How to design for simplicity

Dementia Friendly Communities
Dementia Friendly Communities

In the world of service design, there are various programmes helping to stimulate innovation to help people with or looking after those with dementia, from “Living Well with Dementia” to “Dementia Friendly Communities”.

The issue of dementia is very personal to me, it’s something my nan grew old with. Let’s rephrase that, dementia is personal to pretty much everyone I know for similar reasons…yet we rarely feel affected by it.

It’s a massive challenge for public services — a ticking timebomb which could have an even bigger effect than the recession on their capacity to provide for patients…yet it’s rarely on the front pages of the news

The capacity of people to look after neighbours with dementia they don’t have family ties with could be a litmus test of how communities can cope in the age of austerity…yet we rarely hear about the role of carers in the big society.

It’s a crunchy issue, not just because of how difficult it is to understand how dementia affects people in different ways and at different speeds, but because it’s an issue we find difficult to talk about openly….

1. Design through conversation: nothing about us without us

Yet…as Sam Hecht argues “dementia allows for an inhibited truthfulness”. Given this, how might we approach engaging and involving people with dementia and their carers in a different way?

We could learn from designing in simplicity into co-designing services, not in terms of dumbing down how we involve people, but how to support authentic forms of collaboration rather than pre-packaged frameworks of engagement.

2. Play at being human to talk about sensitive issues

We could learn from the design and even the use of children’s toys to stimulate authenticity. The Community Kitchen uses Lego to uncover ideas and thoughts from people that have often been imprisoned by a lack of confidence and support in being able to express them verbally or in writing.

3. Use digital to model behaviours people feel confident in displaying

All of us will reject a way of doing things that we think will make us look stupid in front of people we don’t have high levels of trust in. Whether it’s learning how to use technology or how to repair a roof.

But when you involve users of services and people they have strong ties with around activities that stimulate behaviours they instinctively know they have been good at, but haven’t been encouraged to use anymore, if the use of technology is designed to model those behaviours, at best it will feel invisible.

One of the partners on a programme I co-designed called “Transformed by You” was working in parallel on a project on using technology to bring young and older people together to archive their memories. We’re about to start working with them again on how younger and older people can collaborate to make the best use of public space.

Even the most advanced technology like the iPad can be as powerful as the simplest tool, as @sandiebakowski describes in her moving story about getting her father to law to use the iPad after his stroke. Designing for simplicity, isn’t how simple it is to design for the designer, it’s how simple it is to use for the user.

What can we learn from this in adapting our services to Covid 19?



Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese

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Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese