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Household  – Home Maintenance

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The ability to independently maintain your home is an important activity of daily living. Home repairs and gardening are two of the top leisure pursuits among people who have recently retired and find themselves with some time on their hands. However, much housekeeping equipment and many do-it-yourself tools are designed without taking into account the physical impairments that result from ageing.


‘Your house is your larger body. It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless.’ – On Houses, from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

From electric screwdrivers and vacuum cleaners to garden trimmers, it is essential that products – and the manuals that accompany them – are designed to enable all of us to maintain our homes more effectively. User research suggests the following inclusive design guidelines:


The form of the controls should intuitively indicate their function

Controls should be easily operated

Form of Features

The form of a product feature should indicate how it works without the need for any graphics


The role of graphics is to communicate quickly and unambiguously

Placement of graphics should be carefully considered in relation to how people will position themselves to hold the item

Graphics should be big and bold so as many people as possible can see and understand them

Symbols used should be consistent and standard

Surfaces which carry graphics should have a matt finish to avoid glare

High tonal and colour contrast makes controls easier to use


Use high-contrast text and use bold if reversing-out text

Be careful placing text over photographs, do not place text over photographs where there is low contrast

Used mixed case where possible, do not overuse capitals or underlining – they make text harder to read

Do not put text over patterns

10pt type is okay for most people, 12pt type is ideal and 14pt type can be read by more people

Functional Simplicity

Making products simpler can make them easier to use, easier to assembly, easier and cheaper to make, more sustainable and easier to maintain

Cognitive Issues

Avoid the need for more than one thing to be done at once by the user

User must be told when actions are complete or what still remains to do

Avoid requiring operations to be done within a certain time if possible

Lighting the home

Not only home maintenance products but also the home environment itself should be designed in an inclusive way. One of the important environmental factors in home maintenance is domestic lighting. However, most current lighting solutions do not include the specific needs of people with low vision.

Prevalence of sight loss increases with age. It has been estimated that one in eight people aged over 75 years and one in three people over 90 have some form of sight loss. In total, there are around two million individuals in the UK who have sight loss that affects their everyday lives.

Based on research, here are six design directions for desirable lighting at home:

1. Moving – a portable light source that can be moved easily and effectively around the home for task lighting

2. Orientation – a light source that can be used to navigate around the home

3. Control/location – a control system that will explicitly control the light sources within the home and will easily communicate their status

4. Easy Install – a light source that can be used in the home with minimal need for fixture or expert installation

5. Adaptation – an assistive light source that can be incorporated into common found objects within the home, or can fit into the home naturally without creating stigma

6. Atmosphere – a light source that will move beyond straightforward functionality to enhance the mood of a room through light.




‘It is difficult to open the drill and tool set cases. Poor quality of supplied accessories lets the tools down.’ – 78 year-old retired cabinet maker

‘I bought a new house recently and I’m making everything as future-proof as possible, I know my eyesight will be really bad when I’m older and I’m sure I won’t make many changes then so I want to get it right now’

‘I always read in the same place, never in bed or anything like that as it’s too difficult to get the light right’

- occupational therapist with macular degeneration

‘I prefer daylight, but that’s (referring to yellow frosted bulb) what I like at night as it’s happy, sunshine’ – resident with visual impairment

‘I enjoy reading large print books. In the daytime if the light level is good I sit at the armchair near the window. When it gets darker I have to move to my other armchair and turn on the kitchen light.’ – a female resident in her 60’s with low vision

Case studies

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Sensory devices

This design study explored ways to communicate more effectively to an ageing population how domestic appliances work.

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Green and Pleasant

The designer worked with a group of older gardeners in Somerset, UK, to explore the design of garden power tools that would improve grip and performance.

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Power to the People

A commercially successful project to redesign power tools for the home to make them easier to use by older people.

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Air Control

This project is developing a new domestic air control system that provides clean, fresh air across the seasons without the need to open windows or use conventional air conditioning.

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This design study proposed new ways to create illumination where it is required in the home for people with sight loss.

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A project to develop a lightweight, inclusive fire extinguisher for home use that is portable and easy to handle.

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This project developed an easy-to-use, cordless vacuum cleaner with a cleaning wand, based on research with disabled people.

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