So far in the Design Can Change The World series I’ve written about innovative creations that make life better for people in developing countries, like A Litre of Light that helps illuminate slum housing, The Information Blanket tackling infant mortality and Repurpose Schoolbags helping kids in Africa make more of their education. Today though, I want to share with you a brilliantly simple project using design to improve lives closer to home.
The Home Service project is a collaboration between artist Jonty Lees, ceramic designer Reiko Keneko and Arts for Health Cornwall. It harnesses the power of design as the catalyst for conversation amongst elderly residents of a Cornish care home, particularly those suffering from dementia. It’s a brilliantly simple concept in which the cups and saucers used for serving the ladies and gentlemen their afternoon tea were exchanged for a specially-designed set featuring conversation-sparking words.
Each piece in the crockery set is inscribed with a single word, free from context, to act as a visual trigger. Jonty tested out potential words using flashcards and chose 100 which inspired the most reaction. Words like ‘railway’, ‘soldier’, ‘snowball’ and ‘wedding’ help the elderly residents grasp memories from their past and share common experiences with one another.
The set itself was designed by Reiko Kaneko, a Japanese-British ceramicist whose personal experiences encouraged her interest in the project. “Like many people, I have people close to me affected by dementia. The problem seems particularly acute in Japan where there is a huge ageing population – 26% of the population is over 65… my grandmother passed away last year at the grand age of 102,” she explains. Reiko’s style is one of understated simplicity, and she brought that same aesthetic into play with the Home Service. “We wanted clear, direct lettering and decided on the same typeface found on British road signs, which is renowned for its legibility. The black lettering sits in stark contrast to the bright white bone china and we hoped that words on saucers added another surprise factor as the cups are lifted.”
The Home Service Project is such a simple idea that shows how just a little creativity and imagination can help a marginalised group within our population feel more involved with culture, the arts and the people around them. I’m sure we’ve all struggled to start a conversation when chatting to an elderly relative and I love the idea that the ritual of afternoon tea can provide that ice-breaker and bring people together through shared experiences. I think it would be wonderful to see this idea rolled out to other care homes around the country. What do you think?
Our ‘Design Can Change the World‘ series will highlight innovative and ethical design ideas improving the lives of people around the world. If you’ve come across any creative ideas which make a difference and deserve to be shared, please let us know in the comments and we’ll write about our favourites.