Figure 1: Seniors explore beautiful view with virtual reality headset
How might social innovation through digital technology tackle issues of the ageing population?
Social design is design with a conscience. Social innovation is about creating a new approach and thinking towards socially oriented projects, including sustainable design, community design as well as ethical design. Social design aims to bring positive changes within society and improve people’s lives. Our responsibility as a designer is to show a vision of how a ‘good society’ could be. My role as a graphic designer is to design with foresight and go beyond the current solution. We will consider the future of design and solve the problems with visual and universal languages. We will deliver messages through different communication channels by using the latest technologies. We aim to create some meaningful and sustainable designs that enable us to contribute to our society. In communities of practice, I hope to advance my knowledge and communication skills in both social and cultural design practices. My goal is to create a better design that can integrate into people's lives.
Social Design History
The path of social design history can be traced back to the 1900s, after The First World War. Individuals and the governments considered the methods in rebuilding society and help each other to return to their normal life. Governments started to tackle poverty and food issues by providing social welfare, education and job opportunities. The First World War had also influenced gender equality, which has improved women’s standing in society. The role of women has changed from staying at home and taking care of the family to participating in the workforce and getting equal opportunities.
During World War Two, governments around the world began to intervene with people’s lives. The Beveridge Report highlighted the five major social problems that the British government needed to tackle, including want caused by poverty, ignorance caused by a lack of education, squalor caused by poor housing, idleness caused by a lack of jobs, the ability to gain employment and diseases caused by inadequate health care provision. (BBC Bitesize, 2020)
The public awareness of social design has been raised after major events, such as the war, natural disaster and global disease. However, from my perspective, it is also important to address smaller issues. I believe society will be better if we think ahead and prepare for the future.
The idea of "community" was carried out by Adriano Olivetti, who pioneered a combination of the Fordist-factory model with psychological insight, and put into effect through his political vision of work organisation oriented to care for the person. We can find other ideas that have improved people’s lives in various situations: from public transport to street or school furniture, hospital equipment, consumer goods for people with special needs (a design area particularly developed by Gianni Arduini) or humanitarian projects (e.g. the emergency housing unit designed in 1972 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper). (AIS/Design, 2019)
Among these areas, I am particularly interested in how digital technology might influence the development of social design and social innovation.
I am curious about how do people receive information nowadays and how graphic communication design uses digital technology and multi-sensory experience to deliver a social or environmental related message from an advertising point of view. The goals of advertising are to persuade people to purchase products that they do not need and to deliver a message that they did not think about before.
Several leading digital advertising agencies have been successful in applying branding and communication strategies in social and environmental campaigns.
Figure 2: “Don't Look Away” Interactive eye detection campaign
Orbis “Don't Look Away” campaign
‘Don’t Look Away’ is an emotional, interactive web experience showing a boy who can finally see for the first time after the eye surgery. This interactive web experience uses eye detection with the webcam, which can demonstrate the importance of paying attention to the campaign message, and show how the simple act of ‘not looking away’ can dramatically improve a life. It allows visitors to experience the blindness situation in first hand.
‘Don’t Look Away’ had demonstrated how graphic communication design can raise public awareness and help fundraising through digital platforms. This campaign has helped to contribute 4 million HK Dollar donation that equates to 14,000 eye surgeries worldwide, which is successful.
Figure 3: Perfection & imperfection: Misfit Fruits LAB project
Exhibition Design: Misfit Fruits LAB
In my previous practice, I looked into misshapen fruit and challenged the notion of good food. I intended to change people's perception towards misshapen fruit by creating a physical experience. My work demonstrated the interesting facts and data about misshapen fruit with a multi-sensory experience. Visitors will be able to touch it, smell it, see it and taste it. I tried to visualise the data and make it more accessible and memorable. I found my work is a physical approach, whereas the “Don’t Look Away” campaign is an online approach. These inspired me to consider how to create an experience design digitally because it has the benefit of accessibility. People can engage with the campaign anytime and anywhere which my work could not do. Many local and international creative organisations aim to connect elderly and young people with digital technologies. The following examples demonstrate how they communicate with each other from an elderly perspective and young people perspective.
Figure 4: Eldage project by Fimmick
Educational Project: Eldage by Fimmick
The first example is Eldage. It is a social enterprise that is developed by a Hong Kong’s leading digital marketing agency - Fimmick. It integrates traditional wisdom, modern knowledge and digital marketing strategy, through O2O (Online to Offline) business model, to promote traditional culture by discovering people with craftsmanship, curating their stories of handicrafts, co-organising workshops with them, selling handicraft products, and bringing innovative ideas into tradition.
