Designing for the ageing brain_ Symposium summary


The Designing for the Ageing Brain symposium held in collaboration with Centre for Person Centred Research (CPRC) and Lab4Living was an exciting initiative that brought together both international and local experts to share their work and discuss the challenges and opportunities for developing design-led solutions to promote well-being for people living with dementia and other ageing-related neurological conditions.

Through a series of expert talks and workshops, the symposium explored how good design can be implemented in hospital environments, healthcare services and community-focused interventions to help those living with cognitive impairment to experience better well-being.

Along with the DHW Lab and CPCR the key note speakers at the symposium were Dr Claire Craig and Prof Paul Chamberlain from Lab4Living, Sheffield Hallam University. This was a great opportunity to learn about the research and approaches being taken in the Northern Hemisphere toward dementia and other ageing-related conditions.  


The symposium covered three key themes:

·      Engaging people in co-design methods

·      Creative methods

·      Space and place

Here is a quick summary of our expert talks in case you weren’t able to make it on the day!

In his “ Engagingaging” presentation, Prof Paul Chamberlain talked about how we could go about designing products, services and environments to improve the quality of life and well-being for individuals.  We learnt how important it is to adapt the home environment to accommodate people as they go through age-related changes and challenges both physically and mentally.

Our very own Guy Collier and Nick Hayes’ presentation on designing for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) explored the strategies, supports, and resources older people use to ‘live well’ within the context of possible cognitive decline. Nick and Guy are currently working on creating an interactive online resource through co-design to help people with MCI as well as their whānau.

In her talk ‘The Whare Aroha Care transition study: A collaboration between industry and academia’ Kay Shannon described how industry meets research. This was a great real world example of how research impacted the conceptualisation of  Whare Aroha Care - a dementia-friendly care facility in Rotorua modelled on the acclaimed Dutch De Hogeweyk Dementia Village and designed to  look like a small New Zealand town that would provide a sense of independence in a home-like environment for its residents.


In “Re-designing dementia” Claire presented a vast body of research into new approaches to involve people living with dementia in the design of supported self-management, and how this helps enable fuller engagement with them and their communities and help all to contribute to more meaningful wellbeing.  

Richard Worrall and Justin Kennedy-Good “Community and commerce: Promoting universal design in hospital shared spaces.  Both Justin and Richard have been working on the public spaces and healing environments programme at Auckland City Hospital. Their presentation focused on the ongoing implications of design decisions when creating spaces, and how to make these better for people with cognitive impairment, to ultimately benefit all users of a space. The Auckland City Hospital is undergoing refurbishing of the retail area on level 5 of the hospital. This was a real-life example demonstrating how Auckland DHB  has applied design processes and methods to make the space more accessible for its users.

Rebecca Jury explored what everyone ought to know to design for people affected by dementia. While co-design is designing ‘with’ people,  not ‘for’ people, this is not always straightforward when working with complex user groups, including those with advanced cognitive impairments.  Her talk highlighted many pitfalls in the co-design process. However, a key theme was how listen carefully to people; they want to be heard and valued.


Kate O’Connor’s talk on " Ethics for the ageing brain" challenged conventional thinking on research and health. “Health is designed by treatment, not by research”. Kate as Executive Manager of the ethics committee at AUT is constantly faced with difficult questions when research is needing ethics approval. She left us questioning the balance between research and consent and what is the right thing to when thinking of involving vulnerable individuals in research. Design research may be viewed within different ethical frameworks and these influence what might be ethical and moral to do. This can be made more complex when ethical research and design research are continually evolving as disciplines.  However,  design research is fundamentally important to improve the everyday situations of people living with dementia, but this should not compromise those who may be vulnerable as research participants.

Lastly, Hinemoa Elder began with a beautiful waiata, before exploring how understanding culture is crucial to the designing for the ageing brain. Design is not for a single person, but the whole whānau - how do designers consider language, cultural practices, symbols, cues and roles along with spiritual connections.  "He waiata, he akoranga. There is more to a song than it’s tune and actions".

Over 100 people attended the symposium.  They came from many diverse disciplines/specialisations, including architects, designers, clinicians, occupational therapists, music therapists, service improvement specialists, researchers and academics. It was a great way to share stories and explore how we might work together to explore new opportunities to develop design-led solutions to support people as they age.


Thank you to all the presenters on the day and also to everyone for attending! We can’t wait for our next symposium. Watch this space!

Off Grid 17

A couple of members of the team Lauren and Eden, attended Off Grid 17 this week, an experience design conference in Wellington that focused on the intersection of communication design and the built environment. Framed as a 'non-conference conference', there was a focus on experiencing Wellington as a city, participating and connecting with fellow attendees, and listening to what local and international practitioners are achieving in the field. 

