A dementia-specific, portable navigational tool that works alongside more permanent wayfinding structures.
Few aspects of public life are designed to help someone with dementia find their way. They may have walked to the post office hundreds of times but no longer know which way to turn out of their front door or what the words Post Office mean. More likely to notice large natural objects like trees, those with a clear purpose or ones from their childhood, they will be drawn towards activity and open spaces rather than public squares and intimidating buildings. But dementia is an invisible disability and they will get stressed and frustrated easily, constantly on the receiving end of people's impatience and ignorance.
FW:Design used their expertise as wayfinding and signage specialists to reconfigure and enhance an existing project in Romford to specifically address the needs of those with a dementia. The team adopted a heads-up orientation strategy for 20 wayfinding structures offering information on what is ahead, behind and to the side of the user no matter which way they are facing. They used bold graphic arrows in highly contrasting colours, simplified grid mapping, dotted grid lines, 3D buildings and graphic pictograms to make the navigation intuitive and keep complex information simple for those with impaired vision and cognition.
User research shows that dementia sufferers tend to walk slower, cover shorter distances and stay closer to home. Tasks need to be broken down into smaller steps and communication kept simple to allow more time to process the information. Landmarks need to be as distinct from each other and communicated through notable features like a flag or a logo.
The team designed an additional navigational tool in the form of a task-focused set of cards that works in tandem with the physical maps and signs. Tied together to retain chronological order, they can be attached to a belt to avoid being misplaced. The cards break each journey down into smaller steps illustrating individual landmarks on the physical maps and signs through photographs, graphic icons or cutouts, using different reference points such as the distinct pattern of bricks on a building or objects from the past.
The team envisage cards containing sensory enhancements such as smells to serve as clues to the function of building. These have been shown to help the embedded memory of people with a dementia.
Wayfinding is a key issue for those with early stage dementia who are living independently. The judges liked the fact that the team were trying to build on their expertise in the area and on an existing successful project on two levels. They liked the use of icons over words and the simplicity of the landmark cards, which could be adopted as a strategy by anyone and easily customised to suit the situation of the person with memory loss.
The DBA Challenge raises awareness to problems that have real relevance to the design industry. We specialize in design for the urban realm with accessibility and inclusivity a very important aspect of our work.
With this year’s Challenge, we involved all staff and related the Challenge issues to live projects and clients. The process enhanced our understanding and working processes resulting in the creation of new and improved systems and design solutions. One outcome, a pedestrian wayfinding scheme for Romford town centre, is now fully installed. Client, accessibility experts and user feedback has unanimously praised the projects innovative approach.
Angus Tilbury, FW:Design