London Design Festival 2017: Design protection – hindsight giving insight
Martin Darbyshire, tangerine CEO, was invited to talk at the London Design Festival 2018 alongside; Matt Dyson, Co-Founder and CEO of Rockit, Johnny Grey a British kitchen designer and author, Adam Thomas the UK’s leading accessible kitchen designer and John Coldham an intellectual property expert at Gowling WLG.
The podcast looks at the importance of creating accessible, innovative designs whilst also protecting their intellectual property.
John Coldham: Welcome to our sixth annual London Design Festival event and podcast. My name is John Coldham and I am a Partner in the Intellectual Property Team at Gowling WLG. My particular focus is on brands and designs so I am very proud to be chairing our unique London Design Festival event and this associated podcast.
In our designs practice at Gowling WLG, we are lucky to work with some fantastic designers, big and small, who have created some wonderful things. Sometimes they are big change the world designs and sometimes they are low-key simple designs that are perhaps just as likely to have a positive effect on consumers’ lives. This is the power of design; it can be subtle but one of the key purposes of good design is to make people happier.
We are honoured to organise our annual event with incredible design consultancy tangerine. Martin Darbyshire, its founder and CEO, is one of the most sought after speakers in design. tangerine’s mission statement is ground-breaking innovation and design that makes consumers happy and businesses profitable. It also sums up what we are trying to achieve today.
Ground-breaking innovation means more than a clever idea; it means an idea that will make consumers happy, but what does that mean? Something that will work for more people, more accessible either in terms of disability or age or something else, something that will inspire more people to try it out or use it, something that will make people’s lives easier or happier, perhaps a device that replaces a repetitive task in an easy and cost-effective way or a different way of approaching something that just makes it more intuitive and joyful. Good design makes people happy and with an appreciation of the difference, people are more loyal to the brand and more likely to understand the need to charge more to support the design work involved.
The purpose of this session is to speak to some real experts in design about how they approach it and how they have made their practices or products a success. Good design is profitable; make things that appeal to more people or just work better and people will pay for it, and this is where Gowling WLG comes in. I hate to break it to you but there are people out there who are not willing to put in the hard yards and will take advantage of other people’s good design. So it is important to protect your ideas and designs early. There is a plethora of ways to do that. The design protection elements are set out in some detail in our free booklet, the Designs for Life guide, which is downloadable from our website at gowlingwlg.com/designsforlife or give us a call; we love to hear from designers and do not charge to get to know you and work out if and how you might need some assistance.
So the purpose of today’s event and podcast is to explore particular areas of design. This session focusses on design challenges in the modern world. One aspect of our discussion will explore how great design can improve the lives of different generations. An ageing population and a lack of affordable housing for young people means that it is now not uncommon to find two or three generations living under the same roof or rubbing shoulders in the workplace. The government has acknowledged the importance of solving the issues of an ageing society in its industrial strategy, whilst brands and designers alike are having to adapt to the shifting consumer habits of a multi-generational world in order to create innovative solutions that meet the needs of different age groups. According to research carried out by insurance company Aviva the number of young adults living with parents has increased 32% between 2005 and 2015. The number of young adults living with parents by 2025 is expected to stand at 3.8 million. But where does this leave designers? Design that focusses on the multi-generational world is one thing, but design also needs to keep the different potential users and consumers in mind when it is created. The broader of the appeal of your product the more you will sell.
With no further ado, I would like to introduce my panel of speakers on this podcast. First up we have got Johnny Grey, a legendary kitchen designer who will introduce himself in a moment. We also have Adam Thomas who has been listed as one of Britain’s most influential disabled people in the Power 100 list of 2015 and is also a kitchen designer. Matt Dyson is the inventor of a product that I certainly wish existed a few years ago called the Rockit and I will let him explain what that is. And finally Martin, who I have already mentioned, who is the founder of the design consultancy tangerine.
Johnny, why don’t you go first and explain a little bit more about yourself.
Johnny Grey: I came to kitchens from a completely different direction, it was more I was mentored actually by an aunt of mine who is a food writer and she opened my eyes to how restricted and limited people’s kitchens were in the ’60s and ’70s. You’ve got all these advertising companies who do wonderful things but it turns out they are really telling us that kitchens have got to be cleaned up, de-hygenised and I think what they call fitted – a rebel was born. I object to that because it’s got a very limited view of design, of culture and the thing you referred to at the beginning which is an emotional connection of where you are and how that space supports you. I trained as an architect and eventually started exploring the parameters of kitchen making rather than design and then I came up with this idea that you could make kitchens out of something like free-standing furniture but with hidden and very good ergonomics, and from there I sort of continued my soft rebellion.
John: Excellent, we’ll hear more about your rebellion in a minute. Adam over to you.
Adam Thomas: My name’s Adam Thomas. I am a spinally injured full time wheelchair user. I was injured in a road traffic accident and I say that from the point of view for the first 17 and a half years of my life I didn’t really think about accessible design at all, I didn’t think about society or the way society was built … built environments, and then overnight I became a full time wheelchair user and all of a sudden found out that because of the way society was designed I couldn’t access it and I was being left out. In 1981, I had no basic human rights, I had no right to education, I had no right to transport, I had no right to a social life in the fact that I physically wasn’t allowed to go and see a film because I was a fire hazard, I wasn’t allowed to go to a rock concert because I was a fire hazard, if someone asked me to leave a restaurant I had no rights, so if a restauranteur asked me to leave they could call the Police and get me arrested, and it’s only since 1995 that disabled people started having equality through the Discrimination Act. I was a kitchen designer before and had just trained as a kitchen designer from when I was 17 and then afterwards I was very, very lucky that I had one of the few employers that would even consider employing a disabled person. I went back to work with him, he spent a fortune of his own money remodelling his showroom and making it accessible and sort of through that loyalty I’ve stuck with him sort of ever since, and although I’ve changed the way I work now I still do all of his design work for him.