Eldage bridged elderly and younger generations with social interaction and traditional knowledge sharing. The elder people used this platform to share their story and craftsmanship with younger people. Many older people experienced the disadvantages of senior isolation, such as loneliness and depression. Therefore, this experience allows them to feel more comfortable and confident while they have new connections with younger people.
This intergenerational communication is a win-win situation. It allows elderly to build a good relationship with younger people and improve self-esteem; while younger people can learn traditional skills, such as metal craftsmanship and knowledge from older people. Seemingly, there is a chemistry between them, innovation comes when they combining traditional knowledge and modern technologies. It allows us to see things from a new perspective.
Figure 5: Eldage project by Fimmick
Figure 6: The Posh Club by Duckie
Community Design: The Posh Club by Duckie
The Posh Club is a glamorous performance and social club for the elderly, classes are held regularly in five locations across London and the South East. It is a weekly social event and networking events for youthful thinking senior citizens. This club is for people who are aged 60 or above. The events include tap dancers, opera singers, comedians, a cappella troupes and the finest ballet.
The Posh Club promotes performing arts and creates a culture club that can bring communities, performers and elderly together. It has tackled the problem of senior isolation. This regular event becomes many elderly’s weekly routines. The Posh Club is a type of community design that focuses on elderly’s health, social engagement and wellbeing. During the lockdown period, the Posh Club transformed its physical club into a virtual club with online live performance. It inspires me of how digital technologies can bring the elderly together smartly and effectively. After studying a few of digital-related experience design, I found that these organisations mainly focusing on the elderly who do not have disability and illness. Therefore, this led me to wonder how the current product design can assist the elderly who are suffering from physical or psychological issues.
Figure 7: Eatwell project by Sha Yao
Product Design: Eat well by Sha Yao
Eatwell is a tableware set with a user-centred design that helps the elderly to increase food intake and maintain dignity for its users. It also helps to alleviate caring burdens by making the process of eating as easy as possible. This design focused on the sensory impairments of Alzheimer’s which solved the problem of patients who struggle from eating due to their illness, accidents with split food and tipped cups.
Generally speaking, physiological changes due to the age of elderly may cause an increase in mental problems and low self-esteem. Many senior citizens suffer from disabilities and other physical problems. Thus, product design plays an essential role in social design. Eatwell is a tool that can help the elderly to have a better experience in dining. In my experience, the elderly tend to have a “cannot do” attitude where they always say they do not know something or they cannot do something well. Many of them will have a barrier in their mind. My goal is to change their mindset of “I cannot do it” and get them involved in society and enjoying their late life.
What makes a sustainable business?
The traditional business model focused on economic development while non-profit organisations focused on social and environmental development. That makes businesses have more resources on promoting their products and services. Non-profit organisations and charities mainly rely on government subsidy, individual donations and business sponsorship. However, this is not the best solution to help society with financial support because it has become a burden for other organisations. I believe the trend in the future will be a sustainable business. A business that has a well-round vision and considers all the aspects. It is important to balance both social, economic and environmental development. My objective is to merge commercial and socially-oriented projects innovatively and raise public awareness of social responsibility and social mission.
In the community of practice, I would like to combine the elder thinking and youngster thinking by imagining myself in 50 years to improve the elderly’s late life. I am curious about the lifestyle of the future elderly. I am wondering what might happen when two opposites meet each other, such as when history meets modern. It is possible to bring innovative ideas that we have not to think about.
“One of the best advertising people ever was Carl Ally. He said the true creative person wants to be a know-it-all. They want to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, nineteenth-century mathematics, modern manufacturing techniques, flower arranging, and lean hog futures. Because they never know when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later or six years down the road, but they know it will happen.”
- Dave Trott, One Plus One Equals Three: A Masterclass in Creative Thinking
Looking into the past and present, my area of interest are as follows:
01. Social innovation
02. Data visualisation
03. Design for the future
04. Multi-sensory experience design
06. Digital fabrication
07. Branding and identity
09. Spatial design
10. Paper engineering
I decided to select social innovation and design for the future self as my topic in this unit by using Paper engineering and multi-sensory design as the methods. Arguably, imagination, innovation and foresight are very important for designers, no matter if you are a graphic communication designer, architect or even product designer. By means, if we do not think ahead, then we may not be able to achieve it in the future. Humans are multi-sensory beings, and we are capable of experiencing the world through five senses - sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The more senses that can be engaged simultaneously, the more immersive, engaging and memorable an experience will be. Bringing multi-sensory elements into my design will increase audience engagement, have better information retention and enhance our emotional feelings.
