Universal Design and the Circular Economy

A yellow skip bin is overflowing with rubbish.Concerns for climate change and waste production are driving the concept of a “circular economy“. This requires designers to think and create in different ways. But will these new ways also be inclusive, accessible and universally designed? Chances are the answer is “yes”. That’s because a circular economy requires designers to engage with stakeholders in the design process.

Including universal design frameworks in the concept of a circular economy is one way to draw together the many disciplines. A circular economy shares at least one thing in common with universal design – the need to consult with stakeholders. This is one aspect discussed in an article from Sweden that discusses the issues in terms of challenges and practical implications.

The concept of a circular economy is new and mostly discussed in theoretical terms. So it is good to see the concept of universal design being brought into the conversation before implementation strategies are formed. The title of the open access article is, How circular is current design practice? Investigating perspectives across industrial design and architecture in the transition towards a circular economy.

Abstract  

The transition to a circular economy (CE) produces a range of new challenges for designers and requires specific knowledge, strategies, and methods. To date, most studies regarding design for a CE have been theoretical and conceptual, hence, limited research has been conducted on the practical implications of designing for a CE. Therefore, the aim of this study is to provide a better understanding of how design practitioners interpret and implement the CE concept in practice. To capture the complexity of real-world cases, semi-structured interviews were carried out with design practitioners (N = 12) within the disciplines of architecture and industrial design who have actively worked with circularity in a design agency setting. The results show that the practitioners have diverse perspectives on designing for a CE, relating to (1) the circular design process, (2) the effects of the CE on design agencies, (3) the changing role of the designer, and (4) the external factors affecting circular design in practice. Some differences were identified between the architects and industrial designers, with the industrial designers more strongly focused on circular business models and the architects on the reuse of materials on a building level. In addition, circular strategies and associated (similar) terminologies were understood and applied in fundamentally different ways. As the CE blurs boundaries of scale and disciplines, there is a need for universal design frameworks and language. The CE concept is expanding the scope of the design process and driving the integration of new knowledge fields and skills in the design process. The successful implementation of the CE in practice is based on extensive collaboration with stakeholders and experts throughout all stages of the design process. Design agencies have addressed the CE by establishing dedicated CE research and design teams, facilitating knowledge exchange, developing their own circular strategies and methods, and striving for long-term client relationships that foster the engagement of designers with the lifecycles of designed artefacts rather than perceiving design projects as temporary endeavors. Ultimately, a holistic and integral approach towards design in a CE is needed to ensure that the underlying CE goals of contributing to sustainable development and establishing a systemic shift are ongoingly considered.

The Conversation has an article explaining the circular economy.

Nike meets Universal Design

The Nike shoe is fashioned with pastel coloured sections. The picture shows a person taking their foot out of the shoe.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. 

There is more information and two short videos on the FastCompany website that show how they work. Or you can visit the Nike website

There is also a YouTube video where the designer explains how they work and what the design concerns were. A great piece of engineering. 

 

 

Intuitive to use: Does it work as a design guide?

Four buttons are lined up one above the other. They are used to open and close the door. There are lots of written instructions.The seven classic principles of universal design were 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?

The title of the article is, Intuitive use in design guidelines: Can intuitive use be applied to a product?   An article in Medium has picked up the story and concludes it is bad design. It adds the critical point that if you need lots of instructions on how to use something then it is definitely not intuitive.

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. 

Design for participation – inclusion will follow

A whiteboard with design concepts in word bubbles around a drawing of a electric light globe. It indicates brainstorming ideas.Designers can relate to the term “inclusive design” more than other terms. This was one of the findings of a Swedish study. Designers had a general sense of “accessibility”, but they felt intimidated by the term. They thought it was for extreme cases for a few people and something they could ignore.

Designers also thought accessibility was a higher requirement than inclusive design. They felt inclusive design sounded more inviting and positive than accessible or universal design. The workshop method used in this study drew out many fears and anxieties designers had about people with disability. The workshop process was therefore a way of educating and allaying these fears and other perceived difficulties. 

This is an important study for design educators, advocates for people with disability and older people, and creators of guidelines. Perception is everything – it underpins attitudes and in turn, designs. The caveat of language is that the study was not conducted in English. So the direct translations might not apply elsewhere. But the study has much more to offer than terminology.