John: Great. Matt.
Matt Dyson: Hi, I’m Matt Dyson. In a previous life, I worked in advertising as an art director and then retrained to become a teacher and taught product design in schools and colleges for 20 years before three years ago giving it all up to start up Rockit which is our start up business and is based around the product … our launch product, if you excuse the pun, which is a rocket shaped baby rocker that attaches to any pushchair or pram and gently rocks it so mums and dads don’t have to.
We spent the last two and a half/three years developing the product with the help of the Design Council Spark programme who gave us some fantastic mentoring and also some cash to develop our IP to create the tooling for the product and to get it to market, and we launched it in October last year and we’re now selling in over 30 countries worldwide and have produced over 30,000 Rockits to date so that’s my background.
John: Wow what a success story already. Martin.
Martin Darbyshire: Well John thank you for the introduction, I guess this is the fifth year …
Martin: Sixth year and I’m one of the two founders of tangerine and have been working in the business for 30 years or so on very different kinds of projects and different kinds of clients. Largely they are very commercially driven and so multi-generational design is quite a tricky subject, it’s, you know it’s not necessarily very commercially compelling in many ways and design is about context and often drilling in to determine who the end customer is and creating something which is right for that end customer is, you know, the goal that most of our clients are looking for.
But we like to be disruptive and I’m never happy with just doing that, so I’ll share some work that we’ve done to date going back to 1998 with a group called Design for Ability who are part of what was then Central Saint Martins and now University of the Arts London, looking at how you develop a design that works and provides increased ability to people, so I’ll feature and show a little project that we’ve worked on which I think actually did really raise the profile of issues for designing for people with limited abilities. And multi-generational design, I think, will in the future become a more applicable subject matter, particularly as products become much more software or interface based where the diversity of users will naturally grow, and I’m going to show a bit of our work with a client called Bluebell who are a start-up. The company name is Connido and they’re developing a smart baby monitor system which will be similar to Rockit but from a different approach help parents get their babies to sleep better and provide support and information that will really help parents be better parents.
John: So Matt’s Rockit will get them to sleep and then your client will …
Martin: Keep them asleep.
John: Keep them asleep.
Martin: We’ll make sure …
John: It seems like the winning ticket.
Martin: Yeah. So we do connect and this isn’t a stitch-up though.
John: So obviously some of you are coming from having some specific experience of multi-generational or multi-user worlds and others of you less so, but I think for me one of the things that strikes me as being the sort of starting point of this sort of topic is actually sort of ease of use; either ease of access or ease of use. You know if you make something that’s of broader appeal by definition people who might be the default person the designer had in mind would still be able to use it and enjoy the product, it just means it appeals to more people be it accessibility or age or whatever it is.
John: Why don’t each of you sort of tell me where ease of use is, or accessibility as you look at it, features in your main design brief? Martin described it as being multi-generational as being niche but I wonder if you step back one level to ease of use, Martin.
Martin: It’s a niche market I think, from a commercial perspective I guess and the question is when does that change …
John: I think Adam and I think about this in the same way.
Adam: See I think, I mean if you take … if you just look at statistics, if you just take impairment and disability there are 13 million disabled people in this country, one in five of the population, if you bring the grey market into that it’s 50% of the market, so if you’re not designing with that base of client you’re cutting out half the market. The statistics on the buying power of what’s called the purple pound is 249 billion a year, and that’s in our market, in the housing/kitchen market. You open that up to the grey market and it’s something, I think it’s something like 320 billion, it’s a massive, massive market and you are just shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t design multi-generational, particularly in our field of kitchens, bathrooms, housing etc.
Johnny: Can I slightly also widen the discussion which is something based on Adam and I have done teaching together, I think I can speak for you and say that what’s really happening is interesting is the word accessible design I think will gradually start to fade out as multi-generational design takes hold and I think John this is kind of one of the reasons why you’ve put this headline on this particular event today, and it’s really interesting … I think what it is, is instead of talking about focussing on the disability it talks about ability and particularly it’s a lovely inclusive thing, which is of course the original idea of it, because it involves all generations. In theory you … they would have something that a small child could use and maybe by accident, you know, that’s come about through thinking about that and then it can apply to everybody, so you start to de-stigmatise things and you, I don’t know, there’s so many other aspects of working with design and that’s just one, you know.
Adam: I absolutely do back that up because I mean I’ve spent 25 to 30 years of my career banging my head against the wall trying to get people to wake up and listen to accessible design and people – builders, housebuilders, whoever look at it and think well this is how much it’s going to cost to build a house, to make it accessible is going to cost another £5,000, why would I do that? But if everyone is building the house in the first place accessible that is the baseline cost to start with, but equally, and multi-generational really came about through a conversation with a view people, Johnny being one of them, where you know we’re literally saying you know we’re having this conversation about I’ve been banging my head against the wall for 35 or 25 years, call it something else and all of a sudden the lightbulb came on in my head – if we call it multi-generational, multi-generation is basically accessible design but under another name, but it actually means we are designing for everybody. If you just for instance take one aspect, if you take a housing association who are providing 2,000 kitchens a year for their clients, if every time an elderly person moves into that property or becomes elderly and/or disabled, they’re going to have to put in another kitchen, ”x” amount. If you designed a kitchen in the first place which is accessible, it doesn’t matter who the end user is. So if you then equate those figures over a time period, every housing association will save a fortune. I mean there is a total economic and social benefit for this, and the other aspect is social.