Social design is a problem-solving process. The impact of social design and social innovation is indeed very broad. It can bring a positive solution to the giver, including government, non-government organisations as well as businesses.
In this practice, we will develop a portfolio of work for the self-directed brief with art direction, design rationale and demonstration of our priorities as a creative practitioner. Throughout three years of studying in graphic communication design, I found my manifesto to be useful to locate my goal and frame my project. A manifesto is a declaration of my intentions, motivation and views.
The manifesto for my community of practice is as follows:
01. Always care for people and things around us
Imagination and inspiration always come from our personal experience and daily life. Opening our eyes and observing details can allow us to understand our world. Willing to open our heart to try new things and ideas is the first step to do so.
02. Believe designers have the power of change
Because design is everywhere, every object we see, every object we use, even small like a paper clip. It is a design. Sometimes, design can be obvious. Sometimes, design can be transparent.
03. Keep essential thoughts
As a design student, we have numerous ideas spinning around in our minds, but we would never know whether we can make it happen in the future. Therefore, we will keep a sketchbook with us and record all our ideas. The process is more important than the outcome.
04. The more I do, the more I have. Keep an open mind
Overthinking can be useful when generating ideas and strengthening the concept, it is better to be well-prepared so that we can select the most outstanding idea. Thus, having an unconstrained mind will be helpful as well.
05. Go beyond my limits, day by day, week by week
Designers should always be ahead of the game. Keeping a fresh and innovative mind is rather important. We should never be afraid of failure in pursuance of excellence. We can invest our time and energy on learning new skills and gaining more knowledge.
Figure 8: Road Map of my community of practice
The most relevant approach regarding my practice and way of working is systematic. My work develops through a list of procedures, including defining, researching, analysing, designing, implementing, testing, executing and documentation. My motivations and intentions are to understand how people receive information. I aim to deconstruct the information, digest and give a new definition of it. I also hope to experiment with multi-sensory elements in my project and explore different methodologies in experience design. My thematic interests are social design, social innovation and design for the future.
An investigation into ageing issues and understanding how it relates to us, with the aim of developing an extension for the human body.
“Design for the future self” project is about imagining myself in 50 years and creating a body extension design that can improve elderly’s late life, such as solving the problem of fragile bones because of enhanced risks of falling. When we talk about old age, we usually associate this with physical and psychological issues, such as hearing loss and social isolation.
During my primary research process, I found that one of the major reasons why elderly lack confidence is because of their body limitations, for example, walking and communication difficulty resulting from hearing loss or any other related physical disabilities. After interviewing my grandparent, I found the existing design for seniors has mainly focused on its functionality instead of aesthetically. My grandparent feels ashamed when they need to use a hearing aid or an auxiliary walker. Therefore, they prefer to stay at home instead of going out when they experience difficulties. This led me to wonder how user-friendly and visually appealing design can improve the elderly’s self-confidence.
There is an interesting fact about how body extension can help people to solve both physical and psychological problems. The phantom pain of the injured soldier appeared after the world war. Scientists tried to interfere with the injured soldier’s brain and the way they think by replacing a loss of arm with a body extension - an artificial arm. The artificial arm had the function of an arm and as a result, it was able to release the psychological pain of the soldier.
In the first intervention of social design and social innovation, I undertook an interview with my grandparents and tried to put myself in their shoes for a better understanding of how to live as an elderly and experience their daily struggles. Meanwhile, I did a survey with over 50 students in my age requiring them to imagine themselves in 50 years. The result showed that younger people’s imagination and older people’s actual situation are different. The differences are indeed interesting. It led me to consider about future scenarios and the combination of imagination and real life. The objective of this project is to develop a future wearable design for the ageing population.
Afterwards, I dressed up and acted like an elderly for a day to experience my grandparents’ routine with the purpose of having a full understanding of the elderly.
After completing the role-play experiment, I found out that although designers can put themselves in people’s shoes, but they could not experience the user’s feelings in first hand. Only the users would know whether or not the product suits them. This led me to wonder how to define a good design and bad design, as it seems subjective and hard to measure.
Figure 9: Role-play: Imagining the future me
Figure 10: “How would you imagine yourself in 50 years?” survey
Figure 11: Interview with my grandparents
What makes good design?
According to Dieter Rams 10 principles of design, he mentioned: (3Pillar Global, n.d.)
Good design is innovative
Good design makes a product useful
Good design is aesthetic
Good design makes a product understandable
Good design is unobtrusive
Good design is honest
Good design is long-lasting
Good design is thorough down to the last detail
Good design is environmentally-friendly
Good design is as little design as possible
I will consider meeting all these principles as evidence of creating a good design. I believe a good design should be considerate, easy to use and easy to understand. Meanwhile, the future of wearable design should be sustainable and innovative.
