In class on Tuesday we spent a significant portion of our discussion time considering the difficulties facing users with reduced mobility or disability. Christine commented that this is a difficult topic because there is so little material available on the subject. It seems like this should be a ripe topic but I had the same difficulty. Often, it seems, this portion of the user base is ignored not out of malice but because they are not considered when imagining the typical user. Unless the designer has personal experience with the issue it may be outside of the design experience. The Americans with Disabilities Act influences design decisions in the public space but in private areas these usability considerations are often ignored.
Minimalism may be applied to the Social Agenda when designing aspects of the home to improve usability. In some instances this may create a more streamlined interface while in others elements must be added in counter to the Minimalism movement to add usability for parts of society that are sometimes forgotten. Looking only at the entrance of a home we can see many areas that can be modified.
Doorbell and door handle height are elements that may be too high for children, people who are seated, or people with reduced arm mobility. Designers may lower the heights of these elements to a height accessible by both those groups and standing adults without cost if incorporated into a façade's design at the outset. If an existing dwelling is being modified a new door would be required and modifying the wiring for the bell would require altering the fascia of the entryway.
For example, round doorknobs are difficult to manipulate for people with reduced motor skill or hand strength. A simple design solution is the lateral door handle. With this device a person can use the blade of a hand or even an elbow to push the handle down and release the door latch. Functionally it is the same as a round doorknob, even down to the mass of the objects. Using a lever does not reduce the functionality of the doorknob so the only reason I see to avoid use is a question of aesthetics, a personal concern.
Thresholds may be a tripping hazard for people with limited agility or wheelchairs. There is a door design that has a threshold that is flush with the floor. Rain and debris are kept out of the area with a narrow channel before the door and tight flashing on the door base to keep out particulates and precipitation. Another alternative is a jamb with a gradual slope, less that 45 degrees and ¼" height to reduce tripping hazard.
Minimalism is a fine ethos for design that may need to be tempered when looking at aspects of the Social Agenda. Here a designer may need to add elements that are unnecessary for most users but add greater usability to the people who need it most. T
For example, it is difficult for wheelchair bound users to close doors on the far side of the threshold because of the distance to the door handle. For exterior doors in public places this is often rendered unnecessary by powered doors and motion sensors that open for all users. In private residences or unpowered entryways a bar may be added to provide a grip on the hinge side of the door.
Some changes are normally seen as aesthetic but will increase the quality of life for a particular group. Often decorators mask switches by using an electric plate the hue and saturation of the surrounding area for the opposite purpose: to increase blending and hide the elements. Instead, designers might try increasing areas of contrast, such as a dark light switch against a light wall, will help people with poor eyesight define the feature. Similarly, adding a luminescent plastic to the base plate will help all users find the switch in the dark.
Adding a kick plate to a door will give an extra point of leverage to push it open. This may actually help any user if the door is in an area with humidity changes that make the door shrink or swell. This may also be an aesthetic choice because if the door is often stuck visitors may use their toe to help push it open and mar the surface.
Would these changes, in fact, be contrary to the Minimalisation agenda? Let us look at specialization. Often this narrows the group of users by designing for a particular group. Deeper specializations often lead to reduced user bases as some participants are excluded. This increased complexity runs counter to Minimalisation by increasing production and narrowing users. However, in the case of adding usability specialization has an opposite affect that while sometimes increasing complexity also increases the number of users with access to the design. Here a greater number of people are served and thus added complexity is justified. Perhaps this is a case of making something as simple as possible, but not simpler, as Einstein said.
Resource for future use: here is a link to a page with disability access symbols for download at the Graphic Artist Guild website.
Americans with Disabilities Act website. (2010). Home page. Retrieved from http://www.ada.gov/
Graphic Artists Guild. (2010). Disability access symbols. Retrieved from www.graphicartistsguild.org/resources/disability-access-symbols