Martin: Well what, I mean one of the reasons we worked on the Design for Ability project is it’s only at that point in time it was very difficult to do something as interesting, really, because you know we’re being commercially driven in many ways and so we’re getting to work on the things that our clients thinks are the right things, and in this case one of the real drivers for it was we worked on a project that was about … was for a research fellow who was looking at people with disabilities from a psychographic approach, so she was actually looking at their lifestyle and behaviour rather than their physical impairment and then trying to create from that themes that could guide and shape the design, and so it was interesting from a designer point of view.
But from the other perspective was, one of the other research fellows was looking at the way the National Health Service was designing and specifying aids for people, and that key piece of research determined that 50% of the people given those aids didn’t use them because they coded them so poorly and, you know, they were just I mean utterly unacceptable, so they were designing for a price point which in the end became irrelevant because half of them weren’t used, so they could have, you know, added 50% to the bill cost, still satisfied more customers, but nobody thinks about those, so in this case we had the opportunity to then, you know, develop a design, put it out to the media, do a launch event which got you know some publicity around it and Anne Begg MP who was the first disabled Member of Parliament came to the launch and then I got interviewed on Does He Take Sugar with Tammy Grey-Thompson just talking about this subject matter, so it’s important …
Adam: That is one of the issues that disabled people have got is that big companies look at things short term.
Adam: So again if … our argument was, when I was first injured, I was being given a wheelchair which cost about £400 which I was basically damaging, smashing up a wheelchair every six months, which is costing the State £400 on a wheelchair that was designed in 1956 and it weighed 56 pounds. Our argument was, give us a new generation chair which weighs about 12 pounds and will probably last me about eight to ten years and would … but because how they do their budgets they don’t look at it holistically or the wider approach.
John: Looking at, you know, some of things we’ve talked about are specific as I said but some things are more general, Matt, tell me about how you’ve looked at sort of usability. You’ve got a product which the idea sounds so simple, but presumably the use of it has to be simple because I know when I was a tired parent, still am but you know at that particular point, it’s very important that you can just use it.
John: So tell me a bit about how you came up with the sort of ease of use parts of your product.
Matt: Absolutely and you know that was one of the key criteria, you know, sleep deprived parents obviously you’re trying to get your baby to sleep in the middle of the night and such like, you want a product that’s going to be really easy to use and you don’t want lots of bells and whistles, and we did lots of focus groups to look at that. The original idea with Rockit was that it was going to have more features and perhaps even an app control, you know, sound and all sorts, but the focus groups sort of said straight away that no actually what we want is the key benefit to be it rocks your baby to sleep, we don’t really need the other, the other bits, and we were very sort of conscious of that when we designed it. You know probably the most fiddly part of actually using the Rockit is attaching it securely to the pram or pushchair; it needs to be very firmly attached so that the vibration resonates through the structure of the pushchair and we did that through a sort of two fix system. So you attach the bracket and we wanted that to be a single operation, so you attach the bracket to the pushchair and you never need to take it off again, and then the Rockit itself then clips in and when you don’t need it or your taking it in the boot of the car you can just remove it, stow it until you next need it. And in terms of the user interface there’s only two controls on the product, so there’s an on/off button and a speed control and again we just wanted that to be intuitive and as easy to use and understand as possible.
John: So part of your design process was actually almost going backwards, some people would design something and make it more and more advanced, actually you were stripping it away.
Matt: Absolutely yeah, you know, we had quite a sophisticated prototype at one point and yeah in the end we did strip away the superfluous elements and, you know, make it as simple as possible and obviously that helped with the costs as well.
Adam: How’s it powered?
Matt: It’s powered by standard AA batteries, four AAs, but you can use rechargeable batteries in there as well.
Johnny: Can it send adults asleep in a wheelchair?
Johnny: Is it multi-generational?
Matt: We can try that later yes, see if it does the trick.
Johnny: It’s interesting, it’s a very interesting product.
Matt: Yeah it’s another aspect of the multi-generational thing, it’s obvious we’re designing products for babies but they’re being operated by parents and we all know that our babies are our most precious things and this obviously leads to the sort of safety concerns and parents are very, very cautious when they’re buying products especially for a very young baby and so we worked very carefully when we were safety testing, we wanted to test it above and beyond the requirement. So it’s been tested 0 to 36 months toy standard even though it’s not a toy, but we just wanted really to reassure ourselves that it was perfectly safe but also to reassure mums and dads that it was safe and if an older sibling got hold of it … because it does look quite toy like and fun, but if they got hold of it there’s no harm can come to them. You know so sort of thinking in terms of the perception of safety as well was quite important.
John: The other thing about a product like yours is of course the day to day users of baby products for example tend to be the parents, but actually you have the occasional grandparent help or whatever and I know from, you know, personal experience sometimes explaining how all the different baby gadgets work for an occasional visit by a grandparent or other relation is not always straightforward, so you say oh don’t bother with that, I’ll do it for you and set it up whereas presumably, the idea of your product is it’s just as easy for a first time user as it is for …
Matt: Absolutely, yes.
John: … somebody else.
