An inviting office environment

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.”

A modern office meeting room with good lighting and plants. It looks inviting.

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

Front cove of the magazine.

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. 

Seeing Things: Haunted by design

Architect and neuroscientist Jan Golembiewski has been researching how psychologically manipulative environments can be. Design can suggest, motivate and support human behaviour – desirable or not. Haunted at Halloween is one thing, but being haunted by design is another.

Public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It has large mosaic tiles all at different angles. The toilet seat is timber

In extreme cases, environments may trigger hallucinations, delusions and confusion. The effect can be even greater for people who are impressionable.

Jan Golembiewski

Golembiewski’s article in the Financial Times discusses how design is used to create feelings. “The way we respond to the environment is mostly determined by the stories they suggest.” Many ghost stories were told about the university student residence at Alanbrook Hall, but it is likely the building was only haunted by bad design.

A darker story is how architecture can be used as a weapon of war with buildings designed to intimidate. Giant bronze statues wielding swords against blood read marble walls wouldn’t make anyone feel welcome.

A tall imposing grey concrete building with four giant columns and a bronze statue to either side of the giant doorway.

In designed environments, the architect’s every decision is made to make us do or feel something.

Jan Golembiewski

The article uses many examples to show how architecture and design affects our psychology. Vulnerable people often react far more than people who feel secure and small changes can make a difference. Good environments can work wonders especially for people who are neurodiverse.

The title of the article is, Haunted by design: how buildings can make us see ghosts. “Our environments can be psychologically manipulative, triggering confusion, delusions – even hallucinations”.

Design Thinking: Everyone is creative

Elise Roy was told at the age of ten that she would lose her hearing. But her feelings of fear turned into feelings of gratitude. That’s because she gets to experience the world in a unique way. Elise firmly believes that what helps people with disability is what will help make and design a better world. Its wrapped up in design thinking.

As a disability rights lawyer, Elise used to spend a lot of time focused on enforcing the law. However, she believes there is a better way to solve the issues other than enforcing the law – design thinking. She explains design thinking as a process for innovation and problem solving.

Elise Roy explains more in her 13 minute TEDx talk. Her explanation mirrors much of what universal design and co-design is about. There is also a transcript on the website.

“I believe that losing my hearing was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received,” says Elise Roy. As a disability rights lawyer and design thinker, she knows that being Deaf gives her a unique way of experiencing and reframing the world — a perspective that could solve some of our largest problems. As she says: “When we design for disability first, you often stumble upon solutions that are better than those when we design for the norm.”

Creative bathroom designs

A long black sink shaped like a shelf hangs longways from the wall. The backwall is full length window and it is difficult to see the tap. It looks very modern.Todd Brickhouse’s Newsletter has some interesting pictures of creative bathroom designs. All are wheelchair accessible and look really good. 

While these designs are great for wheelchair users, there are others who might find these designs tricky to use. A case in point is a cantilevered sink against a glass wall. Maybe in real life it doesn’t trick the eye as much. However, I wouldn’t classify these designs as universal design. The sink might confuse anyone with perception problems. Have a look and see what you think. 

What the pictures clearly show is that accessible and universally designed bathrooms can look good. There is no limit to creative design.  Pale marble tiles line the walls of this bathroom. There is one long shelf with a mirror behind. A bath with a hand held shower is fitted just above the bath rim.Of course, a custom design for your own home should work for you if not others. 

This newsletter also has a picture of a man who got a tattoo of a cochlear implant on his head to make his daughter feel more comfortable with hers. 

Todd also has a magazine. He is based in New York. 


Co-designing bathrooms with older people

Public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It has large mosaic tiles all at different angles. The toilet seat is timberHow do you know what older people want in their bathroom design? Simple. Ask them. And have lots of Post It Notes handy. Having a more flexible and safer bathroom at home is one of the keys to ageing in place. Knowing “what’s best” is not necessarily in the hands of design experts or health professionals. Co-designing bathrooms with older people is a better option.

The Livable Bathrooms for Older People Project investigated and evaluated all aspects of bathroom design, fixtures and fittings. The report details how the project was conducted, the role of participants in the process, and the outcomes of the research. There are many explanatory pictures demonstrating the process. The report is available on ResearchGate, the UNSW Library list, or can be purchased from Google Books.

The Co-Design research was carried out by Associate Professor Oya Demirbilek. The Co-Design Sessions Lead Investigator with assistance from PhD Students Alicia Mintzes, Steve Davey and Peter Sweatman. University of New South Wales. 2015.

Note: The picture is of the renowned public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It would be very confusing for someone with perception issues.  Editor’s photo.

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 5 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. 


Social value of good design

A white brick building with blue framed windows. Social value of good design. It’s so much easier to measure outputs than outcomes. Social value is an outcome, but how do you measure it? Well the answer for most is, it’s too hard so don’t bother. The Fifth Estate features an article about why the building industry should measure the social value of good design. 

The Women’s Property Initiatives in Melbourne provide housing for women and children. They have a system where tenants pay no more than 30 per cent of their income in rent. They knew this was working because they could see improved wellbeing. But how do you measure this social value in money terms?

So, what is social value? It is “the quantification of the importance that people place on the changes they experience in their lives”. Using stated preferences methods in research is a similar idea. 

Emma Williams argues for the building industry to broaden the way they measure the success of a project. If we are to address social inequities, we have to give equal weight to social value. Measuring financial and environmental impacts is only part of the job. 

The title of the article is, The difficult task of measuring social value in the built environment

The Women’s Property initiative found that for every dollar invested, $11.07 of social value was created. Architects can work out the economics of green standards, but not social impact. Success of a project is about the people – that means social value. 

Website cookie banners: barriers to access?

