How to codesign with people with dementia – Rita Maldonado Branco visits CIID Consulting

“It has been and still is a huge challenge for me as a designer to work on a topic like Dementia – with no prior experience other than from my own family, I’ve run into hurdles along the way of my research – participants from time to time forget that we’ve spoken before or even who I am – that’s one example of a challenge I’ve had to take in consideration when designing my research.” Rita Maldonado Branco about her codesign work with people with dementia.

This week CIID Consulting hosted communication designer Rita Maldonado Branco to talk about her design work on the social aspects of living with dementia. In an effort to better communicate with her grandparents, who were suffering from dementia, Rita pursued first an MA at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, and then a research Ph.D from the Fine Art Faculty at the University of Porto. This spring, Rita has come to Copenhagen to spend time at The Royal Danish Academy of Arts – School of Design to learn more about participatory design from their co-design department. At the KADK Co-Design Department (CODE) Rita has been specialising in how to include people with dementia in the design process.

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“It has been and still is a huge challenge for me as a designer to work on a topic like Dementia – with no prior experience other than from my own family, I’ve run into hurdles along the way of my research – participants from time to time forget that we’ve spoken before or even who I am – that’s one example of a challenge I’ve had to take in consideration when designing my research.”

cards_webHer personal link to the disease has worked to her advantage and the feedback she has received from healthcare personal and relatives is equally positive – they appreciate the fresh view and new angle to dementia, in contrast to the more common medical treatment focus.

Beautifully crafted poetic tools reveal Rita’s graphic design background. In one example, antique books were nudged and redesigned to visually communicate the feeling of living with dementia – giving a strong visual image of the developmental stages of the disease. Flipping through one of them, the reader finds cut-out lines from characters in the story that the main character gradually forgets, until so many are cut out that the main character is all alone.

book_webWe could feel Rita Maldonado Branco’s excitement about producing visual outcomes of her research findings to bridge the gap between people with dementia and their families. There’s no doubt about her commitment to raise general awareness about dementia through a visual context. Other examples of her beautifully crafted tools include family customised memory cards, a family story book where relatives have written personal and short letters to their family member–reminding them for example of a specific occasion they spent together, and a table cloth with prints of cutlery and plates to give an ease while setting the table.

cloth_WEBAs part of her research, Rita is also volunteering at a centre of care for people with dementia in Porto, where she’s continuing her collaborative design process throughout her Ph.D. At the moment she’s designing a board game for people with dementia and their families to first create and build together and then play. The game has been played by patients at the centre of care in Porto and has shown to be emotionally valuable to patients and their families. The board game is now in it’s first rounds of iterations. 

Rita Maldonado Branco’s work is an excellent example of how a designer can take on a unconventional topic, approach it from a different angle, and use her visual skills promote the communication between sufferers and relatives.

Thanks for paying us a visit and please come back again!

Read more about Rita Maldonado Branco’s Master project  here and follow the work with her Ph.D.  here.

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