Matt: And we, you know, sell additional brackets so grandparents, and obviously there’s a growing trend with grandparents doing the childcare, a grandparent can have it on their stroller and the Rockit can just be transferred easily from stroller to stroller.
Johnny: Quite an interesting parallel here with what we’re doing with the 4G kitchen which I’ll talk about later, but it’s partly being driven by Professor Peter Gore at Newcastle University’s ageing research centres, which is how they identified the kitchen is a place where people really need support when they’re ageing and particularly through safety, and actually we’re going to build an app, we’re going to build a sort of language around how they can talk to you know Alexa about whether or not you know you’re doing the right thing or … but I mean it’s a very real issue and one of the bits of education that Professor Peter Gore talks about when he gives his talks is he looks at accident statistics and you’d be absolutely staggered how people get injured, I mean even from things like tablecloths, 60 people a year go to casualty or something. So there are surges but also there are some other major things that probably we can do, particularly with cooking and safety so I’m very interested to hear your, you know, to hear more about how you carried out your focus group research.
Matt: I mean it was a lot of credit that I should really give to the Design Council, we as I’ve said before we started recording I had no experience of bringing a product to market, and none of the team did at that point and you know the Design Council really supported us with the mentoring and gave us lots of advice. I mean their mantra was ”test, test, test” and also ”good enough is good enough” you know not to sort of keep going until you know somebody else brings something out to market. So I mean in terms of the focus groups we, you know, we ran a series of those ourselves, we had very little money, we ran those ourselves but we had to be very careful to make sure that they weren’t bias in any way and my co-founder Nick, Nick Webb, has a PhD and has done lots of research himself so, you know, he was instrumental in making sure that that research was done as carefully as possible, but it was quite interesting – one of those focus groups that … some of the parents suggesting oh it’s rocking quite vigorously you know, is that safe and there was a discussion around that and we’ve done lots of testing on the amount of force and vibration that a baby experiences when they’re being wheeled along in a pushchair/pram and if we replicated that through the Rockit it would have been even greater vibration for parents. But because you don’t sort of sit and watch a baby when you’re wheeling them along to see how their heads are moving and how they’re sort of vibrating as they’re moving, you don’t appreciate that actually that’s quite …
Johnny: Did you alter the vibration in any way, is it a sort of pattern that you worked through?
Matt: Yeah, we did exactly that we limited the top end of the speed just to make sure that parents’ perception again of the safety …
Adam: But is it a constant vibration?
Matt: It is a constant vibration, we have to incorporate a bit of a speed boost at certain angles just to get the momentum going, but the actual vibration can be altered though, you know, so it runs between about four hertz and eight hertz, you know that’s well within … you can feel it working there.
Johnny: Are you expecting a parent to observe what suits their particular child, it varies?
Matt: That’s right, I mean …
Johnny: It’s quite something this.
Matt: Yeah really it’s to do with the structure itself, so the pram … obviously you can get very lightweight strollers or very heavy prams, some have suspension, some don’t, so it’s getting the resonant frequency. Obviously, we don’t blind our customers with those sorts of terms but getting the resonant frequency of the pushchair with the baby in it at the right level so it gives a really lovely gentle low frequency rock.
Martin: And the way John’s hands are vibrating when he holds it, he’s trying to stop it vibrating…..
John: At least I found the on/off switch very quickly.
Johnny: It’s very interesting. Have you held it Martin?
Martin: I’ve seen it before, I must admit.
Johnny: I mean, I think because you can’t see what’s going on that you’re just having this kind of….
Matt: It’s almost like a gyroscope isn’t it. The speed control is there really just for a parent to find one that works best for their baby, but ideally it’s that resonate frequency of the pushchair that’s important and you get that lovely gentle rock rather than it being a sort of high frequency buzz.
John: Keep turning it up until they sleep.
Adam: Who was the first child you tried it out on?
Matt: That was my brother in law Nick, his daughter Abby he was the inventor so I can’t take credit for that but he invented it. He’s a…I was going to say a mad scientist, I hope he’s not listening but he took an old printer apart in desperation one night and soldered a speed control circuit, lashed some nuts and bolts onto the spindle of a motor, got the object working and it rocked Abby’s pushchair and she stayed asleep the next day when they were out shopping and such like so it was a lightbulb moment and then he showed me knowing that I was sort of a bit disillusioned with teaching at the time and wanted a new challenge so I along with another colleague, Matt Sparrow, turned his invention to the Rockit.
John: Martin how have you approached…either talk about your specific multi-generational product or more generally.
Martin: I think we should talk about Bluebell partly because we tangerine are pursuing this as on an equity only basis so we’re working together with a start-up who were looking for funding and gathering funding as we go along. It sounds like a wonderful product because it has tremendous capability and potential in terms of it can monitor all sorts of vital statistics of the baby but you need to shift thinking away from it just being an alarm….
John: Is it a baby monitor?
Martin: It’s a monitoring… basically it involves a series of elements so it involves what we call the baby button which is a device that attaches to the baby’s babygrow. When you put them to sleep…you can leave it on them all day because the device is wireless and you can utilise it around the home and it is a parent wearable which is essentially a wristband that you can monitor and then there is a hub, a nursery hub which provides charge capability for the two wearables and provides a nightlight and plays lullabies. And then of course there is an app and this series of elements can be used by any number of different customers, they can be, you know, either of the parents, they could be the au pair or the babysitter, they could be a grandparent. So the product and the system has to be understandable by a, you know, really wide range of people with different language skills and capabilities and, of course, as with all of these things there is a temptation to want to sell it on its technology capability.
