Neighbourhoods for every age

Shows the street of a new housing development with driveways for cars but no footpath for peopleDesigning universally requires the involvement of users of all ages and abilities in the design development stage. Inviting them to comment at a later stage assumes only cosmetic changes are needed to the “grand design”. But inclusive design begins right at the stage of design “thought bubbles”. 

Using the experiences of children and older adults, two case studies illustrate the need to utilise universal design principles in neighbourhood planning and design. The authors discuss how universal design is the bridging concept for joined up thinking for greater liveability for all ages. However, entrenched practices based on compliance leave no space for the application of voluntary guidelines whether for one age group or another.

Planning neighbourhoods for all ages and abilities: A multi-generational perspective, is an academic paper. It has several photographs illustrating the findings and the points made in the case studies. 

Abstract: Taking a more integrated approach to planning our neighbourhoods for the continuum of inhabitants’ ages and abilities makes sense given our current and future population composition. Seldom are the built environment requirements of diverse groups (e.g. children, seniors, and people with disability) synthesised, resulting in often unfriendly and exclusionary neighbourhoods. This often means people experience barriers or restriction on their freedom to move about and interact within their neighbourhood. Applying universal design to neighbourhoods may provide a bridging link. By presenting two cases from South-East Queensland (SEQ), Australia, through the lenses of different ages and abilities – older children with physical disabilities and their families (Stafford 2013, 2014) and seniors (Baldwin et al. 2012), we intend to increase recognition of users’ needs and stimulate the translation of knowledge to the practice of planning inclusive neighbourhoods.


Finding Your Way: Learning from users

A university campus map showing buildings juxtaposed to each other with no semblance of order.University campuses are some of the most confusing places to visit. There seems no sense of order with buildings set up higgledy-piggledy fashion. Finding you way takes more than a campus map. Given that most campuses have buildings added as the years go by, creating a good wayfinding system is always going to be a problem. However, learning from users is a good start.

Wayfinding around an Oslo university is the subject of an interesting study. There were four main parts to the user-centred design: understanding, envisionment, design, and evaluation. Interviewing users and scenario testing helped with understanding. Envisioning entailed testing different media to find the most suitable ways to communicate information. The design phase Oslo Met University showing an old brick facade.translated the information into prototypes. The evaluation phase used two types of user testing.

The researchers conclude it was a great learning experience for them. It showed how important it is to include users in the design process. The title of the article is, User-Centred Design for a Not Straightforward University Wayfinding.

AbstractOsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University receives thousands of students and visitors annually. Its main campus consists of many buildings in which students, staff and visitors navigate. Unfortunately, navigating around the campus can be challenging, as the existing wayfinding system is complex and not straightforward. This paper presents a problem-based approach to address the wayfinding challenges around the campus. A group of European Project Semester students followed a user-centred design approach to involve participants throughout the four main phases of the study—understanding, envisionment, design and evaluation. Interviews and scenario-based user testing were conducted to identify the underlying problems. The findings indicated that the numbering system for rooms was inconsistent, and the signage was not clear, visible and coherent for all the buildings on the campus. Using graphic design principles and wayfinding guidelines, a new consistent room numbering, a signage system and a mobile navigation app were proposed, developed and evaluated. The results showed that the new wayfinding system was clear and easy to understand, and it can be applied in all buildings. We observed a shorter time spent navigating to a specific room, and no mistakes was made. The app was found to be a useful and helpful tool for wayfinding. As a result of this study, the authors highlight the importance of involving users throughout the entire research process, which is our most significant learning experience as a group.

The campus map in the top picture is the Parramatta South campus of Western Sydney University. It has several heritage buildings going back to the time of early settlement. Many new buildings continue to be added.

Slips, Trips and Falls: More can be done

A brown shoe is about to step on a banana skin.Slips, trips and falls account for a significant proportion of hospital stays. But we seem to accept this as inevitable. Lots of energy goes into educating older people and others to avoid falls, but the issue is much broader. A group of passionate people think we can improve the situation by developing and testing floor surfaces that minimise the risks. This diverse group came together in a conference earlier this year.

