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The class poses in front of a wall of design sketches

Industrial Design students tackle issues facing people with dementia


The classroom for the Industrial Design 2nd year studio looks exactly like what one might imagine when they think of “design.” The room is reminiscent of an inventor’s workshop—a hub of energy and creativity.

This room is where Carleton University professor Chantal Trudel and contract instructor Yana Klimava challenge their students to re-think how they approach industrial design. This year, they asked their class to address challenges facing aging adults with dementia.

“There are often groups of people who are marginalized by design, in everything from cellphones to building architecture,” Chantal explains, “so this exercise is really to show students how design can be used to help others.”

Her students were keen for the challenge. They began by learning about the issues facing people with dementia from Bruyère’s Dr. Frank Knoefel and his research manager Karen de Libero. The students then broke into groups and got to work. Over three weeks they developed technological solutions and mapped them out on miniature models of Bruyère Village apartments as well as generic residential models such as 2 -story homes, bungalows and condominiums.

Inspired by the work being done in the AGEWELL SAM3 Smart Apartment, housed at the Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital, and led by researchers from both Bruyère and Carleton University, the main task was to create non-intrusive supportive technologies that could easily be incorporated into a person with dementia’s home.

This presented a unique challenge to the class. The goal was to create products that are minimal and invisible to the residents of the home. This was counter to what some of the students were used to. “Usually we design things to stand out. So it was very interesting to design things that are made not to stand out,” explains Julie Bourgoin, a student in the class.

Despite the challenge, the students rose to the task. Shiva Moin, for example, worked on creating smart home sensors that didn’t look like smart home sensors. The idea is to help a resident feel more comfortable having a smart-home monitoring system in their home. This system could then collect vital health data on the people in the home, which would then be used to enhance their care.

Alex Kulic, another student in the class, wondered if scent might be a useful way to help people with dementia remember where they are, what time it is, and whether they should be asleep at this time. The idea is that comforting smells might reduce anxiety in the person with dementia, and reduce their risk of wandering at night.

Overall the project was a positive experience for the class.

“This project showed me that design is not always just about making nice-looking products,” explains Shiva. “It’s really about how the user will interact with the product and how the product is going to affect their lives.”