Johnny: It’s kind of like a behavioural Fitbit.
Martin: It is really, absolutely but it’s focused on helping people become better parents really. So the thinking behind it is that you want this to help people improve the sleep pattern of their child and in so doing then get a little bit more of their life back. In a way it frees them in part from, what we’ve all experienced so, you know, I hope really…
Johnny: Do you think it’s true to say that with smart technology that quite a bit of the sort of the focus is really about providing more precision of behaviour or a precision of performance – would that be right?
Martin: Yes, in a way I think what you want to get here is better feedback from the system so you don’t want to be alarmed by it, you want to be reassured by it so you want to shift the thinking from alarm to reassurance and also this involves machine learning so that the valuable component over time won’t be the electronic devices it will actually be the data that you collect and how you can improve the feedback that you give to the parents through the growing collection of that data and of course that data is then going to be shared between parent groups as well so not only will you have the support from the device but you will then have support from the web either to a parent group who will become members and advocates for the product itself or to specialists if you’re in a dire situation that you really need to get help quickly and want to understand.
John: It sounds, in the sort of same way that Matt tried to strip a lot of the sort of the stuff you just talked about out of his product, you’ve kept it in yours or quite the opposite is the point of yours. So how have you approached that usability for the, as you say, the occasional user, all the different languages and so on. What were your things you had in mind?
Martin: Everything essentially is driven by icons in terms of feedback so there are a very simple set of icons that have designed feedback via the display because it is entry product we have tried to keep the price point down by simplifying the technology as much as possible so a Fitbit is a good example where there have been intelligence in doing that and we work quite hard to try and ensure that we don’t introduce any unnecessary fuss so the feedback to parents is a gently blinking light, breathing light which changes frequency and changes colour to gently communicate to you and give you a sense of what your baby is doing and, of course, if something alarming happens it will tell you relatively quickly that something alarming is happening. And then with the app you can enter data you chose to enter so you can enter feeding information, you can enter toilet information if you want to and you can build up a much better picture of how things are going and, of course, you can also then check on and make sure that that’s been happening in the background if you are away from it so you get a growing amount of information but certainly simplicity is the crucial part of it.
We need to ensure that it’s really easy to understand and easy to use and avoid unnecessary gadgets, anything unnecessary, it needs to be completely subliminal and in the background and reassuring and not shouting about itself or what it is. So it’s a tricky design job in terms of getting the look and feel right, getting the iconography right, getting the interaction right and also limiting the spend because essentially it’s a start-up and they need to get it to market and, you know, we need to find an appropriate…
Johnny: So is it mostly for people with sort of a problem?
Martin: No, not at all it’s for anyone. Anybody who really wants support in trying to learn about the behavioural patterns of their children and try and improve that through tracking it, monitoring it, so at the least invasive end it’s purely there as a reassurance thing so you know you’re baby’s doing when you’re not with them and at the other end you can become, if you are a really implicated parent as the marketeers would call it, you can dive in and monitor everything that goes on and…
Adam: So if I was a designer doing multi-generational I’d be opening up and seeing whether you could include this for older people as well.
Martin: Could you do as well. You can then…..
Adam: Once you’ve got the system in place there’s loads of different directions you could take it down. I mean the monitoring of older people and people with dementia etc. is massive, it’s a huge market…
Martin: Agree. We’ve given this a kind of proposition of parenting made simpler but, of course, you can stick a different word on the front if you really want to and relate to a different market.
John: It actually brings us back to what we’re here to talk about, I mean it all ties together doesn’t it… It’s all stuff to do with but you’re focusing on babies or kitchens or adults or pensioners, the point is the more the simpler the something the more accessible it is to go back to that word, the more you can use one product in more than one market as…
Johnny: But also surely John, isn’t it also the fact that once you start thinking about something could be done for one group, if you think multi-generationally you realise that it may have fantastic suitability for the other end of the group. I think this is actually a very, very good example of what we’d like to see multi-generational aside, why we’d like to it become a category or a way of thinking, I think.
John: And that’s why Martin’s idea of making it simple to use the parents using it might actually be capable of having a slightly higher level of complications just because, you know, it tends to be younger than the older people using it obviously and so on but if you do make it simple it makes it easier to transition it over to the grey market.
Martin: I think it can translate in many ways but certainly we encourage Connido, I mean, two of them are doctors and one is a data analyst and they are all very excited about the capability of this system but from a brand perspective we want to drill them down to be very clear about what you are tackling and what you are launching because you want to put your money on the nose that the thing is the market entry point and in this case if you can really improve sleep and help parents get better sleep, you know, that is the golden opportunity if you can get it right and of course but the technology and its application is very wide potentially and of course the more data you gather the nice thing there the system will be in place and it will be a straightforward thing to think about how you translate…
Adam: So the difference, I mean, really you’re working with just – a client comes to you with a concept and you’re working through, we’re coming through more of a design principle. I think what we are saying is that we want to go right back to when teachers are in secondary school teaching design students etc. and arts and design etc. right the way through, and I still believe, I mean you might correct me on this, architects can do a six year degree course and they do not do one day’s training in accessible design, which I just find phenomenal when these architects are going to be in charge of doing the built environment for the next 50-100 years with some of the buildings they are designing and they are not being lectured in accessible design at all and/or, as I know what do we now call it, multi-generational design.
Johnny: I come from a sector which is a pretty ignorant sector, it is commercially driven the kitc industry and they pay lip service to design and most of the time it’s done in the engineering front end and spatial design is almost always non-existent.
