Posting in Architecture
Gerontologist and designer Pattie Moore--who designs rehab spaces, light rail systems and home health care environments--says good design is like pornography: 'You can’t really define it, but you know it when you see it.'
But one thing she knows for sure is that if someone can’t use a product—whether it’s a wounded soldier opening a door or your grandmother peeling a carrot—that’s a design problem. Universal design, which is an approach to the design of products and environments that makes them usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, addresses this.
For three years in her 20s, Moore traveled North America disguised as women in their 80s to learn about the challenges facing older people. Since then, her design clients have included OXO, Herman Miller Healthcare, AT&T, Corning Glass and 3M. Today, she is on the road about 240 days a year, lecturing, consulting and working on new projects around the world. Last fall, her community rehab unit (Independence Way) opened at Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which I visited in January.
I recently called Moore in Phoenix, where her firm, MooreDesign Associates LLC, is based. Excerpts of our conversation are below.
What is a gerontologist?
The social science of aging. We look at the holistic person in terms of the lifespan and aging process. I’m trying to bring the sensibility that all of us are growing older. You see headlines that say, “How to meet the needs of your aging parents.” Well, if they’re not aging, they’re dead. The fact is, we’re all aging.
So gerontology is about lifestyle, the quality of our life. As far as I know, I’m the only designer gerontologist, but it’s a very exciting lifestyle from the design perspective. Some days I sit on the business side, some days on the creative or technology side. My hero of all heroes is da Vinci. I loved the balance he had. I started as a fine artist and then ended up in industrial design.
Industrial design has morphed into the term product design, but I also have focused on the environment. I like to say I’m looking out for age and ability and making sure we each have the lifestyle we wish for and need. It’s the basic requirements of life mixed with the choices of life. The biggest fear of anyone is getting institutionalized, living in a tiny room in a nursing center, with someone telling you what to do 24/7. That’s every Baby Boomer’s fear.
What makes good functional design?
Design can’t just be about the technology, the material science, the widgets and wow factors. It has to be holistic, it has to be human, it has to speak to us. We know the perfect little black dress when we see it. Everyone’s in search of the perfect mattress and has their special favorite cup. Things become an extension of what we’re able to do.
So design is a combination of technology and know-how and sensitivity and know-why. It’s like pornography—you can’t really define it, but you know it when you see it.
It’s become my cornerstone. When it started I was 26. There were nine characters, from a homeless lady to a wealthy woman with a chauffeur (which showed me how much wealth affects the way people treat a person).
An article about it ended up in Readers Digest. It was amazing how many people found me because of that piece. Then the Today Show called and I did that, and all hell broke loose, and I started to get a feel for how important it would be to share this. What started to happen was I had a stronger voice, so I could start sharing with people the importance of including older people in architecture and design. Until then, there was total disinterest in talking about the needs of older people. That’s been my mantra.
In the 70s, we were told we design for a Caucasian, 40 years old, living on Long Island, with 2.3 kids. We didn’t even really design for women. And if you brought up the idea of designing for people with arthritis, for example, they would say, “We don't design for those people!"
So as a result of my research, I was given the world stage to talk about growing older lifestyle design. On its heels we began universal design.
Why is there still reluctance to design this way?
What’s happening is that we’re this very fearful culture, because we have come to believe that if we’re old, we’re not important. We have all this fear about being an elder, and I think at the end of the day, that’s why there’s not more attention paid to all of this. You can’t live a life where you exclude the last chapter.
I was pulling out some ads from a 1928 Good Housekeeping, which said, “Don’t have wrinkles, use this product,” which shows just how long this has been with us, and it’s not going anywhere. Until we get rid of it, it’ll define us.
When people tell me, “We passed ADA code on this,” I says, “That’s great, that gives you a passing grade,” but great design—that’s something different.
Tell me about your early design work with OXO Good Grips.
The OXO product was the peeler, and then paring knife. I stayed with Sam and Betsy [Farber] for a while; when Sam decided to sell the company, the new owners decided to let other designers design the new products, and I think they came at it without as much of a human factor. Consumers noticed the difference. You can’t fake good design.
What industries are leading the way and setting a good example in universal design?