Figure 12: Bruno Munari’s Portrait
Design is Mathematics
“A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense.”
- Bruno Munari, Design as Art
Design and mathematics share some similarities. We calculate all the time when we are designing and producing our works, such as grid, size and scale. We were taught to apply our knowledge and make decisions rationally and analytically by applying different theories, such as the colour theory, the grid theory and the golden section theory. As a graphic design student, our duties are to control the communication strategy, design methodology and art direction with an aesthetic sense.
Figure 13: a series of origami prototypes for my project
Application of Paper Engineering and Mathematics
The initial idea of “Design for the future self” project is to create a three-dimensional body extension through a flat sheet of material, such as fabric or polypropylene paper. The Japanese origami master Akira Yoshizawa, the mathematician Tomohiro Tachi and the fashion designer Issey Miyake inspired me to combine paper engineering and wearable design in my work.
I decided to design foldable textile patterns, which can deploy and transform into body protection to accomplish the goal of preventing serious injuries during the elderly’s fall. The concept of the wearable design is to fold down into two-dimensional shapes and open up to three-dimensional protective wearable whenever the sensor detects the dangerous situation, e.g. an airbag. The advantages of paper engineering are allowing us to reduce the material’s dimension and provide us with a lot of possibilities.
Paper engineering and mathematics has been widely used in developing the latest medical devices, space application and architecture. The characteristic of origami has the benefit of high flexibility which allows us to create numerous forms and specific motions through origami creativity. Origami is a way of transforming a flat sheet of material into a three-dimensional shape by folding. To make a functional motion of origami requires a lot of testing, modelling and experiments. I experimented with different materials, such as paper, fabric and polypropylene. Thus, I also applied different techniques, such a folding, coating and sewing.
Looking back to my project, I experienced difficulties when I was folding the fabric and transforming into different forms and shapes. I repeated the same folding pattern numerous times which was time-consuming. Since then, I am curious about how computational fashion and 3D printing technology will affect the future of paper engineering and wearable design. Due to the COVID-19, I was unable to access the 3D printing workshop and test the computational production methods. In the future, I would like to have the opportunity to apply responding materials in my work and create a responsive body extension design with digital fabrication, for example, laser cutting and 3D printing.
After completing a user test with myself and my grandparent, I found that the designer’s point of view and users’ expectation is completely different. It is difficult for the elderly to accept a new way of thinking, therefore, I believe the concept of co-design and participatory design might be able to improve this issue.
The Idea of Participatory Design
Participatory design is an approach which invite users to engage and participate in the initial discovery and subsequent ideation phases of a project. Designers will have the opportunity to understand user behaviours, needs, and motivations by listening and learning from them. It involves users test and their feedback. Participatory design is a user-oriented approach and they play an important role in user-centred design. Although designers always try their best to understand the users, it is still difficult to apprehend their thoughts and emotions. Thus, participatory design can improve the situation of having numerous possibilities. It requires preparation, communication and user testing.
Social Design is different from other design disciplines, as everyone can participate and contribute to it. It is an approach to design with other stakeholders, such as users and customers. “Participatory design” and “Co-design” can ensure the design meets the user’s needs and accessibility. It focuses on the processes and procedures of design instead of its aesthetic. Participatory design is more responsive and appropriate because it has the benefits of understanding the users’ needs, including cultural, emotional, spiritual and practical aspects. Compared with other design approaches, this design approach is more user-centred. My project aims to study the differences between designer-oriented approach and user-oriented approach and compare which approach is more suitable for the future of design.
During my research process, I referenced The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and IDEO as they had been doing collaborative research and designing for many years. The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art undertakes design research and projects with industry that contribute to improving people's lives. IDEO brings the global community together to solve big challenges such as the food waste issue. They conducted focus groups and collaborated with hotels, food banks, foundations, entrepreneurs and designers to combat food waste. They demonstrated how to collaborate and communicate with different stakeholders.
Figure 14: Interview with a blind English teacher Billy
Interview with Billy
Moving on to my second project, I began the project by conducting an in-depth interview with a blind teacher from my high school. Billy suffers from optic nerve atrophy and lost his sight at the age of two. He used a Braille display to read the words and teaches English with digital devices. In the beginning, I was thinking to design an educational toolkit for visual impairment learner and educator. However, after the interview, I realised that he is satisfied with Braille and the current education method. He mentioned that designers should not assume the needs of people with disabilities, and communication is the key to understand their actual needs.