Some people think that people who are blind can’t use websites or smartphones because they can’t see the screen. This is not true of course because they use screen reader software to read out the content of the webpage. However, even on reasonably accessible websites, cookie banners can prevent access to the very first page.

A black computer background with a red circle around the red words Access Denied! Cookie banners, barriers to access.

Many websites have accessible features, but they are not necessarily linked up. The popup cookie banner can prevent some users from accessing the website entirely.

Clive Loseby’s Tedx talk explains that despite legislation for online accessibility, very few websites meet basic access standards. You can check your easily by doing what people with low vision and people with screen readers do. They use the keyboard and not the mouse. Go to your home page and use the Tab key. Does it progress through the menu or navigation tabs?

It is a legal requirement in most countries to have accessible websites – the guidelines and standards have been around for more than 20 years. What is taking so long? Clive Loseby explains basics and how every organisation or business is missing out on customers.

Some websites use popup banners to advertise something and others use scrolling images as well. These have a similar effect to the cookie banners.

A reminder about attitude

Some of the responses to the talk in the comments section are not positive and in some cases almost abusive. While all YouTube videos get their share of negatives, it is still a reminder that ableism is alive and well.

Does design of parliament buildings affect democracy?

Does the design of parliament buildings affect democracy? An interesting question. It’s often said that the design of our environment affects our behaviours. So would that apply to houses of parliament as well?

Floor plan of seating in Bangladesh Parliament building showing a horseshoe cum circular design.
Floor plan of seating in Bangladesh Parliament House

In US politics we hear talk of ‘reaching across the aisle’. What if there was no aisle and everyone sat in a circle? We know that spatial design affects mood and communication. Hospitals are designed to promote healing and airports to minimise stress. Research by an architecture firm in Amsterdam took a look at the links between architecture and the political process.

Architecture firm XML examined as many of the 193 United Nations member states as they could and visited 15. Classroom style, horseshoes, opposing benches and semi-circles were most typical. The XML website has floor plans and 360 degree views as a preface to the book.  Seems Bangladesh has a good parliament building model (floorplan pictured).

The authors say, “Once built, parliaments are locked in time, whereas political systems can and should adapt to what is changing in the world. It is necessary to rethink our models for collective decision-making but it seems to be incredibly difficult. Architecture can be one of the ways to work and experiment with it.” There is a systematic lack of innovation in the spaces used by our elected leaders.

Some interesting points and 360 degree views of several buildings in the FastCompany article if you have access. The title of the article is, The Subtle Way Government Architecture Shapes Governments Themselves.

Studio units universally designed

It’s often said that universally designed dwellings need extra space. Designing accessible studio units puts that myth to bed. It’s how you design the space that makes the difference. It’s all about being creative.

Artists impression of the four unit complex from the street showing treas and plantings and low set building with an angled roofline.

According to Studio Bright, a project of four units are designed to accommodate Gold Livable Housing standards. The second living or study space can be closed-off to become a second bedroom for a caregiver or visitor.

Each unit is designed to catch natural light and is set in thoughtful landscaping. The four car parking spaces are flexible areas for communal outdoor space. Fruit trees and other plantings help foster a sense of community. The L-shaped units can be arranged in different ways, which means this model can be rolled out on other sites. 

More examples

The 2022 edition of the National Construction Code mandates equivalent of Livable Housing Silver Level. At first it was assumed small studio units couldn’t meet this standard and should be exempt. However, here are four floor plans to show how to do it. In some respects it’s easier to meet the standard because there is no waste space with corridors an there are only two doors. Have a look at the examples below.

53 sqm 1 bed apartment floor pan
53 sqm 1 bed apartment floor pan
50 m studio floor plan
50 m studio floor plan
50 m 1 bed floor plan
50 m 1 bed floor plan
36.3 m studio unit floor plan
36.3 m studio floor plan

Although the equivalent of Livable Housing Silver level features will be in the National Construction Code, each state and territory has yet to implement it in their respective codes.

Netflix has taken captioning to the next level

Subtitling and captioning are often used interchangeably when reproducing the spoken word in written form. Subtitles usually mean a language translation for films and television. However, it is often used to mean closed captioning. Whether it’s captioning or subtitling, it now provides an opportunity to describe the sound effects as well as the words. Sound effects and music are a major part of the movie experience, especially the horror and action genres. So Netflix has taken captioning (or subtitles as they call them) to the next level.

A horror scene in shades of blue with a human figure with wrinkled skin and no proper flesh. From Netflix series, Stranger Things.

Netflix’s subtitling gives deaf and hard of hearing viewers the same immersive experience of tentacles squelching and roiling wetly as hearing audiences.

Photo Netflix

An article in Vulture online blog explains how Netflix are keeping up with the ever-changing rules for subtitlers. The subject of the article is the Netflix series, Stranger Things. Apparently the subtitles “became a sensation among fans”.

People writing captions and subtitles are usually in the background working away quietly. The Netflix subtitling team relies on audio but sometimes gets a shooting script which helps with character and location names. What ends up on screen is often different to the script.

A young man is holding a large box of popcorn and has a frightened look on his face.

I didn’t understand the care and diligence that a good subtitler makes and the difference they make within a whole community.

Photo from Pixabay

The subtitlers try to stick to genre-appropriate language as well. “Squelching” in a horror movie is meant to evoke disgust. The sound would be described differently in a Regency-era picture or comedy. It’s all about creating atmosphere.

The title of the Vulture article is, Wet Writhing and Eldritch Gurgling: A Chat With the Stranger Things Subtitles Team. It has more background information on how the team works and thinks.

Editor’s comment. For hearing people, there is a bonus. It’s like reading the book and viewing the story at the same time. It will be good if all subtitlers and captioners follow suit. Audio describers have the task of matching the vision to those sounds to create the same atmosphere.

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