We are enabled by design: How designing for the minority can benefit the majority

Enabled By Design Logo[tweetmeme]A couple of weeks ago I attended a very interesting event called “We are Enabled by Design” at the Design Museum in London, organised by Enabled by Design. (Check out the excellent summary of the event by my colleagues at City Interaction Lab Blog.)

Enabled by Design was inspired by co-founder Denise Stephens’ experiences following her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2003. Having suffered a series of disabling relapses and hospital admissions, Denise was assessed by an Occupational Therapist (OT) and given a range of assistive equipment to help her to be as independent as possible. Although this equipment made a huge difference to her life, she became frustrated as her home started to look more and more like a hospital.

The inspiring thing about Denise is that she didn’t just accept that this is the way it is, she went out and did something about it. Denise and her co-founder, Dominic Campbell, have been working hard to spread the word about Enabled by Design and get people involved to share their views and experiences of assistive equipment, and to bring them together with designers to work together on new products and ideas. I wish more people would take such brilliant initiative, just imagine what could be done.

“We are Enabled by Design” was a one day event, looking to reframe the ageing and disability debate by focusing on Design for All. They believe the world is made up of people who have a range of abilities, with each person having their own personal strengths and qualities. Design for All focus on meeting the needs of as many people as possible, to make either a product or service accessible.

Besides being interesting and informative, I discovered a lot about my own misconceptions of disability. The key thing that I took away from this event is the creativity a lot of people with disabilities displayed in the way they adapt to a world often designed for the able bodied. The adaptations on display were fascinating, and some were very creative.

Another thing that stuck with me was innovation thought leader and evangelist Charles Leadbeater‘s point on the inherent risk of having things done to you when having things done for you. And the importance of thinking of with solutions to get for solutions done. For me and quite a few of the people I work with, the notion of creating with people is and has been an important part of what we do, but the realisation for me here, was how easily something you do for someone, becomes something you do to someone. It’s an important distinction, and one that is relevant in many situations, not just when working with people with disabilities.

I wonder if the buzz surrounding Open Innovation will enable more participation and inclusion in developing new products and services going forward…

What do you think?

Author: Kristine Pitts


The People Behind User-Centered Design and why they hold the keys to your future….

Don’t miss this event at Cass Business School, 106 Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TZ. Wednesday 7 July 2010 17:30 – 20:30 (Free to attend, registration essential)

Cass Business School, in association with Electronic Ink, presents a dynamic discussion focused on User-Centered Design. Senior executives from the energy, pharmaceutical, healthcare, and financial industries will be brought together for this one night event to share insights, as well as to provide a look into the future of business systems and solution design. Join us to learn how even a modest investment in Design can increase effectiveness of business systems, and rapidly hit the bottom line. Learn about the people behind user-centered design and why they hold the keys to your future.

More information & registration details here.

How to Focus and Make Connections

[tweetmeme]Yesterday we had a seminar titled “How to Focus and Win”, given by The Twins: EnvironMENTAL Training. I found this event very interesting for two reasons.

The first is my personal frustration with the struggle to stay focused when working on something that I find boring and tedious. This inability to get my brain to cooperate and focus when doing boring tasks can mean that those tasks get left until the last minute when fear of missing the deadline forces my brain into action – A method I applied with varying degrees of success in my student days when doing revision. Even more frustratingly, I have colleagues who seem to have endless control over their focus and are able to stay focused regardless of how repetitive and dull the task is. So why can’t I do it?

Well, according to Chuka & Dubem Okonkwo, who gave the seminar, focus is something that can be trained. They showed us a selection of techniques that they use to help their clients train their brain to stay focused when doing boring tasks. They gave us some simple (though not easy!) games to do. E.g. counting in two ways at the same time, both counting down from 1000 and up from 1. (1000, 1, 999, 2, 998, 3 and so on. Try it, it’s not as easy as it may seem). The idea is that by commanding your brain to perform and focus on boring tasks – you train it so that you can stay focused whenever you need to. You also learn to find your own motivation and be able to make the most of boring tasks.

Chuka and Dubem also had us work through some visualisation exercises. Which leads me to my second point: being aware of and registering your surroundings and the impact this has on creativity.

“When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.Steve Jobs

I agree in particular with the last (underlined) point here, and this as well is something that can be trained. The exercises we did were all designed to demonstrate how easily we can recall and visualize what we already know, but they were also alluding to how much information we miss. Think about your walk home from the station or bus stop, you walk it everyday, but could you direct someone to take the same route when you’re waiting for them at home? What shops will they pass? Any land marks? Traffic lights? What if I asked you to draw your mobile phone, without looking at it, just from memory? Now compare this to your mobile. What’s different? Do you now see something you hadn’t registered before? The more detail you remember the richer your experience is.

The mobile is a good example of something you use everyday, so in theory you should be able to draw it in rich detail. But it can be harder than it sounds. We mostly don’t pay attention to the details. By training your brain to look at something and then later visualize the details, you should not only improve your ability to remember details, but also your ability to make connections.

What do you think? Have you tried something like this before? Did it work for you?

Author: Kristine Pitts