KTN at New Designers 2016

Posted on: 10/07/2016

The Inside Story – Design for Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Another year and another round of young enthusiastic graduate designers descended on the Business Design Centre, London for the 31st New Designers exhibition, which annually celebrates the fruits of the UK’s world-class art and design education sector.

The event was held over two weeks and supported by John Lewis, Virgin Atlantic, Lego, plus an array of other well-known brands. See more.

In 2015 the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) hosted a series of industry workshops to accompany the New Designers 30th anniversary exhibition. These interactive workshops offered an exciting forum for industry, funders and university tutors to come together and learn more about the opportunities for design in innovation across a wide range of business sectors. Building on this successful event, KTN was again asked to host a new series of talks for New Designers 2016.

Businesses are increasingly aware of design’s role in delivering innovative approaches to today’s economic and societal challenges, including: growing future cities, supporting wellbeing in an ageing population, effectively exploiting digital technologies such as developing human-centred wearable technology, 3D Printing and reusable materials.

The first of three KTN talks, Design for Alzheimer’s and Dementia – The Inside Story, looked at the statistics around dementia and the role of design. There are currently 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia, rising to over 1m by 2025 and 2m by 2051 (Alzheimer’s Society), and thoughtful design can make a real improvement to their daily experiences.

Chaired by KTN’s John Bound, the session welcomed an inspirational group of design entrepreneurs to share top tips and inside stories on bringing dementia-friendly products to market.

In his role as Trading Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, Jon Wingrave is continuously faced with the frustrations people living with dementia or their carers have in finding suitable products to enable day-to-day living. Jon has been very passionate about the need to bring design closer to the end user, to marry up this relationship much earlier to enable better user-centered design and end products.

This was a view shared by Michael Wolff — a highly regarded British designer and thought leader on brands and corporate identity, who spoke of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”. He repeated the words ‘listen, notice, learn’. He posed the question: when designing products, ask yourself ‘are you being kind to others?’ — a poignant message shared by many people who have witnessed and experienced bad design in a medical setting.

Dave King from Studio LR gave a very insightful presentation on the world of signs and symbols, and how at times how ludicrous they are! Who has not very nearly walked into the wrong toilet because the men’s/woman’s symbols are so trendy or artistic you cannot tell one from the other! Put yourself in the shoes of someone with dementia or other cognitive conditions. It is clear we are not thinking enough when designing our signs and symbols and — actually — are they a bit dated? Is it just enough to say we have added a wheelchair symbol, therefore have accommodated others? Ticked that box? We live in a time of social reach, independence and a real sense of empowerment of our health and the decisions around it. We encourage management of conditions at home but are we forgetting about the inclusivity of those people once outside a home setting? In the supermarket, shopping centre, train station? Signs are a fundamental part of our personal GPS — our built-in sat nav. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and walk their path and then use creativity and design to make their day-to-day tasks lack hazards or avoidable complications.

Someone who has been challenging this and has been an active player in the design of such products is Hazel Boyd from designability — a national charity joining expertise and knowledge to enhance people’s lives.

Formerly known as the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, it was established in 1968 as an independent charity by famous inventor and engineer, Bevan Horstmann, and local consultant surgeon, Kenneth Lloyd-Williams. They wanted to create medical equipment that would really make a difference to people’s lives. Their focused team has been conducting original research and developing commercial products that meet real needs for 48 years. Working closely with end users and careers, DesignAbility has transformed over 250,000 lives.

Hazel gave an insightful presentation on the path of design and the ‘dos and don’ts’.

A common theme throughout has been to never ‘assume ‘ when innovating and designing in this space. Never assume that those around you understand or have the necessary experience needed. It is and remains a key factor that the end user should be an integral part of any design process.

So what clear message was the panel trying to relay to the new designers in the audience? For me, I think it was the simple message to ‘listen, learn, and think’. Design has the ability to open doors and push boundaries, but let’s remember who is pushing the door and who is pondering those boundaries. Put yourself in their shoes.

KTN has launched a series of design innovation panels to stimulate the market for dementia-friendly products & environments. Information: john.bound@ktn-uk.org

View the KTN Storify of New Designers 2016 here.


Sarah Jacobs, Digital Marketing Manager


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