To be a good teacher, vision is more important than sight. Please put away all assumptions of what blind people cannot do. We blind people have survived despite our handicap and we have our own way of working things out.
- Billy Yau, Blind teacher points the way
He argued that the assumptions made by normal people do not support the vulnerable but it deprives them of other opportunities. He believes blind people can do many things if society gives them a chance, such as being a good teacher.
The only thing that came up in his mind was the wayfinding system in public places and public transportations, especially in a crowded environment, such as the central area of a city. He finds it difficult to find the way out whenever he travels to a new place in the tube station. He thinks it is time-consuming to figure out the direction of the destination, as some stations have a complicated floor plan and multiple exits. He suggested me to consider to redesign a wayfinding system for public transportation for people with disability.
My second project is to redesign an inclusive wayfinding system for the London Underground. A design that can be accessed and used by as many people as possible, regardless of age, gender and disability.
Figure 15: Interview with a blind English teacher Billy
An investigation into inclusive spatial design, with the aim of designing a wayfinding system that considers people who are in need.
The London Underground is the world's first underground railway system. The first underground railway line was the Metropolitan line which began in 1863. It connected the main-line railway terminal at Paddington, Euston, and King's Cross to the City. In this project, I selected King's Cross St Pancras Station as my main focus, one of the oldest and busiest stations in London. My objective is to improve the current wayfinding system and increase the accessibility of the London Underground station by applying an accessible graphic design technique with a multi-sensory approach. Such as improving help point design by giving an audio signal to the blind traveller, redesigning maps and guides with Braille signage and tactile touch, considering user experience, providing them with a better solution for the current audio guide, designing a set of universal visual language for the platform and improving station safety.
“Invariably, a well-designed space or sign system will meet the needs of the entire population, not just the needs of a special interest group.”
Craig M. Berger, Wayfinding: Designing and Implementing Graphic Navigational Systems
I found that there is no equal access to information regarding public transportation, such as details about arrivals, departures as well as destination recognition for visual impairment travellers. As a designer, we need to consider different groups of people in our society and the overall urban planning. We have the responsibility to remind and suggest our government or public transport companies to improve their service and accessibility. At the beginning of my project, I was planning to join a blind organisation, which allows me to shadow a blind traveller and observe his travel journey at the King's Cross St Pancras Station. However, due to the Coronavirus, I am not able to make it happen. I also ordered an audio Tube map and Braille guide via the Transport For London (TFL) website. I tried to understand blind travellers’ reading and listening experience and I found out that the current audio map and Braille guide are not user-friendly. They did not consider the size, weight and time spent of the materials. The audio Tube map can take up to 3 hours and 5 minutes to listen and there are 124 pages in the A4 size Braille guide. Therefore, I would like to improve and suggest a new guide for blind travellers.
During my design process, I found that I have a lack of information regarding visual impairment and people with other disabilities. I felt that participatory design is essential for developing a well-rounded design because only the users can tell what is the best suitable solution and what can we do to assist them in travelling in the tube station. At this moment, I can only suggest some sort of solutions with limited resources. I communicated with my audiences through FaceTime where I tried to explain the idea and concept behind. However, from my perspective, to design an inclusive wayfinding system, user research and user test are important. It is essential to observe and talk to people with disabilities in person. It is also important to communicate with the government and transport companies and see if there are any other concerns.
Figure 16: Audio Tube map and Braille guide
What is wayfinding?
Wayfinding is a process of using spatial and environmental information to navigate to a destination (Lynch, 1960). The basic process of wayfinding involves four stages - orientation, route decision, route monitoring and destination recognition (Downs and Stea, 1973). As a graphic communication designer, we have to consider the whole journey and experience. Therefore, I would like to bring in different wayfinding elements and design approaches to the London Underground. Firstly, I would like to design a map that can direct a visitor from his location to the destination. Secondly, I would like to provide an effective route for visitors to reach their destination. Then, I would like to design a path guide that monitors the chosen route and confirms that is leading to the targeted destination. Lastly, I would like to provide a clear signage for visitors to recognise the destination.
Redesigning a wayfinding system for public transportation is a large-scale project, there are many stakeholders we need to consider and collaborate with. As a designer, teamwork is the key to success. The more people we talk with, the more angles we will discover. I am looking forward to develop and execute my work in the future.
To sum up, participatory design is a design approach that combines the perspectives of both users’ and designers’. Users take a very important role in the design process. They share their story and feelings, which can lead us to a better design direction. Moreover, a designer with professional knowledge and aesthetic sense will allow the user to have a more practical, functional and visually appealing product or service. From my perspective, the future of design will be a collaboration between designers and users, a combination of existing design and technology.
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