bare concrete floor in a half finished building. Could Spot the robot dog change the way buildings get made? Spot explores and senses spaces and captures the data. This kind of robot is used in places such as oil and gas sites where safety is an issue. But now Spot has become a part-time ‘architect’. Perhaps this robot will be deployed to check out accessibility of buildings too. Who knows?

Architecture firm Forster + Partners Applied Research and Development group used it in the development of Battersea Power Station. By monitoring the construction process each week, architects can see if the physical building is deviating from the plans. The potential for cost savings are obvious.

The robot also monitors completed and occupied buildings to see how space is being used. But humans have to get used to Spot because paying attention to the robot interferes with the scan and data collection. 

The FastCompany article has a lot more information and the videos are fascinating and show how the robot works. Let’s hope that accessibility and universal design are programmed into the next iteration of Spot. 

The title of the article is, This robot dog is changing the way buildings are designed, constructed, and used.


Airbnb without leaving home

The shins and feet of a person in bright joggers standing on a skateboard.Airbnb without leaving home doesn’t make sense. But that is what you can get now – an online activity with a small group. The aim is to make travel more inclusive. Airbnb now has Hosts “with neurodiverse guests in mind”. 

Airbnb has announced twelve online experiences for neurodiverse guests. They range from dance classes that teach coordination to skateboarding lessons. This idea is an extension of their “accessibility-centric” online experiences designed for people with disability. The aim of both these experiences is for friends and family to book an experience and share the activity together. All you need is a phone or computer and access to the internet. Airbnb considers this is “travel from home”.

Obviously this was a great idea during the COVID pandemic. It will be interesting to see if the interest continues. Experiences listed in the Airbnb article are from USA, UK and Australia. Prices are very reasonable.

Forbes online magazine has an overview of the experiences for neurodiverse guests. 


Victorian Government home design winner

An adult and child sit in the alfresco or balcony and a small child sits on the floor of the apartment. The room looks spacious.
Lian winning design courtesy ArchitectureAU

It’s a pity that journalists and others still refer to accessible places in terms such as “wheelchair friendly”. First it reduces disability down to one aspect of disability. Second, not all wheelchair users have the same conditions. Third, it perpetuates the idea that the accessibility is done and dusted. 

An article in ArchitectureAU showcases a winner of the Victorian Government’s Future Homes pilot program. The winning design is a block of 12 apartments – a mix of one, two, and three bedroom units. The article states that some ground level apartments are designed for “full wheel-chair accessibility”. 

It seems the apartment blocks are not designed with a lift. The gallery of pictures indicates that most apartments have the potential to have universal design features such as level entry and reasonable circulation spaces. It means, of course, that anyone living on level one or two will be disadvantaged if they acquire a mobility disability. What do they do then? It also means wheelchair users can’t visit neighbours on another floor. And let’s not forget family and friends who want to visit too. At least accessibility gets a mention.

Terms such as “fully accessible” and “wheelchair accessible” do not convey any useful information because the terms are too broad. These terms do not inspire confidence. The use of such terms indicates a passing reference to accessibility without understanding what is required. The spelling of ‘wheelchair’ is also not helpful.