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MMU & Neurodiversity

MMU & Neurodiversity: helping new minds to think differently

20th December, 2016

Background

How should neurological differences impact the way we design experiences? This is a question we’ve been asking ourselves ever since we worked with the BBC to design the visual identity for their neurodiversity initiative CAPE.

Initially, CAPE (Creating a Positive Environment) was developed by the BBC to address the need to improve access to work for people with hidden cognitive or ‘neurodivergent’ conditions, such as autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia. Since its inception, the project has grown exponentially and as a result, its reach has expanded to areas beyond access to work.

At the core of the project is ‘neurodiversity’; a concept that recognises we all have differently wired brains and this affects how we perceive, experience and communicate with the world around us.

Up until very recently, this concept has been largely unexplored. With projects like CAPE, organisations including the BBC are spearheading a movement to change people’s perceptions of neurological differences.

The journey so far

Since the visual identity was developed, the CAPE team have been spreading the word at events across the country including their flagship Connecting The Dots event in London and at our collaborative workshop at this year’s Design Manchester Festival (DM16).

At DM16, mN and CAPE teamed up with Hyper Island to deliver a workshop that asked the question ‘How can we design a city that is accessible for neurodiverse people?’ We were overwhelmed with the positive response from participants and from people engaging on social media - our hashtag #NeurodiverCity was even trending nationally!

An unexplored design challenge

Through our work with the CAPE team so far, we have come to appreciate the importance of neurodiversity; not only in the workplace but in all aspects of society. As designers, it’s our job to make everyday experiences simple, seamless and enjoyable for the people using our products and services.

Approaching design through the lens of neurodiversity opens up a whole new world of creative opportunities and we believe there is lots of scope to create solutions that can truly change people’s lives. Our journey so far, from the design process on the visual identity to sharing ideas at the DM16 event, has demonstrated the importance of user collaboration and co-design for creating effective and magical solutions to real world problems.

Continuing the movement

Fast forward a month or so to when we were approached by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to prepare a brief for students in their final year of their Creative Multimedia degree.

We wanted to help the students experience a pitch process experienced typically in the industry; the idea being to expose them to best practice design methodologies as well as preparing them for client requirement management.

As well as this, it was important that the brief was exciting and had enough creative scope to show off the student’s varying talents and skills.

With the Design Manchester event fresh in our minds, neurodiversity felt like a perfect fit for the brief.

From brief to prototype

We asked the students to consider the ways neurodiverse people navigate cities. How might we enhance their experience and raise awareness of both their challenges and skills? We asked them to take a user centred, iterative approach to the project, with the final output being a proof of concept - such as a prototype, presentation or video.

The project took place over an eight week period, with regular check in’s with our Creative Director Adam. We also invited the BBC CAPE team to come along to some review sessions to share their thoughts. We were delighted when they accepted, as this was a fantastic opportunity for the students to get some great feedback from industry experts.

The final presentations took place last week, where each student shared their final proof of concept. We were all very impressed with the standard, from the integration of user feedback in the concept development to use of prototyping tools to demonstrate their products.

We hope everyone left feeling as inspired as we did and one thing we’re sure of is that this is not the end; it’s the beginning of something very exciting. We’ll keep you posted.

If you're interested in collaborating on a neurodiversity related project please email neurodiversity@thisismn.com