A team of UTS design students is making its mark at Beijing Design Week, showcasing work including an interactive community notice board for elderly residents in an exhibition called Inclusive design: Designing the Future for All.
The exhibition, involving a number of other Australian exhibitors, is a chance to display the designs produced by students involved in The Beijing Global Design Studio: FutureAging Lab, established by UTS design academic Vivien Sung in 2016.
This innovative laboratory involves collaboration between the UTS School of Design and Tsinghua University, Industrial Design Department and Healthcare Design Innovation Lab in the Academy of Art and Design in Beijing. The lab aims to address the ageing population in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the complex global challenges facing both Australia and China.
"The ageing population in the Asia-Pacific region is projected to more than quadruple to more than 2.45 billion by 2050, with almost two thirds of the world's older population living in the Asia-Pacific," said Sung.
In November last year UTS students Jack Fahy, Cory Dolman, Sonia de Pellegrin, Eva Li and Ariel Wang worked with Tsinghua University students to develop design solutions in response to the issues surrounding the growing ageing population in Asia.
One of the designs, called Helping Hands Notice Board, currently submitted for The Young Australian Design Awards, links elderly people with community centres, and health and well-being services in a localised area. The interface was designed specifically for the elderly with large, high-contrast text and an easy-to-use interactive screen.
"The design activates underused spaces in the lobbies of housing complexes in Beijing to promote self-sufficiency for the elderly so that mental and physical pressures of ageing are alleviated," said Jack Fahy.
At Beijing Design Week, from 28 September to 6 October, Sung will work with the students from the FutureAging Lab to create awareness of the ageing population in Asia.
"When I established the FutureAging Lab, I thought it would be a great goal for students to see and participate in a design festival of the scale of Beijing Design Week so I wrote it into the brief," said Sung.
Beijing Design Week is a vibrant and inspiring design festival that attracts an international design community and five million visitors. In addition to displaying their work, the UTS and Tsinghua University students will hold workshops to invite members of the public to step into the shoes of an elderly person.
"We didn't think it was appropriate to tell them what we think they should do. We will display our work and show what we have come up with, but then use that as a base to encourage them to come up with their own solutions, and find problem areas on their own," said Cory Dolman.
The workshops will draw upon research developed on four problem areas for the future of Asia during the FutureAging Lab, including: healthcare, transport and mobility, food and eating and living environments.
"We did a body of research centred around living environments. We addressed that there was a massive concern for the elderly in isolation in regards to mental health, and their tradition for intergenerational living. We found that people needed general assistance; for example, there were people who couldn't change a light bulb, and this was a way of responding to those base level needs," said Fahy.
At the exhibition, the students plan to trigger empathy through recreating the feeling of shakiness and deterioration experienced by the elderly when writing with a pen or navigating through the home.
"We're using these very simple probes to stimulate that empathy, and then also trigger the design thinking process that we all naturally go through. It's positioning those participants in the space to both understand and then to reflect in the way we would as designers," said de Sonia de Pellegrin.
Through participating in Beijing Design Week, the students will prepare for the future of design through gaining design skills adaptive to the changing circumstances in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural contexts in the Asia-Pacific region.
"Negotiating a festival in China is full of unknowns, ambiguity and assumptions which makes it an excellent training ground for challenging and testing your assumptions as a designer. China is Australia's largest trading partner and designing across cultures for the ageing population is valuable as different perspectives are brought to the table," said Sung.
The FutureAging Lab contribution to Designing the Future for All is funded by the UTS BUiLD (Beyond UTS International Leadership Development) program, the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building and the Australian Embassy.