Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by Professor Roger Coleman and Dr John Clarkson


  1.1  While research into ageing itself is a well understood field, research needs with regard to design are less well undrestood, and in particular those aspects of design with the potential to extend active independence. The outcome of much research into ageing is in the form of medical, and to a lesser extent social interventions. These have much value, and have significantly contributed to longevity and demographic ageing. However, it is no coincidence that population ageing in the UK began with the industrial revolution and has advanced ever since. Design and engineering interventions have had significant impact on this picture, and an important future role.

  1.2  The model below (fig 1) outlines the ways in which design can contribute to improving the life quality and extending the independence of older people. In the context of population ageing, significant benefits will flow from the effective implementation of design solutions in each of the domains indicated. Good, well-informed design, supported by appropriate research can push the boundaries of each of these domains and so effectively counteract design exclusion, moderate the impact of frailty and deter the onset of dependency.

  1.2.1  Ensuring that products and services, packaging and information meet the needs and support the lifestyles of the broadest majority of the population will counter design exclusion and thereby help to maintain active independence for longer among the ageing population.

  1.2.2  Modular and customisable designs, in particular of interfaces to products, services and information, will further extend active independence significantly by making them accessible to those who currently are excluded by the design of core features.

  1.2.3  Specialist products and interfaces, especially where they preserve dignity and do not stigmatise, isolate or otherwise alienate users will assist independence and social inclusion, in particular for disabled older people who may otherwise require institutional or home care.

  1.2.4  Designs that facilitate care, in the home, and in institutions, that understand and support the needs of carers, and preserve the dignity of those cared for, will significantly enhance the life quality of the frailest and most severly disabled older people.


  2.1  Much work has gone into developing the concept of "inclusive design", and resources and methods to support it in practice, both in order to address population ageing, and to prepare industry for the Disability Discrimination Act, which becomes fully enforceable this month. In particular through the EPSRC EQUAL initiative and within the two i-design projects funded by the EPSRC. As a result a new British Standard BS7000-6 will be published later this year giving guidance for business and industry, on managing inclusive design. In addition, information resources for design, education and industry have been developed, along with policy document published by the Design Council.1

  2.2  In the course of this work, important gaps in the knowledge base and other research needs have been identified, all of which amount to barriers to inclusive design, and its uptake by industry.

  2.2.1  There is a lack of suitable and complete date on physical and mental capabilities and their distribution across the whole population. This makes it difficult to accurately assess the accessibility and suitability of designs, and impedes designers and engineers in ensuring that the products and services they design address the needs of the widest range of users.

  2.2.2  There is a lack of research into the technical and practical aspects of mass customisation, and other design strategies that can adapt mainstream products, services and interfaces to individual users, be they in the home, the workplace, in public spaces, or part of transport systems. This makes it difficult for designers and engineers to ensure that people can live, work and travel independently for as long as possible.

  2.2.3  There is a lack of date (in particular in formats accessible to designers) on the preferences and daily lives of older people, especially with reagard to their interaction with products and services. In addition, there is good evidence that products and services targeted at older people, and in particular assistive products, are rejected because they are insufficiently useable, or because the users perceive them as stigmatising.2 This makes it difficult for designers and manufacturers to ensure the acceptibility and therefore the uptake of assistive products and technologies.

  2.2.4  There is a lack of design relevant data on the needs of carers, both professionals and family members, in particular with regard to the devices and products they use in their work and the impact of these on their health, safety and wellbeing. This makes it difficult for designers to address such issues, and increases the likelihood of carers, and importantly older family members, suffering as a consequence.

  2.2.5  There is a need for research funding directed at older user involvement in design, testing, evaluation and assessment of proposals and solutions at all stages of the development process, and in particular at the development of suitable research techniques and methodologies that can be integrated with commercial design processes. This would ensure that solutions are appropriate, accepted and cost effective in development and the market place, and assist designers and engineers in understanding the needs and lives of the people they are serving.

  2.2.6  There is a need to involve designers (as well as older users) in research projects and programmes where the emphasis is on the development and application of technology, in particular in ICT, "Smart" housing and embedded intelligence, and the realm of assistive technology. This would help to ensure that the outcomes can be translated into appropriate and acceptable, user-friendly products and services, that can be manufactured, marketed and distributed effectively.

