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Designing for the Future tackles dementia and smart technology

This year’s Designing for the Future Competition invited students from the University of Brighton’s College of Arts & Humanities to develop innovative new products and design concepts to benefit people affected by dementia. A parallel project with students studying product design investigated smart technology. In each case, students were encouraged to produce design outcomes which were desirable, supported real areas of need and inspired new approaches and attitudes.

2016’s joint winners are Elicia Oliver-Knox (BA Design & Craft) and Eli Heath (BSc Product Design).

Elicia’s winning product is a multi-sensory, memory-sharing book to help residents during the transition from home to residential care. It is designed to spark memories, helping to create connections between an individual and their past and facilitate the formation of friendships through shared experience and nostalgia. The book is filled with information, pictures, sounds and textures related to the life of the new resident. A copy would be given to the care home in advance of the new resident’s arrival, where it can be read and shared among the existing residents. This will help to create a level of familiarity and decrease anxiety levels for residents old and new during this period.

Judge Maggie Winchcombe from Years Ahead says: “I was impressed with the quality of all the students’ entries but Elicia project stood out because of the creative way it aimed to address the difficulties that people living with dementia often face in adjusting to communal life in residential care. This is something that is rarely spoken about but is a very real unmet need.”

Says winner Elicia Oliver-Knox “I approached this project with some hesitation as dementia is, unfortunately, often considered a taboo subject. I was concerned about asking awkward questions about such a sensitive subject.  However, my initial worries were far out-weighed by the strength of my interest and as the project progressed I didn’t want it to end. I really enjoyed trying to create something I believed could help people living with dementia in some way”.

Eli Heath’s winning design, Pebble, is a hand-held, digital compass which aims “to tackle ageist material division and prejudice within product design”. Pebble is activated by pressing the screen which produces a blue dot pointing towards a chosen location. This location is set via a dial-up telephone service, a website or an app. In his presentation, Eli explained that during his research he came to the realisation that instead of designing a product specifically for older people, he wanted to design a product that was non-stigmatising and universal.

Other finalists included Thomas Meades, Laith Kawar, Jenny Whitworth, Benson Pocock, Nicole Andrews and Yasmin Caon-Beik.

The winners receive a package of mentoring and support to help them to develop their products and ideas further and emulate the success of previous Designing for the Future alumni who have gone on to win further awards and establish their own design studios and workshops. The network also aims to create opportunities to DFF alumni. This year, finalist Thomas Meades and alumnus Jack Durling were invited to run art and design workshops as part of a collaboration with the Michael Aldrich Foundation and Balfour Primary School in Brighton.

Peter Dale, Chair of the South East England Forum on Ageing commented: “Ageing needs to be better understood by younger people and the Designing for the Future Competition is a real example of how this can be achieved.  The innovation demonstrated by the entrants was impressive, but most of all their designs reflected a sense of understanding about what their own futures may hold.  Ageing is the future for all of us and for these students, as a result of this competition, it will hold much less fear than for many of their contemporaries.”

Says Philippa Aldrich of the Future Perfect Company: “The Designing for the Future Competition continues to grow. We are particularly grateful this year to the many experts and organisations who have shared their expertise with our students including : Dementia Friends, Active Minds, Eastbourne Designed for All, previous Designing for the Future finalists – Chloe Meineck and Jack Durling, solicitor John Greager and occupational therapist, Fran Hamilton from Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.”

Judges this year included; Philippa Aldrich and Molly Aldrich-Wincer from The Future Perfect Company; Tom Serpell, Director of Eastbourne Designed for All; Marie Harris, Managing Director of Beta Futures; Peter Dale, Chair of SEEFA; Maggie Winchcombe OBE, FCOT, Director at Years Ahead; Martyna Konopka, winner Designing for the Future 2014.  The project was led by Dr Tom Ainsworth and Dr Eddy Elton.