Catering to the extremes?
Catering to the extremes?
25 January 2019

It was a delight to attend a seminar on neurodiversity this morning for several reasons. On a purely superficial level I got a free breakfast roll, managed to catch up with a few colleagues and returned to a client’s award-winning meeting room suite (MacRoberts in Glasgow) that our practice designed a few years ago (and which still works incredibly well).

It was the content however (starting with Helen Beresford from ID: SR) and the contributions from a diverse panel of experts that were far more noteworthy. It was definitely a learning experience, and after all that’s what these events are about. While I added a #wellbeing to my tweet as I sat waiting on the seminar to start, the topic “Designing Spaces for Body and Mind” was about more than just box-ticking and adding hashtags. It was about educating designers, office agents, consultants and others who chose to brave the icy conditions and arrive for an 8am start.

So, what is neurodiversity and why is it important? Second part first. It’s important we learn more about this issue since as we age and as our expertise in diagnosing people with a range of conditions increases, we will come across more and more people who will fall into this category.

Neurodiversity encompasses a range of conditions (and the word condition is most definitely not the most appropriate word) from dementia to autism to dyslexia (seemingly quite common in creatives) to AD(H)D. These conditions need to be recognised, but more importantly need to be respected and understood. As we learned at the seminar from John Macmillan of MacRoberts, a failure to do so can result in careers ruined and legal challenges for employers. On another, individual level, people with such conditions can offer new perspectives on situations and can challenge the norms and expectations within the workplace.

How does neurodiversity impact on designers and developers? As Charlene Tait from Scottish Autism stated, and this was the idea that most people will have taken away from the whole event, “if you design your spaces taking into consideration those who are neurodiverse, you will most likely create spaces that will be acceptable to everyone and enjoyed by everyone”. So, rather than catering to the extremes, by being aware of these neurological differences there is an opportunity to design spaces that are inclusive and will appeal to everyone. Tellingly Jackie Sunderland from Glasgow Life reported that following changes made to some Libraries within Glasgow that addressed neurodiversity, not one negative comment had been received; these changes had not in any way impacted those for whom the changes were not intended. Quite a powerful affirmation.

For developers, is neurodiversity another box like wellbeing or sustainability? There is a risk, but through more dialogue with experts in the field, there is an opportunity to break away from always doing the same things; as Aurelien Collignon from Fore Partnership so succinctly put, Real Estate in French is immobilier – that which does not change. Developers have to change; occupiers will require them to change.

So, the challenge to designers (and it’s not a new one) is to create inspiring spaces that don’t over stimulate, don’t exclude but also don’t become some homogenised, mushroom soup type of space.

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