Terminology for inclusion has always been a problem in design disciplines. It’s also an issue for people working in the world of universal design, inclusive design and design-for-all. Each of these terms, and others, such as human centred design and user centred design, have evolved from different spaces. But their aims are all the same. Regardless of the term, getting users to participate in designs, not just comment on prototypes, will result in inclusive outcomes.  

The title of the article is, “Inclusive Design Thinking: Exploring the obstacles and opportunities for individuals and companies to incorporate inclusive design”. It’s by Esra Kahraman from KTH Royal Institute of Technology EECS, Sweden. 

Design for Participation and Inclusion will Follow, the title of this post, is from a separate paper on digital inclusion by Stephan Johansson who is quoted in the article. 

Abstract:  Exclusion by design can be seen in every corner of our society, from inaccessible websites to buildings and it has a significant impact on people with disabilities. As designers and people who have a hand in shaping our environment, having a more holistic view of the target groups when designing for available and new technologies is essential, something that is currently missing. Not only to combat design exclusion but also to challenge and improve current and future products. Related research shows that there are ways to challenge design exclusion but the question of why more inclusive design practices are still not in place remains. This study aims to answer the question: What are the obstacles keeping designers from making more inclusive design choices and what opportunities are there? What are the internal and external factors and how can they be tackled?
The methods chosen to answer these questions were primarily qualitative in forms of interviews, field study, and a workshop. The results from the interviews and empathy building activities done in the workshop highlighted common obstacles the designers felt in their workplace, both on a personal and corporate level.

A shoe for all

Grey and red basketball shoe showing the drop down back section and warp around fastener.Universally designed shoes? Why not? Many people struggle with laces, bending down to get shoes on and off, or poor grip because of arthritis. Velcro is still the industry standard for “functional” shoes, but fashion and style seems to have eluded the designers. It is the same with many things that are “good for people with disability”. But Nike has come to the rescue. While shoes for playing basketball aren’t for everyone, Nike has come up with a stylish version that is highly adjustable and easy to get on and off. It is a good example of universal design with style. However, Nike is an expensive brand. But perhaps some of the design ideas could be picked up by others? The shoe features a drop down back section and wrap around fastening section.

There are lots of reasons to use universal design principles when designing clothing and footwear. And back fastenings in dresses should have disappeared with the laced up corset (and the maids who fastened them).

Watch the video below of the designers talking about the brief they were given – to design a shoe suitable for an athlete and a person with a disability.

“Designed as a high-performance basketball shoe for WNBA player Delle Donne and as a usable shoe for her sister Lizzie. FlyEase shoes feature a magnetised heel that drops down to make it easier to get in to and out of and easier to open and close. Handy for people with limited dexterity, but also for people rushing to get their shoes on and off.”

What about a recycled shoe? Adidas has found a way to recycle your shoes – send them back and you get a recycled pair. Interesting concept that could take off with other products.

Open Sesame! Packaging made easy

Exploded view of the package and all its partsIn marketing terms, the packaging is part of the product. The package shape, colour and brand are important in enticing consumers to buy. But all too often we have to get a sharp knife, a pair of scissors and wrestle with the packaging in order to get to the product inside. Microsoft has come up with a nice solution to packaging their Xbox Adaptive Controller – a gamepad for people who might not have use of their limbs. Good thinking – no good having a nicely designed accessible product that you can’t get out of the box! The video below shows the simple but effective design. There is another video on the FastCompany website or see the engadget website. Package designers take note. 

The title of the article is How Microsoft fixed the worst thing about product packaging.

 

Sensory furniture for kids

Agirl sits on a bean bag style chair. Next to her is a desk and chair. The chair is designed to rock.Children with heightened sensory perception are at the centre of a new range of furniture and clothing by Target. They are designed to feel as if they are giving a little “hug”. Target has put a lot of research and investment into these products. It’s in keeping with their attempts at inclusive design, or designing for “fringe users”. Of course, these products can be appreciated by all children, but the research is saying that some children appreciate the sensory appeal more than others. The title of the article on FastCo website is, “Target’s newest furniture is for kids with sensory sensitivity“. The article shows a desk chair designed to rock, a foam crash pad, weighted blankets, and more. Not sure if these products are, or will be, available in Australia. But an  interesting read from a design point of view.