John: Johnny, why don’t you tell us a bit about your four generational kitchen
Johnny: Sure. This came out because I had a conversation with Kevin McCloud and we did some filming about seven or eight years ago and he said why is kitchen design so poor? Particularly the high end which is the end I’ve come from, you know, where there is plenty of money, plenty of resources and he then asked me to…I then put him on an event on Grand Designs live and said “I want you to come and talk and explain yourself out of this one and we’ll invite other people in the industry to do the same”. So I about six of us turned up and it’s quite surprising really but I sort of had an overnight kind of moment, you know, and I thought right what we need is to create a kitchen design profession where there is commitment to design so I made a sort of speech thing, this is what we should be doing and I think people were slightly surprised by this but somebody from Bucks New University was in the audience and he said “If you’re so clever, you come and do it here” so we did. Adam now teaches on the course and for me the second Damascene conversion was kind of hearing Adam talk where I realised I had been applying all this kind of quite specific design knowledge that I’d been building up over the years from work with neuroscientists, it’s all the rest of them, to basically being able to use custom design for, if you like, accessible design for disability we have completely ignored.
Then I read the fact that you can kind of do it wider than that and another one of those lovely kind of unexpected moments was at a kitchen industry conference and Professor Peter Gore turns up and talks aging in a way that I’ve never heard anybody talk about before. So we’ve kind of put this together kind of a bit by just natural kind of process of making design more sophisticated, or kitchen design more sophisticated by a great will of people wanting to solve a whole series of problems and his view is that, well now the government view, we’ve got a meeting with the government, with the Department of Health and Social Care tomorrow trying to build a consortium for the 4G kitchen.
The bottom line is that the last thing that gets you out of your own home and turfs you in to a care home is when you can’t cook for yourself and/or eat yourself. The government knows it costs a lot of money so the government are suddenly interested and so here we are with sort of early principles of this and we’ve been teaching this not only to our third year students at Bucks New University but we’ve also been working with NICA. Now NICA are the National Innovation Centre of Ageing, I’m trying to sort of say this out but you probably know, were set up with government funding by George Osborne about two and a half years ago and just building a sub-centre and a big building in Newcastle and they want a project that they can start to use some of their, like some of the research that’s come out of the National Centre for Ageing in Newcastle. There are something like 400 researchers up there and a lot of the actual research never gets anywhere so that’s the vision of NICA and so we are part of trying to deliver some domestic version of NICA and it’s particularly of concern because of the rising number of people with dementia.
I went to the first launch of the Building Research Establishment about six weeks ago with the first prototype dementia home. Adam and I viewed it together and we were slightly kind of surprised how much it was really at the beginning because we have quite a lot of information that we can apply so there’s dual problems in both directions. It’s not been applied, architects and designers don’t know about it, we need to do more research, we need to build prototypes, but we’re starting and so, you know, that’s what I’ll be talking about today.
John: So is that sort of particular designs as in a particular type of hardboard, a particular type of island and things like that or is it more teaching people about whole different approach
Adam: It is teaching…it’s a totally different concept from designing. When I did the athlete’s village…
John: At London 2012?
Adam: Yeah, where I was very lucky to get a contract doing all the design work for that project on the accessible kitchen side, multi-generational kitchen side.
John: Presumably they had to be used for the Paralympics as well so there was a particular need for…
Adam: I was involved with the London plan that was started under Ken Livingstone and was finished under Boris, we’ve actually now got some very good building regs. in place in London where other countries are, other cities sorry, are copying, which is fantastic, but London is the best.
I mean, most any major project that’s been built now has to have 10% wheelchair accessible property which is making a huge difference so on a social level for the first time is a disabled person if they’re living in Liverpool but they see a job advertised for a lawyer in London there’s a fair chance they’re going to be able to find a property because up until about 10/15 years ago, disabled people couldn’t move around the country, follow work with jobs, because there wasn’t the accommodation in place.
So for the Olympic Village, I actually came up with the design concept which I’d love to talk to you about somehow how one patents a design concept but it comes back to my passion is social housing and it’s very easy to have a private client with money but you can do the most beautiful bespoke design but how do we design, come up with a concept where we can put in to social housing and roll it out mass production.
Well I came up with this design concept where two thirds of the kitchen can be fitted and anyone can use it and then we have one section which is put on to rise and fall which then means that if you’re an elderly person who can’t bend or if you’re a wheelchair user and you need lower worktops or whatever your need is, it makes the whole kitchen fully accessible and it’s a great design concept to work to and this is the thing, I mean, I spent again 25 years really trying to get the kitchen industry, as Johnny was saying, to wake up to this huge market. And it is a massive, massive market that the bathroom industry 15 years ago came together as an organisation and said we are not designing bathrooms for the grey market and the purple market and they came together and then all of a sudden now you just go in to a bathroom showroom and you see a beautifully designed shower tap or whatever, basin mixer or whatever, but that’s been ergonomically designed for people with arthritis or whatever but it’s beautiful. So it’s a piece of artwork to look at but everyone can use it and it’s just recently the kitchen industries and through a lot of the work that Bucks New University and Johnny and others are doing, that the industry is slowly waking up to…
Johnny: I think I compare us a bit to lighting design which is started as a profession, I’m sorry, I think almost now defines it as a profession then, I’m not whether they necessarily would say they agree with that but you look at the incredible way they’ve moved forward and the professionalism and I’d like to think that we can do that with the kitchen sector. But going back specifically to some of the things you’re saying, I think we’ve got quite a lot of information here now we sort of want to package together and the multi-generational title gives us a lot of scope to do that and I’ll talk, you know, shortly about, you know, how some of the very specific things we can do but one of the things I think that NICA wanted me to be a design ambassador for was to try and bring a sense of enjoyment to being in the kitchen, not just about functioning and when I said to you earlier about the unfitted kitchen and turning bits of furniture in to having a hidden connection through ergonomics, that’s kind of what I’d like to do with the word happiness and I’ll go in to a bit about how we get to those points but there’s some lovely things you can do to start that process off.
