Monday, March 26, 2012

99% invisible on universal design

I've been meaning to write a post on 99% Invisible. Every episode of the design and architecture themed podcast is excellent, but when the latest started with a clip of a walk-and-talk from West Wing I knew it was time to share. 99% Invisible used the clip as a segue to talk about the way we talk when moving through space and the different spacial challenges faced by the deaf community when walking and communicating. The only thing the episode missed was a shout out to Joey Lucas, the deaf character who could walk and talk with the best of them. (The best forever being Sam Seaborn and Josh Lyman.) 

Robert Sirvage is a deaf designer, researcher, and instructor at Gallaudet, and in collaboration with Hansel Bauman — who is not deaf – and a group of staff, students and architects, they’ve developed a project calledDeafSpace. Reporter Tom Dreisbach took a tour through the new building at Gallaudet that is incorporating the innovations of DeafSpace to create an environment more pleasing to everyone, both hearing and deaf. 

[Plans for a residence hall by by LTL Architects / Quinn Evans Architects]

The show had many insightful moments and somehow I learned more about designing for the hearing-impaired than I had in my four years of design school. Mind you, I loved my program but I can't remember specifically discussing the issue (though I'm having flashbacks to diagrams of the structure of the inner ear.) More than designing around the lack of hearing, Sirvage and Bauman designed to reduce the eyestrain that accompanies replacing auditory clues with visual ones. Blue walls help provide the greatest contrast to a wide variety of skin-tones. An attempt to round walls to increase sightlines lead to increased collisions, so glass corners were suggested instead. Diffuse lighting. 

While I joked that the West Wing clip prompted this post, it was more accurately a short quote at the end. "Fundamentally this is about universal design, designing for the widest range of people possible with a variety of abilities because not only is it more inclusive, it's demonstrably better design, regardless of need." 

As designers, by studying a wide variety of specific population's needs, we are able to best design for the widest group at all times. 

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