Across RCA: Group 2: Our project

Group:
Danielle Clode (Design Products), Silke Hofmann (PhD Fashion) and Lin Qigong (Photography).

Aim:
Utilising Wayfindr as a point of public intervention to establish a symbol of VI independence and a shorthand of communication to the public surrounding the spectrum of visual impairment.

Process:
By combining the emotional and practical elements of visual impairment challenges faced in daily life, we generated two main aims. The first was inspired by Harriet’s challenging social based issues, such as feeling uncomfortable what people might think when she takes her white cane to the cinema, “What’s that blind lady doing going to the cinema?” Or using her cane to find her way across the station but then feels that people may misunderstand her situation if she then took out her Kindle and started to read. We identified that the aim of these emotional based issues was: To break the stereotypes surrounding the spectrum of visual impairment. To achieve this we need a public intervention.

We then spoke to Sarah and found that her daily challenges were more practical in nature. She was frustrated with how she would always receive too much audio information, and really just wanted to pick and choose information where and when she needed it. Sarah was also challenged when shops moved items around the store to provoke browsing. Sarah is usually happy to rely on her memory of the store layout, so is often left frustrated; “Just knowing which aisle I’m in would be good.” From this research and development work with Sarah, we defined our second, practical based aim: To help isolate key information for freedom of choice. To achieve this we need better VI technology.

After defining our aims, we researched further into Wayfindr: the audio based digital way finding system for the visually impaired, that is currently being trialled in underground stations in London. We chose Wayfindr as a starting point because we feel that through technology is it is a great symbol of VI independence, and saw this as an opportunity for a point of intervention, with two alterations. Currently the bluetooth beacons placed on the walls of the environment to enable the way finding system are hidden. We propose that through making the hidden beacons visible, we can make them a conversation point, potentially along side an advertising campaign, and utilise public curiosity to generate the beginning of a new VI symbol. Alongside this, keeping in mind Sarah’s main concerns, we also propose that instead of constant audio travel information, these beacons could be placed in other environments that could be helpful. For example, at ATMs telling her the options straight into her ear so she can get money out without going to the bank, or at the end of every supermarket aisle, and as Sarah walks along she can hear a brief summary of what is in the aisle, so that she can make decisions and navigate new environments on her own. Keeping the beacons visually constant in the public eye, we can start to generate a symbol that could be used by the VI community as a shorthand of communication. After speaking to a few members of the visually impaired community it became apparent that not everyone would want to utilise a symbol in the same way, so we proposed several options. Such as using it on your Kindle or book as you sat down to read, or on a small Thank You card if you received a seat from a stranger and wanted to give them more information regarding your VI condition, or even on a badge, such as the ‘baby on board’ badges currently used on the London Underground by pregnant women that aren’t yet visibly showing, but still may require a seat. This can all help to improve public awareness of the spectrum of visual impairment.

As an extension of this symbol, we were inspired by the guerrilla marketing technique that has currently spread around the Europe art scene called the Banana Sprayer. The spray-painted banana is known as a seal of quality and an unofficial logo of the arts scene, painted only on the best museums and galleries and thus networking over 4,000 art spaces. Inspired by this guerrilla quality symbol and Sarah’s story that she will go out of her way to eat at Pret-a-Manger over other shops because they “will help [her] without hesitation and without exception”; we thought that the VI symbol generated could also become a benchmark for socially aware businesses. Setting some apart within a community based on the attitude and support towards the VI and potentially other areas of the community in need of support.

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AcrossRCA project with the Helen Hamlyn Centre – Brief

Last week for 5 days I took part in an ‘AcrossRCA’ project – which brings together students from all disciplines of RCA to work on a brief together. I chose to work with the Helen Hamlyn Centre on their brief working with people from the visually impaired community.

The brief:

This project aims to demonstrate – through the power of creativity and design –  the potential to tackle challenges around hidden disabilities. This project will focus on raising awareness of the different spectrum of Visual Impairment (VI).

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design will introduce students to ‘people-centered’ design and guide and support them through co-creative workshops that put real people at the heart of the design process.

The project centres around the issue of Vision Impairment (VI) and its varying and sometimes subtle forms; and includes an open brief that will allow students from all disciplines to actively participate and explore and define themes.  With the benefit of user engagement and insight they will then be encouraged to work together and develop potential interventions and solutions that address the perceived lack of awareness around many VI conditions.

On the first 2 days, before the group work starts, the students will hear the diverse stories and experiences of people and experts from the VI community and gain an insight into the condition and the day to day challenges they face.

Outcomes can be creative and imaginative and can develop organically throughout the week, but potential directions for intervention could be, for example, designing a new symbol/visual cue to signify that you are partially sighted or devising a low-budget but effective campaign. The design choice is yours.