Work & City Lab
Research Associate: Imogen Privett
Research partner: Haworth
The drive for management efficiency in modern office design has tended to overlook the importance of individual psychological comfort in the workplace. As a result, many workplace environments are designed as psychologically impoverished ‘lean’ spaces, which do nothing to enhance company culture. This study explores how the language of theatre design can contribute to creating more expressive and effective office environments for people.
Drawing on the idea of ‘maximum effect through minimal means’, the project began with archival research into pioneers of modernist stage design. A set of six scenographic techniques used to create mood and atmosphere was identified, based on the application of light and shadow, projection and effects, screens, levels, colour and vista. These fundamental techniques were then developed into a ‘vocabulary’ of effects that could be adapted to the office environment – a ‘kit of parts’ to address people’s psychological needs. The research explored how particular cultures of performance at work can be enhanced. The study will now go into a second year to develop key stage components into a practical office-based system.
Work & City Lab
Research Associate: Tom Jarvis
Research partner: Megaman Charity Trust Fund
Strategic partner: Paviom
City lighting is unevenly distributed. While business districts and tourist areas are brightly lit, many pockets of the city are under-lit after dark. This limits local trade and use of public space, undermining economic activity and social cohesion, and leaving many local urban communities in the dark. This project, supported by the Megaman Charity Trust Fund, set out to light urban public spaces at night in a more sustainable and inclusive way.
The project worked with local communities on the historic Boundary Estate in East London to explore alternative lighting strategies. Action research led to the proposal of a ‘night-time neighbourhood network’ of brightly lit ‘nodes’ that would encourage social activity around a chain of illuminated community facilities. Designer Tom Jarvis developed this hypothesis into a practical lighting system of tubular LED components that enables existing public objects such as benches, fences, handrails and bike racks to become luminaires themselves. A permanent installation of illuminated goalposts was built on a neglected playground on the Boundary Estate to test the concept and a book detailing the research was published.
Age & Ability Lab / Research Associate: Ross Atkin / Research Partner: Stannah
Maintaining mobility in the home becomes more important as we get older, especially the challenge of moving between floors when stairs become too difficult to use. However, older people constitute a vast and varied group. People in their late 60s and early 70s – the boomer generation – can differ in their attitudes and abilities to those aged in their 80s. This project, with stairlift manufacturer Stannah, created a portrait of ageing in the home to explore the needs and expectations of tomorrow’s stairlift customers.
Research was conducted with two cohorts of older people. Current customers described the reality of living every day with a stairlift and baby boomers aged 67 to 73, who were not stairlift users, helped to articulate future expectations. By embedding smart technology in the stairlift, the study explored how it could function as a node in the network of care around its owner. This serves two purposes: friends and family are reassured that the person is mobile in their home; and older people, especially baby boomers, can minimise the demands they place on those around them. Scenarios were developed to demonstrate the user benefits of these technology systems.
Age & Ability Lab
Research Associate: Ross Atkin
Research Partner: RLSB (Royal London Society for Blind People)
Memory is an important navigational resource for people with sight loss who rely on having predictability in the urban environment. However, temporary obstructions and diversions such as streetworks can easily disrupt a person’s mental map and leave them disorientated. This project with the Royal London Society for Blind People, proposes an accessible new system of pedestrian signs and barriers containing both physical and digital elements.
Research included a survey of 100 streetworks sites across London, in situ research with people with visual impairments and shadowing of a streetworks installation crew. Initial design concepts were tested with visually impaired people and reviewed by Transport for London. In a second round of testing, 85 per cent of participants found the physical parts of the new system more useful than existing designs. These physical changes comprise a new pedestrian sign and retrofit tactile and graphic markings on the barriers. A digital application for smartphones allows operatives to log details of streetworks when they set up equipment. This can then provide audio descriptions of the works to passers by.
Age & Ability Lab
Research Associate: Sam Jewell and Jonathan West
Research Partner: Sony
Touchscreen devices such as tablet computers and smartphones occupy a new space in our lives and novel etiquettes and behaviours are constantly evolving around them. Their portability, connectivity and easy-access interfaces mean that they are used in different ways from preceding technologies. This project with Sony applied design ethnography techniques to understand ways in which the user experience of touchscreen devices can be improved for people of all ages.
The study worked with people aged over 60 and under 25. Sony tablet computers were given to six lead users to see how the devices integrated into their daily lives. Two concept areas emerged. ‘Living Interfaces’ animates the screen to be more representative of the real world, using changes in texture, colour and materials on text and buttons. 2D maps become 3D with the addition of shadows and highlights showing contours. ‘Smart Pen’ allows written communication to be captured digitally so messages can be written using pen and paper then digitally sent by ticking a printed box. Meeting notes, online banking and music notation feature among many other potential applications.