‘Sequential Cycles’ is born from constant collaboration with dyslexic children and their teachers within a leading school for learning difficulties set in London. It is the result of reflections on dyslexic people’s problems related to the perception of time (sequential, organisational etc) and was developed on children and teacher’s feedback.
Lucia Turco: the project was my Masters project. I contacted many people that helped me with the development and the evaluation process. Illustrator Grazia Restelli developed the images for the activities cards, that were constantly tested by myself with the children.
We appreciated this approach to a social problem focused on one difficult task for dyslexic children. The presentation of this design solution is extensive and very clear. Its physical design was much appreciated by the jury, and left us curious to now see a digital expansion.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Dyslexia is the most common type of specific learning difficulty.
It is a genetically transmitted condition of the brain, and being not an illness it cannot disappear, but early intervention is advised to build up strategies to face it.
In the UK, it mildly affects 10% of school age children and severely affects 4%.
Differently from the common understanding of this condition as being only related to problems with reading and writing, dyslexia is a combination of many problems that include difficulties with organisation, language, short time working memory, words storing and retrieving, possible fine and gross motor problems and phonological awareness.
In addition, dyslexic people struggle with conventions and abstractions: they have particular difficulties with the perception of time and with understanding sequential time aspects and temporal time aspects (i.e. correlating an activity with its timing, understanding what is the meaning of ‘today’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘one hour before something’, etc).
With the clock being such a complex, abstract convention that translates something perceived as linear (the sequence of daily events) into something cyclical, dyslexic children struggle to learn how to properly use it to organise their lives.
The challenge of this project was to question if it was possible to design an educational tool that could help children with learning how to use clocks properly, which could therefore help change their lives. The problem was particularly exciting because it needed to be solved through direct collaboration with its user group in order to really satisfy their needs.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
The project started with my personal reflections on how the clock works and why it is so complicated, not just for dyslexic people, but also for everybody else. It was after this that I started to produce several quick mock-ups to represent my ideas. But what was more exciting was being able to have constant feedback from the specific user group and to re-direct my ideas and reflections towards something that really responds to their needs.
During a second part of the project, I held workshops on dyslexic children perception of time within the school.
This gave me the opportunity to prove my initial hypothesis, adding value to the final solution, though this was not planned since the beginning.
Thanks to this unexpected opportunity I was able to learn something that Design Schools don’t teach: how to design workshops with people in order to understand their needs, giving them the power to contribute to the development of the projects with insights on their real needs.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
As described above, the project was developed in constant collaboration with dyslexic children and their teachers. ?I had the opportunity to collaborate with the Head Teacher, Sheree Cumming, whose amazing knowledge of dyslexia and of each of the children made it possible to select the best group of children to take part in the trials.? Children were on average aged 10 and they were all dyslexic, with the added difficulty of some children being also dyspraxic, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and SLI (Specific Learning Impairment).
The project’s development and outcomes have also been constantly evaluated with different audiences. Within the design world I spoke with graphic designers to discuss the importance of colours for dyslexic people, with several industrial designers, dyslexic or not and also with well-known figures within the design industry, to help identify better the project’s strengths and weaknesses.
Within the scientific world I spoke with professor John Stein, neuroscientist, Emeritus Professor at University of Oxford, whose Magnocellular Theory of developmental dyslexia (developed with other experts) proves from a scientific point of view that yellow and blue, the colours chosen with the children for ‘Sequential Cycles’, are the best ones for better legibility.
The project is a research based Masters project, in which the outcomes have been proven to be valuable. However the manufacturing and further development is yet to be started because of the time constraints of the course.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
The project was chronologically structured as follows:
- Broad research on dyslexia;
- Identification of a school willing to collaborate with the project and application to the Criminal Records Bureau in order to be able to work with the children within a dyslexic school;
- Weekly visits to the school and development of the ideas based on a group of children’s feedback on the proposed mock-ups. The children were all aged on average 10.
The mock-ups reflected on how to deconstruct the conventions within the clock in order to make it easier to learn how to properly use it.
Those conventions are: AM and PM; minutes hand being longer than hours hand; clock’s dial being divided in 12 sections; each corresponding to both 5 minutes and 1 hour; 12 hours meaning 24 hours (1 is 13 or 1pm, 2 is 14 or 2pm, etc); clockwise direction; counting anticlockwise to say how long does it takes to something (e.g. if it is 12.55 it takes 5 minutes to 13 and we automatically move backwards on the clock’s dial).
- Over 4 sessions: workshops on dyslexic children perception of time. Held with two classes of 10 and 7 children each, aged on average 10, one hour with each class. The group was different from the previous one, so children didn’t see the previous mock-ups.
Please note that each session was structured as a team game with prices, in order to keep children’s attention and motivation high. The exercises proposed can be divided into the following categories: music and rhythm and any relation with the perception of time, sequencing, how behaviours are modified on the basis of a volumetric representation of time, moments of the day.
- Development of final prototypes on the basis of the data collected, constantly going back to the user group to check that each part responded to their needs.
- Evaluation from the project’s audience as described above.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
‘Sequential Cycles’ hopes to help teach dyslexic children how to correctly use one of society’s most complex conventions.
Using a multisensory approach, it allows children, both dyslexic and not, to understand why the clock works like it does in order to be able to use it correctly.
Children are therefore able to deconstruct the clock’s conventions, visualising them.
Everybody is different. Currently education is built on how the mainstream brain works, based on reading and writing, whilst not giving enough space to the creative disciplines in which a dyslexic child would perform better due to how their brains are structured.
Our society has the same issue: it is mainly left-handed and tends to exclude those special people. But dyslexic people’s incidence is ‘only’ 10%, therefore society cannot be structured on their way of thinking.
And here lies the importance of ‘Sequential Cycles’, whose aim is to teach a strategy to cope with how to use the clock, rather then forcing dyslexic pupils, whose short term memory is weak, to learn its functioning by heart and to take it for granted.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
If I could change something, I would have initially run the workshops on children’s perception of time before testing my own reflections with mock-ups.