The Slips,Trips and Falls international conference brought together a diverse group of professionals all keen to prevent accidents. So they had everything from technical specifications to footwear. The proceedings have five main sections which are worth a browse:

– Design and technical standards in architectural design; 
– Issues of slip resistance measurement;
– Ergonomics, rehabilitation, footwear and innovative products;
– Analysing accidents and the causes of falls; and
– Biomechanics, human behaviour and ageing.

It seems that Spain is ahead of the pack when it comes to testing and standards development. They demand a high level of compliance for slip resistance in the built environment. That transfers to Spanish flooring products. That means any flooring products sourced from Spain have been thoroughly tested.

A yellow A frame sign indicating a safety hazard of a wet floor.Much of this conference is technical, but the bottom line is that we could prevent many falls and hospital stays if we had the same emphasis on ensuring products had good slip resistant properties. While the Livable Housing Design Guidelines promotes slip resistance, this is one area which is often ignored. The other concern is that technical standards are lacking in Australia for homes and the public environment.  

A short video gives some of the key points from the conference. The link is on Richard Bowman’s page on ResearchGate. The video is subtitled due to the different languages spoken. A nicely filmed piece. Richard Bowman’s paper is also available on ResearchGate. 

Who do designers design for?

Four women and one man sit casually around a table where there are coloured pens and drawings.Who does the designing and what do they design? If the design works, users don’t think about the designer. But when the design works poorly, or not at all, the designer becomes the focus. “What were they thinking?” is the catch-cry. In spite of much research and literature on designing thoughtfully and inclusively, we still have a long way to go. 

A short paper takes a critical look at five design approaches from last century that remain current. The author discusses “Accessible” in terms of partial inclusion and design afterthoughts. “Inclusive/Universal Design” is discussed from the perspective of eliminating disability rather than embracing diversity. Six degrees of “User-Centred Design” is the focus of this design approach where users get a say in the design. An extension of user-centred design is “Participatory Design” which is also a learning experience for designers. Lastly, “Emancipatory Design” is praised for being empowering for people with disability.

The title of the short paper is, Design Methodologies and Ethos in Disability: Research Snapshot.

Editor’s Note: The Universal Design movement is often accused of wanting to design out disability. Perhaps this view can be tracked back to the mistaken interpretation of universal as “one-size-fits-all”. The concept of universal design in the context of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is very much one of inclusion, equity and acceptance of diversity. 

From the Introduction: The subject of design is one that dominates the disability literature. Throughout the past number of years, there has been a push among researchers and advocates to think critically about the ways in which design is executed and by whom. Design has taken on a central role in the ‘normalization’ of disability. Each of these design methodologies and ethos has had an essential impact on built and design environments; however, there is still a considerable need for progress. Importantly, these design methodologies and ethos bring to light the significance of understanding that in today’s society, it is normative that environments and technologies are designed for people with disabilities, not by people with disabilities. 


Access and Ancient Greece

Illustration of a Greek temple reconstruction showing a ramped entrance.Ancient Greece is well known for its many temples and healing sanctuaries. Hence, we have evidence that the ancient Greeks thought about access ramps. They made an architectural choice without legislation. However, it wouldn’t make sense to design and build a healing sanctuary that excluded the very people it was designed for.

An article by Debby Sneed discusses the history and ancient sites from the perspective of access, illness, injury and disability. She shows that disablement features in ancient Greek icons, art and sculpture. This is an indicator that disability was considered relatively normal in society. There were no attempts to hide it. 

An interesting history of ramps and ground level construction at healing sanctuaries. It includes details of various sites and discusses why some have ramps and others not. Sneed concludes that if the ancient Greeks gave thought to their disabled community, it’s important we do too.

The title of the article is, The architecture of access: ramps at ancient Greek healing sanctuaries   

Abstract: Ancient Greece is well known for its many temples and sanctuaries, including several dedicated to healing and associated cults. Informed by disability studies, this article analyses the architecture of public spaces and facilities, alongside epigraphic, iconographic and literary evidence, to argue that the ancient Greeks sought to ensure the accessibility of healing sanctuaries. Even without a framework of civil rights as we understand them today, the builders of these sites made architectural choices that enabled individuals with impaired mobility to access these spaces. It is hoped that this research may stimulate further investigations into accessibility at other sites in the Classical world and beyond.


