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Research staff profile: introducing...Anke Jakob

Tell us about yourself

Anke JakobI am a research fellow at the Design School at Kingston University London. My work is concerned with the design for environments related to therapeutic and sensory experiences, and the application of light, material and digital technology within such spaces. In particular I am interested in how multisensory stimulation is facilitated in health care to the benefit of people with special needs.

A trained textile designer by background, I practised in the textile industry and design before becoming more engaged with interdisciplinary projects and research, including digital media and spatial design. Besides academic engagements I co-directed architecture and design practice leit-werk ltd for almost 10 years, focusing on the design of architectural surfaces and the value of applied material, digital technology, light, and ornament in the built environment. In 2007, I was awarded a PhD for my practice-led research into the fusion of the digital and the physical at Bath Spa University, where I also taught textile design within Bath School of Art & Design.

What is your current research focused on?

Recently I have been leading an interdisciplinary research project as grant holder and principal investigator which was funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council Early Career Research grant.

In collaboration with occupational therapist Dr Lesley Collier from University of Southampton, I investigated the quality of multisensory stimulation on offer in English care homes with residents living with dementia, in particular the design of multisensory spaces – often referred to as Sensory Rooms or Multisensory Environments (MSEs).

During a study involving a number of care homes in London and South England, we examined the aesthetic and functional qualities of MSEs currently existing in residential homes to establish reasons and criteria for their success or failure. The results of this survey informed the development of design recommendations and guidance for creating sensory spaces that are tailored towards people with dementia, potentially improving accessibility and user experience. Our design advice has been published in the guide book How to make a Sensory Room for people living with dementia.

The results of this first phase of the research were showcased at the exhibition Sensory Rooms: Designing Interventions to support dementia care, held in London. We are continuing this research developing proof of concept scenarios in the next stage.

What are you passionate about?

As a designer I am passionate about improving our environment, services and experiences on an aesthetic and functional level. Often, small changes in the design of spaces, objects or processes can have an enormous impact and can make a big difference in people's lives, in particular for people with physical and cognitive impairments who depend on help from others. Design thinking includes identifying problems, questioning the existing, and subsequently coming up with holistic, user-centred and inclusive solutions to improve the user experience. I therefore believe designers should be much more involved in all areas of life, business, health care and politics, to contribute with their unique abilities, making life easier and more enjoyable for all of us.

How does your research affect people's everyday lives?

My research can help health care practitioners working in dementia care to improve quality of care on a daily basis, consequently enhancing the wellbeing of the people they care for. During my research I had a unique insight into the daily work in a care home and the challenges staff are facing. I also learned that there is often a knowledge gap amongst carers and practitioners about the special sensory needs of people living with dementia and that there is not enough information available in this area. My work aims to contribute to closing this gap by providing advice for professional and informal carers on how to create a sensory environment that is appropriate and beneficial for people living with dementia.

Find out more about Anke Jakob on her staff profile page.