Patricia Moore, credited as the pioneer of universal or inclusive design is best known for an experiment she undertook from 1979-1982 where, at the age of 26, she reduced her natural capacities and manufactured blurred vision with glasses, altered her posture, reduced her range of motion and way of walking with bandages and ill-fitting shoes. For three years and in over 100 North American cities, she passed for a woman in her 80s. This literally life altering mission forever changed the way Patricia would work, granting her the empathy and ardour to champion design for all.
In January 2015, Icsid had the opportunity to pose Patricia a few questions on inclusive design and projects that are currently inspiring her.
Q: You have been credited as the pioneer of universal design, how do you define this term?
A: Universal Design embodies egalitarian, inclusive features, so that the resulting environments and products embrace all people as equal.
Q: It’s been more than 35 years since you conducted your famed experiment from 1979-1982, taking on the persona of a woman in her 80s. Has there been a shift in the way industrial designers are creating products?
A: When I created the Elder Empathic Experience in 1979, my fellow designers wondered and worried about me, thinking I had forsaken design and elected to social science in its place. Of course, in embracing the needs of all people as equal, by design, I was developing a broadened methodology and purpose for design. Today, this approach and philosophy has become the norm for design. Designers today, at their best, are key members of multi-disciplinary teams, creating holistic and humane solutions for the lifespan needs and wishes of people globally. Ability, age, culture, finance, gender et al are considered with deliberation and passion in producing the best possible solutions for all.
Q: Have you noticed any parallel changes in different disciplines, as an ageing population becomes a global concern?
A: Consumer “age & ability” are key factors in the business plans of every industry worldwide. I always warn clients that I am more interested in addressing a person’s “level of ability” than I am their numeric age. While we can draw certain assumptions at specific ages, like an infant cannot care for itself, we cannot likewise assume that a person of 85 years is incapable of an autonomous and independent lifestyle. Providing for a full range of abilities, companies of all types are able to provide for the specific requirements of a full range of consumers.
Q: How can we affect a bigger change, making good design synonymous with universal design? Does this process begin with design students at universities or much earlier in K-12 classrooms?
A: I’ve spent many an evening discussing this “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” riddle and I believe that what is required for a true conversion of all design to be defined as Universal is to broaden the scope of awareness and understanding beyond the confines of education. Sadly, some of the most compassionate and creative students of design enter their professional careers, with the expectation that they will be able to apply Universal Principles in their workplace, only to find that the management is disinterested. As it is with every cultural and social change, informing the illiterate of the importance and value of equality and inclusion is key for complete immersion. If other forms of inequality: gender-bias, racism, religious intolerance, are any indication of the time required for eradication of prejudice, we have many more years of adjustment before we can proclaim “Design for All” as a successful component of the field.
Q: Is there something that you’re working on now or that you would like to share with us that has you inspired about design?
A: The most challenging and rewarding work I have ever done is in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation [PM&R]. For the past three decades, I have been honoured to provide solutions for everyday living on behalf of people, not patients, with compensatory products, places and services that address geriatric, industrial and pediatric populations. Working from the perspective of matching a person’s abilities with appropriate design is key in my efforts. I encourage fellow designers to recognize that no one is disabled, but rather, we all have some level of ability, and by design, we can accommodate every person’s individual wants and wishes.
This holistic approach has been critical in my current work with Wounded Warriors worldwide. I refer to myself as a conflicted pacifist, because I don’t believe war can deliver peace, but I understand the need for protective forces. Providing design solutions for men and women injured in conflicts is the most challenging and humbling undertaken of my broad career. From the development of personal prostheses to the creation of Smart Homes and technologies, this phase of my career has been heartfelt and inspirational.