Smart City Wheelchair Challenge

Drawings of a smart city car park showing cars parked vertically in stacks.How to design a smart city that’s inclusive of wheelchair users? That was the challenge for a diverse group of engineers. Their project goal was to create a 3D simulation of a smart city that is sustainable and accessible as well as smart. 

Underpinning their design concepts were the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals have inclusion and universal design at their heart. The team documented their project from the formation of their group through to the final creation. 

Their report shows pictures of their Lego creations, sketches and artist impressions of sites. Smart services are the vision for the future, such as autonomous vehicles and how they will fit into the fabric of our community designs. They also considered smart parking, trains, trash systems and lighting.

This is a very detailed but well-laid out report. It reads more like a story, with plenty to share, including their spin-off into mobile apps. They had planned to do the final presentation using virtual reality, but COVID-19 and a university shut-down cut that short. The title of the 19MB report is, Smart City Simulator: “Phase Two” – The Wheelchair Challenge.  

See also, Smart Cities for All Toolkit

Abstract: Many Smart City infrastructures are physical models or Lego models that are static and difficult to scale. Other existing Smart City concepts have not taken wheelchair users and their needs into account. Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), in cooperation with Oracle, assigned a project which sought to address these issues to a group from the European Project Semester. We are five international students trying to create a 3D- Simulation of a Smart City with Unity software to solve space and mobility problems. The main part of this task was to create a wheelchair accessible Smart City, which can be presented and visualized by a simulation. Right at the beginning of the project, we decided to focus not only on wheelchair users but on all kinds of physical limitations: blindness, deafness, mobility difficulties, old, young, and pregnant women.
We analyzed existing concepts, asked why it is more important than ever to develop Smart City models, and make existing cities smarter. We also looked at what needs to be improved in cities in general, especially to make life easier for people with disabilities. We exchanged ideas with organizations that helped us to learn more about the everyday life of people with disabilities, we also exchanged ideas with companies that are already actively working on making cities smarter and last but not least we looked at the innovations in Oslo that are trying to make this city smarter.
Based on our results and with the help of Proxima Lego City, a Lego model built by Oracle, we made a questionnaire to ask the participants what belongs in a Smart City and what challenges specifically the participants with disabilities have in their everyday life in cities.
After the research, the questionnaire, and the exchange with organizations and companies, we decided to create a Smart City in Universal Design, which is accessible for everyone and can be presented and experienced through a simulation. We implemented an electric autonomous public transport system, a smart trash system, a smart parking system and a smart lighting system.
We also developed an app, especially adapted to our simulation, that makes the simulation appear even more real. With the help of real-time data, the app shows the advantages of a Smart City, and it also shows the advantage of having an app specifically adapted for the Smart City.

Forgotten social sustainability

Downtown Calgary showing a pedestrian mall with tall buildings on each side. The sun is shining.When it comes to sustainability, how many people think about social sustainability as well? Environments and people are inter-linked. The Sustainable Development Goals make this clear and one unifying factor is universal design. A new book chapter investigates the issues further. 

The title of the chapter is, Forgotten sustainability: A socially conscious paradigmatic shift in design. The title of the book is Situating Design in Alberta. You can request a copy of the chapter from the authors who are from Queensland University of Technology. The webpage has this synopsis:

“In this chapter, Rieger and Iantkow discuss socially sustainable design, especially its emphasis on universal and inclusive design. They argue that social sustainability is often left out of sustainability discussions, but that there has been a history of this work in Alberta. They present a history of thinking on accessible design in Alberta, which has moved toward greater inclusion and a greater recognition and response toward complexities and paradoxes in human needs. They also explain the incorporation of these concepts in design education and a greater social consciousness toward the need for accessibility. However, they stress that this isn’t enough. Local environments aren’t adequately accessible, which will become increasingly clear with the aging population. Like many other authors in this anthology, Rieger and Iantkow discuss local mind-sets toward design. They note that Albertans are becoming increasingly aware of accessibility issues and expect accessible environments, but that this could go even further. It is also important to encourage the population to adopt new ways of understanding the built environment and demand innovation and forward thinking in design.”

Is your inclusive my exclusive?