We have to look primarily to housing and the products in our homes for the areas where we’ve seen the most progress. In every educational setting there is an understanding that consumers come in all shapes and sizes and ages. So we’re at least doing that. But there’s still hesitancy to define a home as having features for all ages; we’re not talking about grab bars around the toilet, but rather a toileting system that is responsive to our needs. When you have the flu, sometimes it’s impossible to even drag yourself to the toilet. So what about bringing the toileting process to the sick bed? It’s that kind of thinking that got us to things like continent products.
That’s why OXO is so effective—so a little child can help mom and dad prepare a meal, and grandma can help too.
We’re looking for features of design that don’t exclude anyone; I’m talking less about age and more about capacity. It correlates to age, but look at Jack LaLanne—who was doing phenomenal physical feats at such a late age. So it’s really ability level.
When we build one of these centers and go to the manufacturer of the refrigerator and let them see how difficult it is for the veterans to open the refrigerator door, we let them know why it’s important. We tell them that every airport in the country has those refrigerators, and if a veteran can’t manage the simple task of opening the door, something is wrong with the design, not with him. I saw that happen to my grandmother opening a refrigerator door—when it happened, she was in so much pain it was like she’d been stabbed.
Everything we do in the course of the day: Think: How would I be doing this if my fingers were frozen with arthritis or a stroke, or if I had glaucoma, or if I couldn't put one foot in front of another. It’s all about design.
What are you working on now?
I lecture at universities all over the world. I have relationships with Carnegie Mellon, University of Cincinnati, Art Center [College of Design] in Pasadena, Arizona State University, Northwestern and California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. I do workshops and lectures and work with classes.
We’re doing a project now at CCA for senior housing. We need to change that name and redesign the housing. It gets students thinking so when they go into the real world they can take some of that training with them. It also gives people at the housing development a blueprint for the time that they are able to get funding to make changes.
Honolulu’s new light rail system. They have such gridlock: You arrive, and you try to get out of the airport and you’re in a traffic jam. This system will go right from the airport to Waikiki. We’re working on that vehicle. And we’re also working on the Phoenix system.
We’re doing a lot of home health care, and I can’t tell you the companies, but what we’re looking at the 78, 79 million Baby Boomers that will be looking around their house and asking, “Can I even stay here?” So health care and home health care are key.
I’m personally involved in working with Hong Kong and China on architecture and design education, which means helping all the universities emerge and evolve with programs that will address all these issues. So it’s an information exchange, but it’s more than that. If we don’t start putting down the weaponry and holding hands, there’s no point to this anyhow. But I really believe what we do in academia can make a difference. You see students all over the world working together, and I think that’s the best model we have for the future. If this the last chapter of my career, I’m very happy about it.
Feb 13, 2011
Awesome write up !! thank you for spending some quality time and sharing this wonderful piece of work with us. http://www.guestconcepts.com/
As a Realtor, I have been trying to educate consumers and builders about the necessity to consider how our built environment needs to be able to adapt to changes in our lives. Before the housing crash I tried to talk home builders to build as little as 1% of their new developments with Universal Design. I might as well have been speaking an ancient tongue because there was little interest and no motivation... they could sell anything they built. A silver lining of the current downturn is that the builders that have survived are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from everyone else and are wanting to build homes that people will want to buy. The tide has already turned for the consumers themselves as more people are aware that they need consider how their lifestyles may change. It is our collective responsibility to educate the public that barrier free living does not mean ADA and does not have to look like a nursing home!
BTDTGTTS.... I've been working on handicapped/senior problems since my first stroke & recovery. I'm unique because I have all the right stuff: Computer development and expertise with Dragon Dictate along with customizing Windows/Linux apps..I also have the background in robotics and motion control. My biggest problem is that dealing with the stroke issues common to remaining in the same living environment cut into my development time. But that is a price you pay if you want to stay independent.
Apparently graphic design also eludes quite few people, as well. Patti's picture is stretched in the email I received with this link and her photograph is so dark all you can see is her face and hand. Made me laugh.
