Seminar 2

‘Design for all’ and responding to the manifold nature of embodiment, December 13th 2013.

Design for all? Introduction to the ESRC seminar
Rob Imrie, Goldsmiths University of London, UK

Designing our tomorrow
John Clarkson, University of Cambridge, UK


New technology and products have the potential to improve quality of life. However, unless the technology is made available to everyone then it also has the opportunity to alienate. As many products continue to be designed to appeal to the younger generation, the lucrative and growing older market sector is being ignored and large sections of the population are being excluded.” These words were written in 2000 to describe the rationale behind a new joint research venture between the Royal College of Art and the University of Cambridge. This talk explores the question as to whether much progress has been made towards this goal in the intervening years. Advances in research, policy, education and practice will all be discussed, leading to the question of what happens next. Can we be assured that new technology and products will improve our quality of life as the world’s population ages?

Regimes of design, logics of users
Alex Wilkie, Goldsmiths University of London, UK


This presentation outlines an ethnographic study of ‘users’ as applied by a team of user-centered designers in the corporate setting of a multinational microprocessor manufacturer. The study was undertaken from the perspective of science and technology studies and draws on the notion of ‘assemblage’ from the work of Deleuze and Guattari to explore the various practico-theoretical enactments of users in design practice. The presentation will sketch out a methodology for studying users as human and non-human actors and then briefly describe a series of cases in which various forms of users were occasioned including: the development of a diabetes related technology; how involvement was accomplished by way of a gendered persona; how the making of a obesity-related technology included multiple users and; how ethnography users serve as a means for conducting ethnography-in-design. The presentation will conclude by way of a theoretically informed reflection on the notion of ‘user assemblages’ as way to understand the multiplicity of user-involved as practiced in design.

Including people in the design process
Chris McGinley, Royal College of Arts, UK


At the heart of people-centred design is the potential for design thinking to improve people’s lives. To this end it is important to understand individuals, their contexts and other factors significant to them, capturing information and fostering empathy to ensure appropriate representation is achieved, relevant solutions are proposed, and indeed that the right problems are being addressed. This presentation will discuss approaches that have been used within recent design research projects to capture insights about people and environments. A range of project examples will be used to highlight approaches and outputs. Each project looked to capture design relevant material through approaches such as probes, prompts and provocations seeking information, inspiration and insight.

Universal design and rethinking the role of theory through user perspectives: the case of adult autistics
Sarah Clemerson, University of Birmingham, UK


Continuing the discussion of the theorisation of universal design begun in the previous ESRC seminar about universal design (in April 2013), my research reveals, and evaluates, the autistic community’s scepticism of theory. The autistic community argue that autism theory is created without their input, compounds their marginalisation, and perpetuates negative stereotypes of autism. Recognising the limits of ‘understanding’ and ‘equity’, my presentation provides an account of how I have fought with what Kumari Campbell terms ‘business as usual disables’ to equalise the research process and understand autistic people’s socio-spatial experience in the context of their daily lives. This has involved the study of ‘contingent, unpredictable, everyday behaviour’, which, I argue, cannot be distilled into theory (see Fish, 1989, quoted in Thomas, 2010: 578).

Affording excretion: extending the design brief for the accessible toilet
Jo-Anne Bichard, Royal College of Arts, UK


The accessible ‘disabled’ toilet can be considered almost iconic in its symbolism of access, yet despite the wealth of design guidance, for many users of this space, it is poorly designed and difficult to use. This paper explores ethnographic research with 166 disabled and able users to identify the barriers they face when trying to access sanitary provision away from home, and to understand how people with a variety of bodies actually use the toilet. The informants’ experiences, and their own perceptions of embodiment (abled, disabled, male, female), reveal tensions regarding legitimate access to space, that is reflected in all aspects of the design; from architecture, product and service. With toilet space being utilised by such an array of bodies, and involving a trinity of design specialisms, are we asking too much to expect designers to ‘know everything’ and ‘include everyone’ within the design process? Should the inclusive process also be expanded beyond users to include designers between the design specialisms? Or is the inclusive design process too shallow for the knowledge required and should the design team be expanded to include other disciplinary specialisms? Expanding Gibson’s (1979) concept of ‘affordance’, I suggest the design of the public convenience provides a case study for wider inclusive design considerations.

From universal design to dis/ordinary architecture? 
Jos Boys, Northumbria University, UK


Many contemporary disability studies activists and theorists are critiquing the effects of disability being predominantly located within architecture as a ‘problem’ of compliance. This research asks the question about where else disability can intersect with architectural theory, education and practice in potentially more productive and creative ways, ways that will appeal directly to designers themselves. How can we can challenge and re-enliven everyday architectural framings of both disability and dis/ability, and their underlying assumptions about how bodies ‘normally’ occupy built space? How can we start from disability, to develop attitudes, conceptual frameworks and practices that (cheekily) believe in making disability a central, embedded and cool – even avant-garde – element of architectural design? Though investigations bringing together secondary research with a series of collaborative projects between disabled artists, architects and architectural students, this work aims to open up a range of possibilities across social and spatial theories, disability studies, architectural criticism, forms of engagement, design methods and alternative manifestos.

Universal design in museums as an intervention into architectural phenomenology
Aimi Hamraie, Vanderbilt University, USA


In the United States, federal entities, including Smithsonian Institution museums on the National Mall, have required disability accessibility since the passage of the 1968 Architectural Barriers Act. Unlike many of their federal counterparts, these museums quickly adopted strategies that would eventually be described as Universal Design in order to serve populations of thousands of visitors a day with diverse access needs, including mobility, sensory, cognitive, and linguistic access. I argue that in museums, disability access has contributed to shifting architectural and techno-scientific strategies of phenomenological inclusion, challenging museum designers, curators, and researchers to adopt more nuanced approaches to inclusion.