View of a kerb cut with yellow tactile markers on the kerb ramp.Tactile markers and kerb cuts are commonplace on our footpaths and in other outdoor places. But what suits a person with a mobility restriction can pose problems for someone with low vision and vice versa. This issue of access features as a minimum standard is nicely presented in, Is your inclusive my exclusive

The article is one of several conference papers in Open Space : People Space 3. It begins with a really good way of explaining the terminology each of which has inclusion as the underlying goal. Accessible design is about accommodating specific individuals and is usually applied at the end of the design process or a retrofit. But accessible design does not suit all. 

Universal design is explained as a strategy to make designs usable for any many people as possible. This is less stigmatising for all users. If an outdoor space is designed inclusively, the need for tactile markers is reduced. Architectural features provide guidance instead.

The article includes a case study of tactile paving. Observations of pedestrians and lab tests on different designs are discussed briefly. The way that tactile pavers and kerb cuts are maintained is an ongoing issue for users and should not be ignored. The article ends with a reminder that good design, inclusive design, benefits everyone. Through a process of continuous improvement we can do better than minimum standards. 

There are several good papers in this conference which was focused on research into inclusive outdoor environments.

See also a previous post, Tactile ground markers vs wheelchairs: a solution?   


Urban design challenge

The four steps: Explore, Focus, Develop, Deliver.Design challenges as part of conferences are great for innovative outcomes. The Design for All Europe Summer School in Portugal was no exception. Working as interdisciplinary teams, participants were challenged with addressing the city planning issues in Viana do Castelo. 

In her paper, Jenna Mikus from Queensland takes us through the four inclusive design steps for the city planning challenge. Stage 1 is to Explore, Stage 2 is to Focus, and Stage 3 is to Develop by building scenarios. Stage 4 is Delivering the conceptual design concepts to stakeholders. In this context pilgrims and tourism workers were the priority user groups in Viana.

Mikus concludes that following an inclusive design process helps frame design research. User insights help drive innovative ideas and ensures design teams ask the right questions of participants. That leads to design solutions based on feedback – the basis of people-centred design. 

There’s more to this paper which details processes and outcomes. The terminology is a bit contorted with “Design-for-All” and “Inclusive Design” but should be read as meaning the same thing – a quest for inclusive societies.

The title of the paper is, Employing the Inclusive Design Process to Design for All.  It’s a free read courtesy QUT eprints.

Abstract: The 2019 EIDD Design for All Europe Summer School in Viana do Castelo, Portugal brought together 20 international doctoral students and design professionals to explore and apply Design for All knowledge. The program culminated in a capstone design challenge, during which participants were divided into teams and asked to apply Inclusive Design (ID) principles to address Viana’s urban planning issues. This paper presents the results of one of the four teams—outlining the design process, considerations, objectives, and outcomes. During this challenge, the team followed a prescribed ID process (based on the EIDD Design for All Europe-supported Inclusive Design framework [1] created by Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) in collaboration with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (HHCD) at the Royal College of Art (RCA)), testing its applicability. By engaging directly with lead user group members and relevant stakeholders, the team identified creative, pragmatic design solutions to meet design goals and innovate across people, planet, and profit. Thus, by applying ID as a people-centered strategy, participants created a conceptual urban design likely to result in sustainable innovation and resonate across demographics.

The Caring City: Inhabit not Inhibit

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.A caring city is one that understands the dynamic relationship between individuals and their surroundings. But are our cities caring or careless in their design? Carelessness makes cities uncomfortable, ugly and dull, with traffic movement taking priority over pedestrians. This extends to a multitude of steps and stairways making access difficult or impossible for some. 

Charlotte Bates argues that we need more caring in our cities. Her book chapter is a discussion based on three case studies that illustrate ways to configure care in the design of urban environments. The examples are of an open space, a hospital complex, and a housing estate.

In each example, people are have the opportunity to come together or to retreat into private space. Intimacy and spontaneity are encouraged so that “caring spaces enable connections to be made”. As Bates says, the notion of caring design challenges the designs based on property-led narratives.

black and white photograph of an open terrace at the top of a building. It has a row of stretcher beds facing out to the view.The title of the chapter by Bates, Imrie and Kullman available on ResearchGate is, “Configuring the Caring City: Ownership, Healing, Openness”.  Or you can directly download a PDF of the document.  It was published in 2016 in Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities.

The research underpinning this chapter was funded by the European Research Council.