Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Design Council

To what extent has the Design Council been involved in the EQUAL initiative?

  The Design Council is collaborating with the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge, DesignAge at the Royal College of Art and Design for Ability at Central Saint Martins on a three year research project concerning "Inclusive Design". The aim of the project is to provide designers, and those commissioning design, with the user data they need to develop products for elderly and disabled people.

  We felt that it was important to be involved in this initiative in order to raise awareness about the way in which effective design can help businesses and the wider community respond to key social trends such as ageing.

Has the initiative identified and supported the most appropriate research areas for confronting the challenges of an ageing population?

  The initiative has successfully identified and developed a number of important research areas and has made an important contribution to the knowledge base in this area.

  However, in order to build on this base, we feel that it is now crucial for there to be a greater focus on how the research findings should be disseminated in order to raise awareness and change behaviour.

  In practice, this would involve ensuring that there is additional government funding available to publicise the research findings amongst relevant audiences and to develop appropriate campaigns with external partners.

  Funding should also be made available to ensure that the findings are available in an easily accessible database for use by the academic community.

Is research in this area receiving sufficient government funding?

  EQUAL is a forward looking research programme with a clear focus on a significant social issue. The Design Council is supportive of the fact that this issue has been prioritised by the Research Councils and we are confident that the Government has provided an appropriate level of financial assistance.

  In order to ensure that the money is used effectively, we would however underline the importance of supporting the programme with a series of explicit measurable objectives (eg) to increase the average age at which people move into residential care homes.

To what extent has EQUAL stimulated research in new areas?

  The structure of the EQUAL programme has helped to stimulate research in a number of new areas and also to stimulate research best practice. In particular:

    —  By stipulating that user-collaboration is mandatory to all proposals, the programme has encouraged a greater appreciation and consideration of the needs of the end-user.

    —  By drawing together disparate research activities and disciplines, the initiative has encouraged a holistic approach to problem solving. In our experience, the use of a multidisciplinary team for the Inclusive Design project helped to encourage lateral thinking and the development and sharing of knowledge to a broad based research community.

What are, or should be, the priority areas of research for the EQUAL programme?

  The EQUAL initiative has already begun to fill many important research gaps. However, we would like to expand the scope of the initiative to explore attitudes to new media, design and technology amongst elderly people. In particular, we believe that there would be value in exploring:

    —  the potential of the media generally to shape both attitudes towards the elderly and the attitudes of the elderly;

    —  the impact of the Internet upon the elderly and the ways in which information technology might be exploited to extend the quality of life of the elderly (eg) by allowing them to shop or access key services from home or by combating isolation through facilities such as E mail; and

    —  how smart products could help the elderly—creating effective interfaces to smart products; do old people see technology as a problem or as a solution? What are the barriers to technology? What are the incentives for using technology?

Are there any highlights from the initiative so far?

  From our own perspective EQUAL has enabled us to share knowledge and establish partnerships with a diverse range of organisations from business, education and government.

  We have also utilised emerging knowledge from the EQUAL programme to inform DesignHorizons—the Design Council's knowledge resource on future trends, design challenges and opportunities.

12 January 2000

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