Dr Patricia (Pattie) Moore, who has been described as ‘the mother of inclusive design’ and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sheffield Hallam last November, visited campus last week to receive her award in person and speak at the Lab4Living Festival of Design4Health, four days of symposia recently hosted by the University.
Pattie’s career as a gerontologist and designer spans over five decades. She is an internationally renowned pioneer of inclusive design and inspiration to many.
Following her visit to Sheffield, on World Industrial Design Day (29 June), Pattie was announced as the recipient of the prestigious 2022 World Design Medal™. The announcement took place at London’s Royal College of Art and the Helen Hamlyn Design Research Centre, by Director Rama Gheerawo and Lady Hamlyn.
As a university proud of our commitment to inclusivity as well as excellence in the field of design, it was a huge privilege to welcome Pattie onto campus to inspire the next generation of industrial designers at Hallam.
Her contribution to inclusivity and design is astounding and unwavering, however, her journey from young designer to trailblazer and leader in her field means she has an equally fascinating story to tell, which she shared with students last week.
A habit of firsts
Pattie was the first-born child of three in the steel town of Buffalo, New York, and, during the 1970s, was one of six students in the first graduating class at the Rochester Institute of Technology (which is also the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders).
Studying in a part of New York State that was all about taking a holistic view of design was to be the launching pad for an incredible career.
“I was the first-born child, in the first graduating class at Rochester, and I think this gave me a level of confidence, resilience and can-do spirit,” she says.
Pattie went on to work as the first female designer at the internationally renowned Raymond Loewy (considered the father of American industrial design) design office in New York.
Here, she became frustrated by the “dismissive” attitude of her colleagues towards designing empathetically for people with lower levels of ability, such as the elderly. So much so, that at the age of just 26, she went to incredible lengths to help herself better understand these struggles.
An empathetic approach to design
Over a three-year period, Pattie visited over 100 cities dressed as a variety of elderly women – with different levels of ability and mobility, and in different socio-economic groups. She wore her grandmother’s clothes, and disrupted her ability to move, hear and see by wearing uncomfortable shoes, ear plugs and thick glasses. She received some awful treatment, but this helped shape her understanding of how difficult it can be for the elderly to navigate the world around them.
As a result, Pattie revolutionised the world of industrial design, creating a range of innovative products that even those with arthritic hands and mobility issues were able to use.
She is pioneer of Universal Design – the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.
Today, Pattie continues to work hard innovating, ideating and storytelling to promote inclusive design in the board room as well as with young designers, such as those at Hallam.
Pattie says, “I’m adamant that design leadership is the next bit of evolution that’s going to make a difference – and that’s what I’ve been talking about in Sheffield. Design has always promised, but it is now able to deliver and maintain dignity, equity and equality of life as never before.
“I want today’s students to be inspired by inclusive design and if I can put out an idea that resonates and that they can run with, then that’s great,” she adds.
“Design should always be about making life better for the consumer. That’s the brilliant thing about the power of design – and with technology, there’s so little we can’t take on today.”
The human factor
And, while technology has advanced so much, Pattie believes the next challenge will be ensuring it’s used inclusively to improve the lives of everyone – regardless of their ability level.
“Covid laid bare all the failures at play, and all the needs were shown to us. The numbers of elders who couldn’t dial up or go online and set up their appointment for their jab and had to have a younger person who was available to work the technology for them or come and pick them up and drive them to their groceries or for their jab, shows how far we still must go.
“But that kind of community response is what I’m talking about with design leadership because everything is design-driven, and that’s where we are right now.
“It’s a brilliant time to be a designer or anywhere within the sphere of creating these fixes by technology – without forgetting the human aspect of course. While it’s great that we can give someone a virtual hug, nothing is better than a real one – and the pandemic showed us this.”
Of her connection with Sheffield, Pattie says, “I’m glad that inclusive design keeps marching on, getting bigger and better, with the awareness that it’s nonsense to dismiss someone who is old or disabled. At Sheffield Hallam they walk the walk, and they talk the talk – and I like that.”
“My whole career has been about that, and I’m honoured that Sheffield Hallam University is recognising my work and now I’m part of the family. Inspiring students and helping communities like this is really what gets me up every day thinking about how I can help someone bring their career along and that’s what this stage of my career is about – and I’m loving it, it’s the best of times!”