|Department of Engineering|
|University of Cambridge > Engineering Department > News & Features|
18 October 2006
Many consumer products require a capability
level that exceeds that of a large proportion of the
population. In many cases requiring such a high
capability demand is unnecessary, and results in
many people being excluded from using the
product, and many more being extremely
frustrated. The photos show a user attempting to
open plastic welded security packaging, which
requires extremely high strength and dexterity
over a sustained period to cut with scissors, so
the user tried more drastic measures (image
The Department's Engineering Design Centre (EDC) has recently been awarded a major grant for a project on inclusive design titled "Extending active living through more effective design". The £1.9 million project is being lead by the EDC, collaborators include Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge, Loughborough University and the Royal College of Art (RCA).
Rapid and unprecedented population ageing poses a serious social and economic challenge across the developed world. Escalating welfare and pensions costs require radical and imaginative responses from Government and industry. Key to this is maintaining a healthy population that is able and willing to work longer before retirement and can remain independent for as long as possible afterwards. A further requirement is to bring disabled people into mainstream life and employment. This challenge is recognised increasingly, resulting in new legislation impacting on the major world economies. Addressing it requires an understanding of wellbeing and its relationship to independence along with the redesign of workplaces and jobs to suit the changed profile of the working population.
There is a global market for products and services designed with older and less able people in mind, and industry is responding to this opportunity, both in the UK and internationally. A recent survey (commissioned by the UK Department of Trade and Industry and undertaken by CITD with Professors Clarkson (Cambridge) and Coleman (RCA) of UK companies on the awareness and skills gap with regard to inclusive design concluded that the majority of companies are aware of inclusive design and its benefits. However, barriers remain to industry uptake due to; the lack of a perceived justifiable business case to support inclusive design; the lack of knowledge and tools to practice inclusive design; the need for a better understanding of the difficulties experienced by the majority of users of new technology products; and access to appropriate user sets. Importantly, the end-user data derived from earlier Office of National Statistics surveys on disability needs to be updated with data describing users from a product/user perspective, enabling designers to estimate better reasons for, and levels of, user exclusion and to provide greater insight in the search for better design solutions.
Inclusion is an important topic within Government, as witnessed by a number of recent reports from the House of Lords and offices of the lower house. All see the need for change in government and industry to reduce exclusion in society, but few solutions are put forward that will encourage such change. It is also clear that descriptions of 'end-users', i.e. those that we wish to include, are vague and lacking in the detail required to encourage positive action. However, despite these shortcomings there is a mood for change and the proposed research team have good links with many of the government offices responsible for these reports.EDC is supported by an £8 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as an Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre, (IMRC) which has recently been reviewed with an increase in budget. The EDC work to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of engineering designers and design teams by undertaking research into the theories that will underpin the design methods of the future and by promoting the importance of effective engineering design. These design methods are embodied in software tools, workbooks and publications that support the creation of reliable, high-quality, cost-effective products.
For further information please contact Professor P John Clarkson email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The EDC website.
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