Age & Ability Research Lab
The Age & Ability research lab builds on a rich history of people-centred design at the Royal College of Art. Its roots go back to an earlier initiative – the DesignAge action research unit, which was active at the Royal College of Art between 1991 and 1998 under the direction of Professor Roger Coleman.
The purpose of DesignAge was to alert industry and the design profession to the far-reaching implications of rapidly ageing populations across the developed world. DesignAge was successful in mobilising a generation of young designers behind an age-aware approach to design via a stream of conferences, seminars, workshops, publications, competitions, design exemplars and the establishment of an international Design for Ageing Network (DAN).
In addition, DesignAge participated in the European Union-funded Presence project, which explored the use of new technologies to raise the profile of older people in their communities.
DesignAge was recognised nationally, with a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 1995, and internationally, with a Ron Mace Memorial award. Many of its key activities were extended under the aegis of the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre, which was established in 1999 with core funding from the Helen Hamlyn Trust. Whereas DesignAge was a single-issue action research unit focusing on the needs of older people, the Helen Hamlyn Centre had a broader perspective based on advancing the concept of inclusive design – an approach to designing that includes the whole population, all ages and all abilities.
The DesignAge competition for RCA students continued until 2008 as the independent living theme supported by Help the Aged within the centre's Design for our Future Selves awards scheme. From 2009 the Helen Hamlyn Centre's Student Programme commenced. It has has two main elements. Firstly, an annual awards scheme called the Helen Hamlyn Design Awards, open only to graduating RCA students. Secondly, The Methods Lab. This is an interdisciplinary workshop for Royal College of Art students and tutors to explore aspects of inclusive design as a platform for innovation.
A long-standing collaboration with the Engineering Design Centre (EDC) at the University of Cambridge, has driven our work on the theory and practice of inclusive design since 2000. Three successive design research projects with EDC have involved collaborations with Design For Ability at Central St Martins; the Centre for Usable Home Technology at the University of York; Applied Computing at the University of Dundee; Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Loughborough University, and Cambridge Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Ageing (CIRCA).
More on the i~design series of projects here
Professional design community
Knowledge transfer to the design industry has been an important aspect of our work. This has been achieved through a collaboration with the Design Business Association, delivering a powerful methodology for engaging with the professional design community. Many design consultancies and voluntary sector bodies have been involved, and the programme has led to industry workshops with major companies such as Reckitt Benkiser, Nokia and Toto and also workshops bringing industry and healthcare professionals together in collaboration with the College of Occupational Therapists.
Current engagement with the design community is through the Challenge Workshops.