Filed under: User/Human Centred Design
April 2-4 2007, Royal College of Art, London
Well, having spent 3 glorious weeks in London (facilitated by the consistent good weather, which made many people smile, even the guy in the newsagent), I thought I should gather my thoughts on the experiences at the ‘Include’ conference that I presented my paper at.
One thing that stands out being the most disappointing is how un-inclusive the whole conference was. Very ‘preaching to the converted’. Very ’self righteous’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the design of services, products and spaces that are inclusive to all, disabled, elderly, or anyone. But in a ironic way, by specifically focusing on the ‘elderly’ or the ‘disabled’, I think conceptually and ideologically, other people are being excluded. How about cultural? How about racial? Religion? Environmental? Are these taken into consideration as well? It felt like many of the papers were political – valuing someone or something else more than the other – and that is the fact of design/life but this was never made explicit. Perhaps they don’t want to see it…?
So, I’m all for being truthful, and the ‘yucky’ feeling I got all throughout the days was because there was a sense of a ’smugness’ by those who thought privileging certain people to be more ideologically valuable, therefore better design, therefore worthy of respect and accolade. This feeling was more from the organisers rather than the participants actually…. Am I being a bit too cynical?
Having said that, I did find a handfull of people who did really good things. The paper was presented by Paula Dib from transformdesign.com. She’s a Brazillian product designer with a disability (though you would never know it) and she talked about the idea of ’self/community transformation through form (design)’. The products that are being designed in rural communities in Brazil is now quite popular because of her design intervention in giving the local people economic strength, resurrection / preservation of traditional craft, skill and knowledge, sustainable practice of re-using things that was otherwise useless or that had no purpose for them before and a greater sense of a community spirit. Her presentation was probably the most motivating of all papers I’ve seen in a very very long while…
I also got to hang out with this rather geeky designer called Graham Pullin who is at Dundee University, and his paper was also provocative (which is why I liked him) in calling for why there was no ‘design’ in the way hearing aids were designed. He compared it to how glasses were only ‘functional’ and was a ‘visual’ social stigma in the past, but now its a fashionable item that isn’t a barrier for anyone anymore and one could say even the opposite. The current ‘invisibility’ of hearing aids apparently is ‘disabling’ people (if you think about it, you would be more considerate of someone if you saw that they were hard of hearing) and he’s saying why designers aren’t designing really cool, fashionable hearing aids, or prosthetic arms, or walking sticks etc. When I went up to talk to him after his presentation, we figured out that perhaps the designers who had ‘good intentions’ designing these things now didn’t ‘get it’, and perhaps the designers who don’t give a shit (I thought of someone like Luke) could probably do some amazing stuff in this field (like what would happen if you mixed Philip Stark or Alexander McQueen with prosthetic limbs?), but ofcourse its not an either-or discussion…
I also didn’t like Steve Wilcox (from Design Council) being a complete knob by ‘designer bashing’ in his keynote speech. Wow, what a way to kick start off the conference, really smart Steve! Another point for being un-inclusive. Infact, I think this conference needs more practicing designers who are pioneering in their designs and more ‘out-there’ stuff from students too, two sections of the community who are poorly represented.
Ovearall, I don’t think I’d be missing out much if I didn’t go to another Include conference again… As always, its good to meet people and make those connections and it was brilliant seeing Daria again. She hardly spends time in Portland and the day after the conference, she was off to China, and then to Indo for some field work. She loved what she did, but did seem rather exhausted… Intel seems to be a very very intense company to work for (and there I was thinking whether Daria couldn’t possibly work ANY harder than she did at RMIT).