  2.2.7  There is also a need for funding targeted specifically at "proof of concept" with suitable users, especially in the development of assistive and care products, and also in the other, broader domains, to ensure that only appropriate and acceptable products and services are delivered to the public. This would significantly improve the quality, usability and acceptability of supportive devices and devices that are currently rejected by end users. It would also facilitate the transfer of research from the academic to the commercial sphere.


3.1  Item 2.2.1 above

  3.1.1  The authors of this submission are co-editors of two textbooks on inclusive design, 3, 4 and have contributed significantly to the international literature in the field. The major date set drawn on in these publications and currently available is the Disability Follow-up Survey (DFS5) commissioned by the Department of Social Security as a follow-up to the 1996-97 Family Resources Survey. Data from over 7,000 participants was collected, and the main focus was disability within the UK population. The date gathered related to activities of daily living (ADLs), such as climbing stairs, reading a newspaper, following a television programme, washing hands, but not product/service interactions.

  3.1.2  Even with considerable interpretation, this data is not adequate to allow designers to make informed decisions about the numbers of people who will be able to interact with specific design feature, nor is it presented in formates that are readily accessible to designers and business decision makers. Other date sets are available, but not sufficient to fill this gap, if we are to support an ageing population with the minimum demand on care and welfare services there is a pressing need to gather new data on capabilities across the whole population, and in particular in regard to the physical, sensory, motion and cognitive skills required for interaction with products and services, in the home, at work and for mobility.

  3.1.3  Gathering such data is probably beyond the scope of current research programmes, as a sample of 10,000+ would be required, and the structuring, analysing and presentation of the results of the survey will require careful design. Also the needs of key information-user groups will require investigation to ensure the maximum use of the results in engineering, design, business and education. The cost of such a survey is likely to be in the region of £2 million+.

  3.1.4  This information is critical, not just for designers, but for business leaders to be able to understand the scale of the issue and recognise the business opportunities that represents. It will also have future value with regard to legislation and standards as it will provide the basis data for measuring design exclusion, and allow for rational decisions to be made with regard to the inclusivity of products and services. The availability of this data to UK businesses will help to put the UK in the forefront of design and industry responses to population ageing, and open up new market opportunities. It will also inform education from secondary level through to Continuing Professional Development in design, business studies and other related fields.

3.2  Items 2.2.2-2.2.7 above

  3.2.1  Although these research priorities could be met through existing funding channels, they are unlikely to be addressed in a joined-up way outside a co-ordinated programme led by key agencies. The EPSRC EQUAL initiative has provided considerable impetus in this regard, but current national structure and proposals for supporting ageing research are insufficient and not focussed towards testing, evaluation, development and "proof of concept" inclusive design research. There is a need for more imaginative priorities and support mechanisms that recognise progress made in recent years and the distinctive perspectives and methodologies required by design research. Probably these would be best achieved by extending the remit of EPSRC's EQUAL initiative and creating new LINK or similar programmes devoted to inclusive design and supported by DoH, DTI, DfT and ODPM.

3.3  Dissemination

  3.3.1  There is also a role for the Design Council, supported by the DTI, to focus and facilitate the transfer of knowledge and expertise to industry. To achieve this effectively, a better understanding is required of the industry barriers to appropriate design strategies. This in itself is a further research area with significant potential to impact on the life quality of older people, that could inform future government initiatives and help structure incentives to industry.


  1 Coleman R (2002) Growing older; the new context for design, Design Council, London.

  2 Yeates M., Bird D, et al (2000, updated 2002) Fully equipped, Audit Commission, Abingdon.

  3 Clarkson J, Coleman R, et al (2003) Inclusive Design: design for the whole population, Springer-Verlag, London.

  4 Keates S, Clarkson J (2003) Countering Design Exclusion; and introduction to inclusive design, Springer-Verlag, London.

  5 Grundy E, Ahlburg D, et al (1999) Disability in Great Britain, Department of Social Security, Corporate Document Services, London, UK.

October 2004

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