 Laurie Foon discussing Wellington City and creating communities
 Laurie Foon discussing Wellington City and creating communities
Outside Seashore Cabaret cafe, lunch talk by Matt Wilson (owner) about culture and atmosphere in public space
Outside Seashore Cabaret cafe, lunch talk by Matt Wilson (owner) about culture and atmosphere in public space

The conference began as an experiential journey which bought people from cities around the world, with stop overs in Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland and Christchurch. Starting in Auckland, the team went to Open Studio at Alt Group where the hosts showcased their work.

As part of the conference we were encouraged to take an experiential journey to Wellington, we achieved this but didn't exactly plan it (Wellington fog and diverted flights, need I say more). Highlights included excellent coffee, inspiring local talent, and great key note speakers. The diversity amongst disciplines was refreshing, key themes were inclusivity, being welcoming and creating conversations. "We are all designers. Stop separating and start collaborating for true authentic connection" – Andrew Balster, Archeworks. Morag Myerscough reminded us of the importance of play in a huge range of work – from installations in Mexico and exhibition design, to hospital wards in Sheffield, and she discussed the eternal love triangle of designer, maker, user. 

A Signage Strategy for Wellington talk by Strategy Wellington
A Signage Strategy for Wellington talk by Strategy Wellington

Top quote:

"As designers we have the ethical imperative [to invent new sustainable ways of living]. As citizens, we have the ethical imperative to make our governments develop and embrace this new way of being in the world. As individuals we have the ethical imperative to everything we can do to contribute to this way of working, with the greatest possible urgency to overcome the challenges that we face! — Bruce Mau, Now we can do anything, what will we do?"

— Andrew Balster, Archeworks



Join us for a day exploring how creative design approaches can contribute to ageing well.

WHEN 17 February 2017

WHERE DHW Lab at the Auckland City Hospital


Detailed programme is available here.


9:00 AM    — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —  Arrival  — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

9:10 AM    Mihi Whakatau and Kaumatua opening address — Andrew Old

9:30 AM    Engagingaging — Paul Chamberlain

9:55 AM    Designing for mild cognitive Impairment — Guy Collier & Nick Hayes

10:20 AM    The Whare Aroha Care transition study: A collaboration between industry and academia. — Kay Shannon

10:45 AM    Re-designing dementia: involving people living with dementia in the design of supported self-management — Claire Craig

11:10 AM    — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —  Morning Tea  — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — 

11:30 AM    Community and commerce: Promoting universal design in hospital shared spaces — Richard Worrall & Justin Kennedy-Good

11:55 AM    What everyone ought to know to design for people affected by dementia — Rebecca Jury

12:20 PM    Researching with persons who cannot give consent: challenges in the NZ legislative and ethics environment — Kate O’Connor

12:45 PM    He waiata, he akoranga — There is more to a song than it’s tune and actions — Hinemoa Elder

1:10 PM       — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —  Lunch  — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — 

2:00 PM     Discussion / Workshop — Topics may include creative methods, ethics and co-design

3:30 PM     Closing

4:00 PM     — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —  End  — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Activate Auckland!


Activate Auckland!

Yesterday we had a visit from Activate Auckland. Activate Auckland is a collaborative community initiative to energise public spaces of inner city Auckland.

At the Lab we often think of the hospital as a city within a city. After hearing a little about Activate Auckland at the Universal Design Symposium we thought we better hear some more! An inspirational initiative, Barbara and Natalie talked us through several examples of spaces they’ve activated in the CBD. These included the Lorne St Parklet and initiatives for the High St District currently feeling the effects of construction. The Activate team bring together people and groups from creative industries to bring citizen inspired and people-centred projects to reality.

It was great to hear how the Activate team are able to invite different participants, whether they are corporate stakeholders or small businesses, to find ways to bring pockets of the CBD to life. In particular how they can take disruption and negative things like construction disturbances and turn them into positives. The range of initiatives, speed at which the team are able to implement ideas, the ways which they gauge success, so many great things for us at the Lab to learn from!

Thanks Barbara and Natalie for your time! Hopefully we can do a few cool things in 2017 for our neighbourhood. The opportunities are not just for within our Grafton boundaries but collaborating with our neighbours and other DHB campuses.


DHW Lab Open HOME_ 7 December 2016


Hello, friends of the DHW Lab!

We invite you to our open day showcasing how design has been quietly growing in Auckland City Hospital through our designers and postgraduate students.

The open day is to showcase our 2016 postgraduate students and the work DHW Lab has been doing over the past year. This is an opportunity to exchange and develop ideas, and to contribute to the future of design in healthcare.

Date:  Wednesday 7th December 2016

Time:  Drop in anytime between 7am – 5pm

Location:  DHW Lab, CEC Level 5, Building 32, Auckland City Hospital

Please RSVP by Tuesday 6th December 2016.

For any questions and to RSVP, please email us at

We can’t wait to share our work with you!

The team at DHW Lab.