If only there were many designers with the spirit of Pattie Moore... IMO Only 1 out of 1000 of the consumer products or less, are designed for maximum usablility -and are worth buying... because only so few designers are aware of the value of usability and give it the first priority - or are able to make something both looking cool and user-friendly. The rest of them, just make it looking cool. A good read on the subject (best seller): "The design of Every day Things" by Donald Norman
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If Pattie Moore is a gerontologist, I guess I am as well. However, I don't consider myself a designer, but rather a "fixer", an "improver", an efficiency expert for the aged and disabled. Everything can be improved. My industrial design "knack" I inherited from my Mother, a 1940s graduate of the University of Cincinnati's industrial design program. Back then women couldn't become architects so easily as architecture was a field dominated and controlled by men. Unable to pursue the field like her Father and two older brothers, she opted for industrial design. Having rheumatoid arthritis and hanging around "healthy" aged people twice my age for twelve years due to my condition makes me somewhat of an expert on physical limitations and how they can be overcome through the thoughtful application of the creative mind. I've been sharing my solutions and "adjustments" for daily life with others in need for quite awhile, solely for their benefit without renumeration. To truly help the aged and disabled in a life changing way, you have to not only dress like and hang out with the aged and disabled, you have to BECOME the aged and disabled, 100%, in every way. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, you need to know where they are in their journey. Some work on the back end of the problem, like Pattie Moore. Others, like myself, work on the front end, very, very close to the source of the suffering. It is extremely fulfilling. I applaud Pattie Moore for doing what so many others I know are doing across the country, i.e. making the effort to reduce the silent suffering of others in the world.
How about public bathrooms. Hey, we aren't all stick size people. When one has to step around the toilet to close the door, instanity! The bathrooms have plenty of space and tiny stalls. What gives here? I have actually seen some where the door hits the toilet.
trinitee@ is not alone. At 82 I am fit but need glasses - one set for reading and one for distance. Using remotes for TV is awful. The lettering is nearer 3 point than 6 and some have it on the buttons where it wears off. I have a recorder to time shift programmes to when I can watch them. Its display is in very fine elegant orange lines behind polished lightly tinted glass making it invisible when there is enough light to see the remotes controls. Why did the designers stop using bright wide green LED displays?
Design is indeed an arena in which there is HUGE progress to be made in the usability of nearly everything we buy and use today. I come from a family of design conscious people, and I guess I grew up paying attention to things that don't work very well. The percentage of things I use each day that could use massive redesign is incredible. If product designers read more customer reviews, they'd take advantage of a wealth of free design feedback and get to optimal designs much more quickly. Just to share a few pet peeves and favorites of mine which currently make the top of the list designs begging for improvement: Favorites: A) Backpacks - nothing like when I was a kid. Awesome options B) Computers - loads of options and prices that just keep dropping C) Winter Outerwear - lighter, warmer, better looking, better fitting than before D) Photography - digital has made the world of photography so much simpler and more powerful, and the designs of both the gear and the accessories have kept pace beautifully. Peeves: a) Transit: Buses, bus seats, bus stations and bus stops - definitely designed by people who don't have to use them every day for 2 hours at a stretch. b) Hygiene: Commercial toilet paper and paper towel dispensers - OK gang, you've had eons to get this right. What IS the problem? c) Food Service: Snack and drink vending machines - they seem to get more painful and awkward to use as the years roll by. d) Tele-com: Cell Phones - too much emphasis on pricey bells and whistles and not enough on basic performance. d)
I was lucky enough to be one of Pattie Moore's 5 students for a whole year in her Interdisciplinary Design graduate studio class, and I learned so much from her. She taught me to be considerate of users of all shapes and sizes and with various ability levels. Most designers tend to assume that their designs are for perfectly able people and consider everyone else the audience of specialty designers. That is not the reality out there. Pattie is the best! Sinan Yucel
Ms Moore needs to talk to the designers of electronic appliances that are made for teenagers only. The majority are now all black or universal grey with lettering in six point grey or some such colour. I swear every time I have to put on my glasses to adjust something or change a channel. My latest beef is with a Sony radio that has a big bright Red decorative light like a nightclub but the electronic dial is about1.5'" X.4" grey, that does not light up, with slightly darker font about 12pt . I have to keep a flashlight near to the radio so that I can see to change stations. I am an active 77 that needs eye glasses to read small type.