I co-lead the Accessible Environments team, based...
In countries including the UK, America and Australia, accessibility is heavily regulated through codes and best practice documents. They set minimum standards for accessibility, ensuring it is considered for all developments.
But I think these well-intentioned rules and regulations can actually instil a sense of dread in design teams, and turn accessibility into a regimented, box-ticking exercise. The codes are seen as minimum provisions to appease the affected parties, and to achieve sign-off.
As a result, it’s all too common to see access features such as lifts and ramps incorporated into drawings without the same degree of thought, consideration, creativity and innovation given too other areas of the building. The result? They detract from the end user’s enjoyment of their environment.
You can see the same rigidity in health and safety measures in design. Signage, barriers, rules and regulations seem to be there primarily to make sure that no lawsuits are brought against the owners, rather than to aid the end user.
Codes and standards are essential for setting a baseline, of course. But I really think the industry also needs a new approach that re-engages with users. Instead of setting rigid rules, we need to encourage collaboration between designers and users, allowing each to teach the other and to evolve designs into successful solutions that balance aesthetics with function.
Instead of setting rigid rules, we need to allow people to learn by communicating and through applying knowledge from real experiences to make the next solution even better. This would bring back innovation in design, and allow users to truly enjoy and be inspired by spaces and products.
If you look at some of the winners of the 2014 London Design Awards, you can see products that are functional as well as attractive, enjoyable and fun. I particularly like the musical instrument that also generates power and the self-righting walking stick. And I think the winner of the James Dyson Foundation bursary – who created a modular kit of mobility parts for developing countries – is inspired.
Inclusive design needs more of this sort of innovation if it is to do what I believe good design should do – enlighten and improve quality of life.