The Age And Ability Research Space: Inclusive Design At The Royal College Of Art

The Helen Hamlyn Centre, and particularly Gheerawo and Bichard, have led a number of research initiatives to make a design more accessible through their Age and Ability Research Space which has inspired some of the thinking that went into designing Band-it. This involves pairing up recent Royal College of Art graduates with industry to research and prototype products that address real-life problems. An example of this is Indulgent Bathing, which paired Tomek Rygalik with Ideal Standard. This project focussed on bringing a sense of luxury back into the bathroom for, but not limited to, older adults, as very often this is replaced with a safe and sterile environment, forgetting that this should be an enjoyable experience as well. “The bathroom is a space where we all beautify ourselves regardless of age or gender [and] needs to perform beyond the functionality of hygiene.” (1) This again looks to improve the functionality of the bathroom, with a particular emphasis on the emotional experience that goes alongside this.

One thing that the Helen Hamlyn Centre do particularly well, which I feel has often been forgotten about in designing assistive products, is that they should be designed for people in their entirety and not merely addressed as a problem-solving exercise.

“At the heart of this way of thinking is the desire to improve the quality of life for many people, both now and in the future. This cannot be limited simply to tackling issues of physical need or engaging through a mechanistic response to building regulations and other legislative requirements. An independent living approach in design can be broadened to deal with not only the functional needs but also to address personal aspirations, allowing people to forge emotional connections with environments, objects and services.” (1)

The problem-solving mindset can lead to solutions that work, such as non-slip clinical mats and grab rails, which is better than no solutions at all. However, these solutions do not appeal to as wide a market as they should. A design should as far as possible not be the last resort option, when safety has to be weighed against aesthetics as to which is more important, but instead safe and functional design should also embrace desirable aesthetics. This is something that we have done when designing Band-it, considering how the design looks and feels as well as thinking about its functionality.

Are there any assistive products that you would use if they were more aesthetically pleasing?



1 GHEERAWO, Rama and RICHARD, Jo-Anne. 2008. ‘Living independently: accessing aspirations for kitchen design.’ Access by Design, 114 (Spring), 18-21.

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