So when people ask, you know, what’s your key design principle I said “It’s all about eye contact”. Well, what’s kitchen design got to do with eye contact because you have to use a surface but it’s springs from that I think which is that you want to enjoy being together in the kitchen, it’s more the social side of being in a kitchen as important or possibly more so than almost anything else.
Matt: And that links very nicely with that multi-generational, you know, interacting with each other, you know, various generations of the family in the kitchen and it being a social activity.
Adam: It is. Absolutely. And it is incredible, I mean if you think about as a person you’re in your own home or with your family in a home and you can’t even reach to get a mug out of a cupboard let alone put the kettle on so you’re always having to ask somebody else to do the most basic of tasks with good design we can make people fully independent in the home again, if we understand impairment and ergonomics and the way we want to use the kitchen because the kitchen is really the hub of the home. It’s where we are spending more and more time in that room than anywhere else.
Johnny: I have just seen it in my life, I have seen it go from this quite sort of grim sort of, back room facing north where men basically didn’t go, you know we all know about it. It’s completely wonderful now, we’ve got this open opportunity.
The other thing that’s interesting and NICA have particularly asked me to get involved with, is trying to incorporate technology into, or tech in to, what we’re doing and I’ve spoken at three or four of the smart kitchen summits in various different countries to try and find a way that we can bring technology in. We are just right at the beginning of this and I think I sort of made a bit of a breakthrough in finally trying to work out the role of technology because there is a sense that the techies made life far too complicated which is what you two have been talking about.
I’d like to introduce the word, or re-introduce the word, “nudge”. I think it’s really helpful. I think if we can think of technology as nudging rather than sort of averting our natural way of shopping for example. I mean, I don’t know about you but I’m slightly worried about the Amazon-based fridge. I think it’s interesting but I think if we keep it down to the basics as a sort of nudging thing to keep your sort of household running but not as the core inspiration for cooking, then probably we’re looking in the right direction because you do not want to take out the joy of cooking. I worry that Deliveroo is also on the verge of possibly becoming…I’m not against Deliveroo, you know in the week days, but I want that kitchen at the weekend to be bloody well used you know.
Matt: And you want that to be spontaneous.
Johnny: Yeah, exactly. Absolutely.
Martin: I think the nudge concept is an interesting one. I think you’re, certainly in terms of the way you know the internet thing has reached in to the home it still hasn’t been anywhere near as successful as we might have expected and I think that is largely down to appropriateness of the way it’s delivered at the moment and I think that perhaps the multi-generational point of thinking is how do you find the common theme that works across the largest group and utilise that as a key driver for whatever you’re creating and avoid the trap of trying to deliver, trying to solve every problem.
John: But that’s the next step isn’t it? So at the moment, until these sort of internet of things ideas starting with the various different voice operated things you can get for the house and so on but they’re all quite niche in themselves at the moment, you have to be quite techy or have been sold a particular idea about it in order to even have one and then you’ve got to start thinking about changing your lightbulbs or your this, that and the other but I imagine when people start, these start to normalise as concepts rather than just being a niche new techy idea there will be ways in which they will actually be hugely useful for the grey market or for accessibility or whatever because if you can just voice operate things then clearly it will help, I imagine.
Adam: A classic example of that is for the very top end of the market Neff are soon to launch, which the group Siemens already have done, ovens you can totally operate from your iPhone and this was done purely for the very top end of the market but actually what they didn’t even realise and which we are finding out is the people that are going to use this most is probably disabled people who, you know, if you can, if you don’t have to physically pull the door down to operate your oven and you can programme it and you’re not having to try and work, you know, push buttons etc. to turn your oven on and off, you know what a great …
John: How does the iPhone get your chicken out of the fridge?
Adam: Well no, you see that’s the great thing – that is through good design, so what you design is you design a worktop that right angels to your fridge so that you can just slide something straight from your fridge onto the worktop.
Martin: But even simpler things there can be, you know, can the front of the appliance give you some indication of how hot it is without needing to go and look at the precise temperature or give you a better understanding, I mean it’s not difficult to know when a pan is going to boil over for example and the system to respond appropriately.
Johnny: Incidentally, Newcastle University has a very interesting focus group which you two if you’re ever interested I think might want to plug in to. It’s called Voice North and we ran workshops so basically retired engineers, people, professionals who give their time free and they’re a very thoughtful group of people and we spent two days in a disused church in Newcastle looking as some multi-generational ideas and then we sort of put them round tables and we got them to kind of answer the two questions and debate ideas. The obvious news is that when voice activation is made really effective they won’t feel threatened by tech anymore so you won’t have that problem of introducing tech to the grey market. But also, there were a number of things they came up with which were very helpful and slightly unexpected and fun so I really recommend it by using it for doing your research, I mean, a particular finding we discovered was everybody wants a view out of their kitchen window. They can’t bear being, you know, sort of, locked in. Actually if you look at what neuroscientists tell you they’ll say that seeing a long view triggers off, whether you want it or not, relaxed feelings, it’s quite interesting so, anyway, there was quite a wide response but the other thing was they wanted a hot seat, you know grandma, grandad, although they are not going to be participating in all this, they actually want to be completely involved and go to, and they’re going to hang out in the kitchen because that’s going to be the place where, you know, where they can be the most sort of, you know…
Matt: Can I just sort of take things back a step, I think Adam you mentioned about universities perhaps not encouraging accessible design or multi-generational design and in my experience working with students at A level, teaching product design at A level, was that they were really engaged with that topic and often, you know, I would do lots of different projects with them throughout the first year of their sixth form including accessible design based projects and they then have free choice for their major projects at the end and it’s really interesting that, you know, probably in a year group 50% of those students went back to that type of project.
