Design for accessibility, and beauty.

Sketches & tests. 2016

1. It works but I I don’t like it therefore I won’t use it.

In February 2016, Thinkalize (and after Prodevo) with Ipasvi and Paco, organized at the Fablab of Brescia an hackaton with patients affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The event has been the occasion to test some existing products, and to collect and research ideas around the development of new ones and how to improve existing ones. The products were chosen based on problems raised by the patients themselves: to turn keys, to open bottles or jars and hold cutlery. We have taken note of the observations on how the products work, their comfort and users personal comments.

The real highlight has been the reaction of one patient. Despite she admitted that some of the products were solving some of her daily problems, she openly stated that she has no intention of buying or even use them at home. She thinks that these objects are unsightly and source of embarrassment. For these reasons, the “Turn-Keys”, especially, pinpointed that it’s a tool that is impossible to carry, even in a handbag.

You can buy it @ Ability Super Store

2. Design for the real people. Problem solving is not enough.

It is clear that the focus of the coming projects can’t be solved with mere functionalism but actually functionalism becomes a precondition to address other more important issues such as: understanding the user, how he/she wants to feel, when he/she wants to use the product, what are his/her behaviours etc. In conclusion understand user needs and emotions it’s key to this type of projects.

Thinking of solving a problem without taking in consideration how important is the pleasantness seems to confirm how wrong is the overall design process. An undesirable product, even given, is not used whilst performing the required function.

No one wants a product that “gives you a label” despite its manufacture: industrial, hand crafted, DIY or Opensource. If someone decides to use it is because is forced by his/her disability, or at worst, because they don’t have the economic means for a better choice.

Hackathon BS Test#1

3. A multitude of solutions: research is needed to not reinvent the wheel.

In this field, as in others, research before designing is fundamental, even more when designing for “accessibility” since the number of solutions and tools for temporary or permanently disabled people is huge. The problem is that the information is not as accessible (ironically) as in the classic design.

Many tools have specific names or extremely improbable, the commercial products are classified as B products that find their place in old websites or or worse, still do not have a reference image.

It’s good practice to visit an “aids store center” to learn about all available solutions and do a thorough online research to understand what has already been designed and how the problem has been solved. This process may takes some time.

Today, many projects for accessibility are interpretations, redesign of existing products that allow you to play “spot the difference”.

Developing the prototypes (Tulip & Fat Knife — Design by Francesco Rodighiero). 2016 Hackathon BS.

4. The dignity as unknown unquantifiable.

Once more Design for All, after several decades, it is still the best approach for the design. Unlike other approaches, many born recently, it gives priority to the dignity of persons. “Design for all” pushes constantly toward a more sensitive design thinking which allows a better final result often winner.

Tulip. Concept. 2016 Hackathon BS. Design by Francesco Rodighiero.

In some cases, even, it’s hard to see the inclusive qualities of the project and it becomes part of most common design context. There is then the possibility to turn a solution in a gadget, an accessory into a decorative moment. Is this little?

Although, in reality the unanswered question is: how to quantify dignity?

Tulip & Fat Knife. First prototypes. 2016 Hackathon BS. Design by Francesco Rodighiero.

5. The solution: Design for All + Poetry = Bingo

In 2015 in a lecture about Design for All at the Politecnico of Milan Avril Accolla talked about an exemplary project on how “inclusion” can be developed within a project. The inclined square of the Oslo Opera House: a project that makes people to talk about it and maybe even discuss but the core meaning was elsewhere.

The Oslo Opera House.

It was just a pretext to express a very effective far-sighted idea, though not new that, “If to the “Project for All” Poetry is added, you did Bingo.”. Even if for the professionals is a phrase taken for granted, the industrial reality takes away the poetry, imposing to the product the obstacle of its unpleasantness and depriving it of its function, understood as the raison d’etre.

Fat Kinfe. 2016 Hackathon BS. Design by Francesco Rodighiero.
Strong ‘O’. Tulip. 2016 Hackathon BS. Design by Paco.

6. Design tips

1.Talk and get opinion from different people (see Hackability, it’s a statement).

2. Do a long and thorough research of the products and of existing solutions.

3. Start from the system and change it according to the context and user needs.

4. Design as if you are designing for yourself or for the best client/company.

5. Remember that the human body is a tool and each part can help you.

6. Do not ever try to hide or camouflage the product, sometimes visibility can be an advantage.

7. Remember that disability is variable and customization is important.

8. Use the technology that is more useful.

9. Do user testing with real end users: from them you’ll receive the best insights.

10. If you can, make your project Opensource.


P.S. I sincerely thank Prof. Luigi Bandini Buti, teacher and friend. Much comes from peaceful dialogues and difficult discussions.

P.S.2 Many thanks to Manu Zeta for the translation. Without her, I’ll be lost.