A new awareness

The DBA Inclusive Design Challenge has given designers a valuable opportunity to rediscover a moral inspiration and make a vital contribution to the social agenda too

Michael Wolff, Patron, DBA Inclusive Design Challenge

The DBA Inclusive Design Challenge, organised by the Helen Hamlyn Centre, should no longer be thought of as a challenge. It is simply an invitation to sensitivity, empathy and common sense. Anyone who sees, hears, moves, feels or thinks in a different way from what is called ’normal’ knows how inconsiderate many ’things’ around them can be.

Visiting the average care home reveals the dismal appearance of so much that surrounds the people who live there, and how poorly a lot of it still functions. It is dispiriting to see how this additional sensory deprivation becomes normal for people whose ability to go out and relish the beauty in the world is diminishing. The work of designers is largely absent, and much of it that you find there still ends up looking clinical, neat and lacking the fresh, colourful exuberance of a simple bowl of fruit. This isn’t helping the world of disability and healthcare.

Ten years of the DBA Inclusive Design Challenge has brought designers closer to the experiences of a wider range of people. It has brought those involved into more intimate collaboration with older and ageing people. Closer, too, with the hundreds of thousands of people who face difficulties and impairments. Many useful, elegant leaps of imagination have come from being open to this intimacy. I think quite a few of the designers involved in inclusive design have rejoined the human species from the often exclusive and rarefied world in which they work.

I regret how much of what designers do now has been subsumed into a predatory, repeat-order service business. Hopefully, inclusive design will reconnect them with the inspiration that led them to be designers in the first place.

These ten years are just the beginning of a stretching of the collective mind of design. Stretching it to include an appreciation of the widest possible range of people’s experiences in the ’internal brief’ of a designer’s mind – their personal motivation – and then to use every opportunity to bring respect, practicality and, above all, pleasure and delight to anyone.

Deborah Dawton, Chief executive, Design Business Association

In March 2000, an Audit Commission report gave an unequivocal wake-up call to small businesses, service providers and Government. In no uncertain terms, it highlighted the poor levels of design endemic to the disability aids and equipment sector, and the need for a reform of current practices. In August 2000, the Department of Trade & Industry described the difficulties disabled people have in using everyday consumer products.

The DBA Inclusive Design Challenge was launched in 2000 as a creative response to the situation, to illustrate and underscore the key role design can play in improving the quality of life for disabled and older people. By providing outstanding examples of inclusive design, its aim was to highlight the potential for innovation and business opportunity in a growing, but hitherto neglected, field.

Over the past ten years, Design Business Association members have risen to the challenge, creating innovative and groundbreaking design solutions, raising both the profile of inclusive design, and design as an essential business tool.

The breadth of the projects submitted has evolved over the decade, developing with design technologies and incorporating communications and service solutions alongside the more traditional product innovations.

We have seen everything from a practical and ingenious one-handed sticking plaster through to this year’s winner, a skills exchange network as a solution to the increasing isolation of the ageing population, harnessing the burgeoning power of social media and making it useful and accessible to the widest possible audience.

The wealth of innovation that we have seen from entrants demonstrates not just how vast the opportunity for inclusive design is for design businesses, but the valuable contribution that design can make to the social agenda.

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