Neurodiversity
Article

The Design for the Mind Guide: What Does it Mean?

The impact buildings have on people with a range of neurological differences remains a relatively new field in research. New guidance, known as PAS 6463:2022 (Publicly Available Specification) is a welcome development in the design of inclusive spaces for neurodivergent groups.

Motionspot’s Senior Inclusive Design Consultant and Neurodiversity Design Specialist, Jason Slocombe, played a key role in the creation of this new PAS. Here we outline some of the key highlights. The full PAS can be downloaded from the BSI website.

Reception area of a workplace in neutral calming tones

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes the fact that everyone’s brain is unique. This diversity makes an important contribution to our definition of the human experience. It is not a defect or disfunction, it is a difference. There are many ways of thinking, sensing, and interacting with the world.

Historically, neurodiversity has been associated with autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, and dyslexia. Neurodivergent individuals bring valuable and diverse strengths to business and communities alike. They drive innovation, design complex systems, and are leaders in arts and creative technologies. However, the vast majority experience significant challenges by the design and management of buildings.

Neurodiversity is not just about neurological difference. It affects all areas of life, such as physical, sensory, social, communication, wellbeing, cultural, gender, and mental health needs.

Neurodiversity and the built environment

Building standards for physical accessibility already exists. British Standards best practice guidance BS8300 is one of the most comprehensive documents for accessible design in the world. However, there are large knowledge gaps in how to design inclusive spaces for people who are neurodivergent and have hidden disabilities.

Nearly 13 million disabled people in the UK do not use a wheelchair. This means a significant number of the population have other disabilities including complex, learning, sensory, and many other conditions experienced by neurodivergent groups. In 2021, only 22% of around 450,000 autistic adults in the UK were in paid work compared to an average of 81% of people without a disability, making them one of the most underrepresented groups in the workforce.

What is the PAS 6463 Design for the Mind?

The PAS 6463 is the first building design standard produced by a national standards body to specifically address the needs of people who are neurodivergent and have sensory processing differences. Its launch marks a considerable shift in thinking about disability in terms of outward physical conditions towards environments that include neurological diversity.

Facilitated by The British Standards Institution (BSI), the PAS has been developed by a group of industry experts and people with lived experience of being neurodivergent. The PAS was authored by Jean Hewitt with the close involvement of contributing organisations including the Association for Dementia Studies, BBC Workplace, the Department for Education and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Sport England, Transport for London (TfL), and the inclusive design company Motionspot.

Design for the Mind is for designers, planners, specifiers, facilities and workplace management professionals, for all public and commercial buildings and external spaces.

People talking in a comfortable seated area with soft lighting

Key recommendations in the Design for the Mind guide

The Design for the Mind PAS includes:

  • Establish stakeholder engagement and develop an inclusive design strategy
  • Design wayfinding and external areas for sensory differences
  • Reduce sensory and cognitive load from environmental features and building services
  • Implement safety features for sensory and cognitive difference
  • Provide flexibility and choice

PAS 6463 provides guidance on elements in the built environment that contribute to sensory overload and exhaustion, including:

  • Spatial and functional planning
  • Materials, air quality, temperature, and environmental services
  • Noise and sound characteristics
  • Patterns and visual noise
  • Light, glare and reflections

PAS 6463 advises organisations to appoint someone within their business to champion inclusion and neurodiversity, and to establish an inclusive framework for all their projects. Consultation and engagement groups should include representation from people with cognitive, social, communication and sensory differences. Project Leads should appoint experienced inclusive design professionals early on. This helps to understand challenges, provide technical knowledge, and maintain inclusive design standards throughout the project.

Visual noise

The visual environment can have a major impact on an individual’s comfort and ability to function within a space. Jason Slocombe (Motionspot Senior Inclusive Design Consultant and Neurodiversity Design Specialist) used virtual modelling techniques to identify visual discomfort and develop recommendations for reducing the negative effects of visual noise in the PAS.

It is well known that high contrast stripes and geometric patterns can create acute sensory overload, particularly for people with visual sensitivities, epilepsy or migraine. However, there is also evidence that other types of patterns need higher neurological bandwidth to process, creating fatigue and discomfort.

Recommendations include introducing lower visual content in key areas such as communication points, displays, and quiet spaces. Also where high levels of concentration are necessary for safety, such as machine rooms, kitchens, transition spaces, and on stairs. When patterns are used, those that occur in nature should be prioritised. This is because biomorphic shapes and patterns typically contain lower levels of visual noise and are easier for the brain to process.

The benefits of designing for the mind

Good sensory inclusive environments can provide a range of environmental, economic, and social advantages. These include:
  • Enhanced employee and customer retention
  • Reduced absence due to mental ill health
  • Improved wellbeing – reduction in fatigue, stress (including post-traumatic stress disorder triggers) and anxiety
  • Increased focus, creativity, and productivity
  • Creating a more enjoyable environment where people can feel empowered and in control

    What is the future for design for the mind?

    At Motionspot, we have seen a significant increase in the number organisations approaching us to help them design for the mind. Clients engage us to design spaces that are not only inclusive to people with physical disabilities, but are also inclusive to neurodivergent people with different cognitive, sensory, social and communication needs.

    Thanks to improved awareness and understanding, new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) policies are supporting neurodivergent staff and customers to thrive in the workplace. Designing for neurodiversity is more likely to attract companies, staff, and clients with inclusion as a core value.  These companies know that diversity and different ways of thinking will help support their business. We expect to see this trend continue to percolate across a range of business sectors and sizes.

    Jason Slocombe, Motionspot Senior Inclusive Design Consultant and Neurodiversity Design Specialist says: 

    “The formal publication of PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind will help reframe the inclusive design discipline from sensory and cognitive perspectives as well as traditional physical ones.

    “I am optimistic that this standard will not only be widely evaluated in use, but it will help to stimulate practical, evidenced-based research, and sound engagement practices with people most affected by design.

    “This research will enable us to build upon this initial guidance which marks the beginning rather than the end of the journey towards building consensus, accelerating innovation, and improving the quality of design for neurological variations in the built environment.”

    Ultimately, we would like to see the PAS 6463 to be considered for further development as a British Standard, and feed into the development of corresponding European and International Standards. Historically, 30% of all Publicly Available Specifications (PAS) published by the BSI have gone forward to form the basis of international standards. This gives us confidence that this will also be the case for the crucial emerging field of designing for the mind.

    Inclusive design consultancy 

    If you’d like to learn more about PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind, or about creating inclusive spaces, get in touch with Motionspot’s accessible design experts today by emailing team@motionspot.co.uk or calling 020 3735 5139.

    About Jason Slocombe, Senior Inclusive Designer and neurodiversity design specialist 

    Jason Slocombe trained as an architect, and now works as an Inclusive Design Consultant and neurodiversity design specialist at Motionspot. He advises architects, designers and building owners how to make their buildings more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities and differences.

    Jason has a Masters in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings, and his research designing autistic-inclusive spaces led to a unique specialism in visual noise and the effect of patterns on people with sensory sensitivities. He continues to be a passionate advocate for autism inclusion and was a primary contributor to the new PAS (6463) Design for the Mind.