Where would you like to sit?

brightly coloured simple folding chairs in an outdoor cafe setting.Tanisha Cowell gives her perspective on seat design as an occupational therapist and interior designer. She says her five features for great seats is not rocket science and seems common sense, but as always, it’s the little details that make a difference. Of course backrests and armrests get a mention, but also where to place seating, say in a park or a cafe. Did you think about colour contrast and height of the seat, or even the thickness of a seat? Tanisha has something to say about these too. And what about a cushion for the leisurely Sunday breakfast at your favourite cafe?  

How to assess inclusivity?

A woman is carrying a tray of foodThere is some debate on whether personas rather than real people should be used to assess whether a design is accessible, inclusive and useable. So what might be different about “quantitative persona”? The Inclusive Design Team at the University of Cambridge have developed persona that represent different groups of people with similar capabilities, which is enhanced with other personal information. The aim is to see how many people in the population might be excluded from using a particular product or performing a particular task. Their research is reported in a paper where they assessed the task of carrying a tray of food across a cafe, taking into account how using mobility aids restricts hand use. The title of the paper is, Evaluating inclusivity using quantitative personas. The full paper is available by request from ResearchGate. 

AbstractExclusion assessment is a powerful method for assessing inclusivity in a quantitative way. However, its focus on capability data makes it difficult to consider the effect of other factors such as different ways of using a product. We propose addressing this by combining exclusion assessment with quantitative personas. Each persona represents a group of people with similar capabilities, and is enhanced with other personal information. The capabilities of each persona are compared against the product demands to assess whether they (and thus the group they represent) could do a task. The additional persona information helps to determine how they approach and conduct the task. By examining personas that cover the whole of the target population, it is possible to estimate the proportion of that population who could complete the task. We present a proof-of-concept study using personas created from Disability Follow-up Survey data. These were used to assess the task of carrying a tray of food across a cafe, taking into account how using mobility aids restricts hand use.

Inclusive Self Service Terminals

A pink cupcake ATM.Gone are the days of having face-to-face customer service as we transition to the digital age and the Internet of Things. Self Service Terminals (SST) in banks, shops, and transport hubs are taking over and humans are disappearing. So, how to make these terminals accessible and useable by all? Well it starts at the beginning of the design phase. At a recent conference, Computers Helping People with Special Needs, held in Austria, there were seven papers focused on this topic dealing with design issues and standards for self service. One paper was about SST in Norway, another about standards development and yet another about touchscreens.  See below for abstracts. You will need institutional access   for a free read.

Accessibility of Self-Service Terminals in Norway  Abstract: 

This short paper outlines a project on SST accessibility conducted by Funka on behalf of the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi). The aim of the project was to establish a set of usable guidelines for the accessible placement of SSTs in Norway. To do this, Funka reviewed and compared the relevant existing standards. From the resulting corpus, Funka culled requirements relevant to issues of placement and harmonised them. The eventual result was a step-by-step guide for the accessible placement of self-service terminals. Funka would like to continue the work on role-based filtering tools. Funka has already launched such a tool for its Swedish market, drawing on several open-source standards. Something similar could be done for SST accessibility on the basis of, for instance, the EN 301 549 European standard.

Standards Guidelines and Legislation Related to Self-service Technologies Abstract: 

The intention of the standards, guidelines and legislation discussed here, along with other initiatives mentioned, is to ensure accessibility for all is built into self-service technologies from the outset. This paper presents developments in relevant standards, guidelines and legislation since 2013. In reporting on this work, the intention to give an idea of its scope, but also to place these standards, guidelines and legislation within a critical framing that reviews both the material and its impact on efforts to make SSTs accessible to all users.

Accessible Touch: Evaluating Touchscreen PIN Entry Concepts with Visually Impaired People Using Tactile or Haptic Cues, Abstract:

Findings are presented from a user test of several different concepts to enable personal identification number (PIN) entry on a touchscreen by people who are blind or partially sighted. A repeated measures experimental design was used for the user test, with all participants using all concepts in a randomised order. Results are presented, and wider implications of this study and the subsequent approvals are discussed.