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Methods Lab 2010

Ageing in Kensington: Exploring design for our future selves

1-5 November 2010, Royal College of Art
Part of AcrossRCA interdisciplinary collaboration week at the RCA

This five-day Methods Lab workshop involved 36 students from nine RCA departments and visitors from the Media, Art & Design Faculty (MAD) in Genk, Belgium. The students worked together in teams with 'creative partners' – local residents.

The aim was to rethink the design implications of an ageing population. Kensington was chosen not only for its proximity to the RCA but because it has one of the highest life expectancies in the UK. Participating students were guided through a five-step inclusive design process to develop a proposal that introduced social change through design.

Learning from experts
The workshop began with a briefing session by project leader Dr Yanki Lee who explained inclusive design and social development. At the end of each day (except the last day) there were seminars and discussions with experts on inclusive design, social innovation and sustainability.

Working with creative partners
Each team worked with an older resident from the local area who was their creative partner. By working together, the interdisciplinary teams and their creative partners co-designed a proposal to enable a sustainable lifestyle for a growing ageing population.

The brief
The brief was to present a design proposal that improves the local area and enables people to attain a more sustainable lifestyle in Kensington (a balance between social, economic and ecological issues).

The five-step process:

  • Step 1: Inspiration
    Four members from Age Concern, Kensington & Chelsea, were invited to come to the RCA and meet the students. They were asked to create a journey to show the students 'their' Kensington and share their experience as an older person and Kensington resident. At the end of the first day design strategist Emils Rode from Rigas (Latvia) gave an inspiring talk about his Aesthetics of Ageing project using fashion photography to explore the clothing of Latvian pensioners. Design lecturer Liesbeth Huybrechts from the Media, Art & Design Faculty (MAD), Genk, Belgium spoke about a long-term project with care homes in Belgium to develop future care-free social spaces.
  • Step 2: Direction
    The teams documented the journeys and developed a way to present the experience and establish design directions. At the end of the second day, Dr Katy Stevens from Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology Research Centre, University of Wales, Newport, emphasised the importance of user involvement and having mutual respect between researchers and people; she showed work carried out on Smart Clothing – Design for Ageing Well, one of the New Dynamics of Ageing projects. Professor Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Centre then a gave a presentation called Old & Young and explained eight challenges for our future selves: definition; transition; new technology (digital exclusion); cognitive decline; public space; economic independence; hospital care and the the challenge of the unprecedented in ageing.
  • Step 3: Ideation 
    The teams were asked to develop creative ideas based on the directions they had identified on the second day and question, compare, contrast and develop the ideas within the framework of policy development in the local area and existing social innovations. During the third day two Helen Hamlyn Research Associates, presented their design research on dementia and public toilets as examples of ideation with user input.
  • Step 4: Integration 
    The students refined their ideas during the fourth day and they attended an inspirational lecture at the RSA by David Constantine of Motivation, an RCA graduate and designer of wheelchairs.
  • Step 5: Presentations
    Mentors from the Centre talked to students and encouraged them to think about their project in a critical way. At the end of the fifth and final day each team presented a six-minute film of their ideas. Emily Campbell, Director of Design at the RSA, was invited to comment on the projects and this provoked discussions on social inclusion and creativity.

See projects here