Adam: Which is fantastic.
Matt: And the outcomes were usually the most effective.
Adam: And my question would be is that organised on a national level by whoever organises the curriculum or is that because you’re a good egg and you understand…
Matt: Yeah it certainly wasn’t built in to the curriculum, I mean, ergonomics, usability…
Adam: But it is brilliant and again I’m sure if you asked your students and how many of your students in a room of 30 were personally touched by impairment or disability through age or whatever and you’ll find that a third of those students would be. I mean, we find with our students for the 3rd year project when we asked them to actually do a project on accessible design and they’ve got to come up with an imaginary disabled person, two thirds of them actually base it on a member of their own family.
Matt: And they’ve got a client, a real client that they can talk to. They can iterate different designs, 3D print them, take them to the “client” and get feedback and it, you know, I always encourage the students that weren’t quite sure which direction to go with a project down that route, you know, can you find someone within your family who has mobility issues or early onset dementia or something like that and think of a way of solving a problem for them…
Adam: Which is brilliant.
Matt: …and they were, you know, really engaged in that.
Johnny: Well, Adam and I are also working in another area which slightly addresses this issue which is the Royal Society of Arts do this as you probably know the studio design challenge. I hadn’t really worked out just how much its fast route to sort of almost like education, sorry to innovation, via the university system because we can put a brief together which is completely topical but it’s, we’ve just done one right now we’re launching next week and, you know, probably a thousand students will do that design only a hundred will probably enter the competition but you’ve already all those design tutors are starting to think “Oh…”, you know “…multi-generational kitchens…” “…oh, that’s something we should be looking at” because you try setting up a course of multi-generational kitchen design it will take you five years. So that is I think something that, one way we can try if you like speed up areas of design that we think, well, need it.
John: I’m conscious of time, unfortunately, I think we’re going to have, unfortunately, this is very fascinating we’re going to have to bring it to a close. If I could just have a couple of thoughts from each of you just a sort of take home message for the listeners of the sorts of things you want people to think about. Adam, why don’t you go first?
Adam: Well my thought is always go and research or go and find out what the social model of disability is because I think this is a very good way, I was first, I came about it through a lovely chap when I first got involved with disability politics called Mike Oliver and basically the definition, the easy to understand definition of the social model of disability is that my impairment doesn’t stop me going and watching a film. What stops me watching a film is the flight of stairs so if you design a cinema without a flight of stairs I can go and watch that film in exactly the same way as anybody else. If we can try and get that thought, that design concept, which is basically the social model of disability into designers and town planners’ heads then I think half the battle will be won.
John: Thank you. Johnny, why don’t you go next as your involvement is related to that.
Johnny: I feel I’ve already said too much! I guess I would like people to … next time they’re planning a kitchen to think about it really carefully as a much bigger opportunity and not accept just basically a bunch of units around a wall but what you can do to make people feel, well translate emotions into the actual physical space, you know, opening it up to your garden, putting a French door in, that may be more important than almost anything else so yeah, translating emotions in to design. I know that sounds a bit sort of too professional but…
John: But it’s broader than kitchen design.
Johnny: Yeah, very much so. Let me leave you with this lovely thought that a Japanese concept called wabi-sabi which probably most designers know about which is about the role of imperfection and time and age into the things they surround themselves with and getting more from this object than just purely its function. Choose things that conform to wabi-sabi – go out and buy a book on wabi-sabi and explore.
Matt: Well obviously the colleagues that are, you know, much more experienced of multi-generational design but from the perspective of designing simple consumer products, I mean just making sure that the user interface is simple whether you’re using complex text to do that or more basics with analogue control is really important just so that you’re not limiting the market for your product and, you know, people of all ages or abilities can use it.
John: Thank you Matt. And Martin, finally.
Martin: Well I go back to the point I think design is so driven but context really and I think the interesting opportunity about multi-disciplinary design is that it makes you think of a wider context and then it sets a challenging problem for the designers which is how do you find a better thing which applies to a wider population and then the tricky part is then converting that in to a commercial opportunity that gets people to engage in it so the more we talk about it, the better, the more we can show examples of it that inspire people the better really and the more we can champion. As Apple would say, you know, not making things different but making things better, the better we will be.
John: Great, and I suppose the final obligatory word from the lawyer is it’s all very well having all these brilliant ideas but what you don’t want to do is put all that work in and then somebody come and copy it so I would encourage all listeners to look at the webpage you will have found this podcast from which is gowlingwlg.com/designsforlife.
There are other podcasts on there as well, you can hear much more from Martin but also from a plethora of other designers and there’s also some helpful and free guides on how to protect yourself to make sure you do think about IP protection as an early stage because if you don’t then all this good work might well get taken from underneath you which would be a pity given how much thought clearly goes into good design.
Thank you all very much for your time today and it’s been a pleasure.