Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Design For Everyone

Unfortunately my move from under-grad to post-grad has meant that i had to make the move back into my parents home whilst i continue my studies, as an overtly independant person this was a tough but neccesary transition. However moving back home has become a rather different experience to the one i left many years ago. In 2010 my mum was unfortunately diagnosed with Multiple Sclorosis and has since rapidly lost the use of her balance and left leg, this leaves her heavily dependant on other people and regularily on a wheelchair. As an independant person its a sad contrast to want more independance than my family home whilst watching someone within it lose their independance. My mum is a fairly upbeat person and doesnt appear to let her illness hinder her, if she wants to do something she will find a way, even if it takes her forever. Sharing in this experience i have come to realise how influential design really is on the quality of life of a disabled person. When designing in the past i have previously overlooked the required functions of my design for someone of limited mobillity and often put them in as a second thought or because of legal requirements but when living it you realise just how much designing for everyone really does make the difference. In my mind my mother retaining the same independance she once had relies solely on design. Through design of space, products and services that should be, but arent always available my mum would be able to do everything she has done before, just in a different way. I feel not only is design fundamental in giving back what illness strips people of but it also plays a big part in the perceptions illness. Last year my dad started installing aids in our house for my mum. He went out, bought some handles etc, went upstairs and started installing the first of many. When my mum went in to inspect the handle he'd put on the wall in the shower, she was not impressed, he'd bought a large white chunky plastic handle that looked like it belonged in a hospital or a public disabled toilet. It appears to me that the limited design solutions for such products results in the function negating the aestic. Needless to say the handle was removed and a more contemporary out of the box solution was installed that integrated the presence of illness rather than exclamated it. Unsure of what exactly was available in terms of design for someone like my mum and others i went to research design solutions, designs for everyone.

I found an article on CNN, which talked about Don Norman, a design professor at the Northwestern University in Illinois, a champion of human-centered design -- where wants and needs of individuals are the primary consideration in the design process, and the author of ''The Design of Future Things''. Professor Norman issued a challenge to designers and engineers across the world to create things that work for everyone. 
"It is about time we designed things that can be used by ALL people -- which is the notion behind accessible design. Designing for people with disabilities almost always leads to products that work better for everyone." (Norman cited by Steere, 2013)
using the improvement of the design of baths and showers for people with sensory impairments as an example, he said these changes would further benefit everyone. The technology required for such projects is currently being developed and in Korea, designers Changduk Kim and Youngki Hong have designed a "universal toilet", a design that could see the extinction of the seperated disabled toilet. (Steere 2013)

However despite such innovations, Professor Norman noted that the thought process of designers would still need a change in mind set, especially of major companies. 
"The most important first step is to increase the awareness of designers and companies of the need to accommodate everyone. The disabled are not just some small, disenfranchised group: they represent all of us. So the first step is education, awareness, and empathy." (Norman cited by Steere 2013)
Finally Professor Norman stated that he hoped further care would be taken within the designs, asking the same questions i did off the back of shower-handle-gate...
"why are so many aids so ugly? Why can't we rally the design community to make beautiful, elegant canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and other items?" (Norman cited by Steere 2013)
Having also found interior design companies dedicated to creating bespoke beautiful interiors that meet the needs of a person with a disability in a contemporary way, it would appear that this is a design question slowly makng its way to the surface. I personally think that the future will see a big change in the approach to design in terms of the differentiation of purpose and people, and universal designs will become more apparent due to the rapid advancement of technological capabilities. 


Disability Horizons. (2013). Motion: stylish accessible interiors.Available: Last accessed 17/12/2014.

Mike Steere. (2008). Designers challenged to include disabled. Available: Last accessed 17/12/2014.

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