Building better days through design

Published in December 2020

NI recently threw a thorny brief at a group of UTS Design Students and they rose to the challenge.

Small Things is a project we are working on for our parent company, Northcott. It aims to create more opportunities for choice in the daily lives of Northcott’s accommodation customers, by improving the interactions between customers and staff.

During this project we identified further areas for innovation, particularly with regard to design. One of these areas is the design of visual communication that is used within the houses, particularly how it could support staff to identify and reinforce moments of interaction for individual customers.

Currently, much of the communication displayed in the house focuses on procedural information, not on techniques or strategies to spend time “being with” customers. Additionally, information held about individual customers is extensive and detailed, but does not include the ‘small things’ – the small moments and opportunities for richer interaction – we have identified during this project.

We asked the students- UTS Design students working in the Socially Responsive Design subject –  to come up with another way information could be visually communicated, that would encourage moments of interaction and provide more opportunity for choice. 

Given the restrictions placed on all of us during COVID-19, the students were unable to visit any of Northcott’s houses. Despite this, they researched widely, interviewed frontline staff through Zoom and regularly checked in with NI to further their research and obtain feedback from NI staff, including an occupational therapist, a communications specialist and a designer. 

UTS students talking to a Northcott staff member, sitting outsideTwo UTS students talking to a Northcott staff member outside one of the homes.

“We determined that a key issue lay in how information is absorbed by both staff and residents, and understood that this difference of communication often causes a barrier between staff and residents, limiting their connection”, student Emily Savage said. 

The system the students developed is a modular, tangible language that can be built by and adapted for individual people living in Northcott’s homes. 

“The system aims fuse the two language systems of resident and staff together to allow for more meaningful interactions between staff and residents. Allowing information to be stored and accessible to everyone, a sense of unity and togetherness is also created within each home. The activity of building together here is both physical and emotional, allowing residents and staff to build connections with each other, ultimately empowering both residents and staff to build better days, and ultimately better lives, together” explained Savage. 

Overall, we here at NI were floored by the depth of the student’s engagement with such a challenging brief and the resulting prototype. Their prototype demonstrates the potential for multidisciplinary approaches to complex problems in supported accommodation, something we’re addressing in the Supported Living Lab.