Collaboration and Evaluation

Posted Friday, February 8th, 2013

Dear Blog Readers,

Today’s blog discusses a number of processes and research in the lead up to the construction and final completion of our “Prototype”.  Its contents will come under the headings “Collaborating Ideas”, “Evaluation Criteria”, “Multi-purpose Fusion” and “It is all language”.



With all this gathered information we wish to cognitively stimulate the patients though artwork that is open-to-interpretation. The most rewarding element of the design stage is collaborating with other artists, adjoining ideas and designs to create art through strength in number. In order to achieve our goal we set up criteria to analyse each material and feature of the piece, making it full of vibrancy but not-overwhelming.


After our initial research (discussed in previous blog entry) collecting various samples of items and materials we begin to finalise our ideas and design. We had to consider the varying cognitive, social and physical abilities that each individual would have when interacting with our art. By using multiple elements with opposing characteristics we can encourage a response from all patients, no matter the stage of dementia they may be at. Thus we outlined our design strategy with contrasting elements such as:

Cold → Warm
Rough → Smooth
Light → Dark
Soft → Hard
Absorbent → Reflective
2D → 3D

The photo below taken in Cardiff Bay is an example of how contrasting elements can work together to form one complete picture.

By using varying materials in our piece we aim to encourage and enable the user to see the familiar, a recognisable environment within reminiscent memory. This can create a new avenue for patient/staff interaction through dialogue, helping to forge a long term relationship. A particular strength in the design is to compensate for physical and sensory disabilities through variety, such as an individual with visual impairment could focus more on the diverse tactile nature of our piece.


The three important features to the designing process were Minimalism, Abstraction and Narratives.


Minimalism was an important consideration in our “Prototype” design process as this would require us to make the simplest elements to create the maximum effect.


Through abstraction we can allow the viewer the opportunity to not only have an individual experience of a piece, but to also experience many interpretations. While initially a piece may have represented one idea, through abstraction it can portray a great many new ideas to different people. A great example of abstraction is Kandinsky’s “Composition VIII”.


In this abstract picture of leaves and keys it creates the possibility for a narrative. It permits questions such as whether the keys could be the plants fruit and can even stimulate old memories such as the novel “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.


Our goal was to integrate multiple elements like abstraction, minimalism and narratives while also integrating materials smoothly. We used many sources of inspiration on how to do this, from pictures of various wood types merging together, to ceramic stars, the painted details of which reminded us of Van Gogh’ swirling skies. The materials in these pictures are thoughtfully combined whilst still retaining their aesthetic qualities.

There were great possibilities in creating multiple effects in each material. The picture below shows an example of a design made intricate and complex by simply creating positive and negative depths. This ceramic design incorporating leaves and flowers is made from the one material and is an example of the possibilities of materials even without the use of multiple colours.

In our “Prototype” we used wall paper as a surface back ground for our sky. This meant that visually the sky held moving floral elements which through abstraction could suggest a wind blowing in the sky.


There are many forms of communication, including communication through the senses. These can be made through sight, touch, sound, taste or smell, through various sensors memory can be stimulated. Exploring how to stimulate such senses was highly appropriate to our art work as we wanted to increase every possibility of memory recall when interacting with our piece.


We researched the impact of smell, which is said to be the strongest sense for memory recall. In our research of the impact of smell we discovered that aromatherapy could have a positive impact on our piece. Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine using aromatic extracts and essential oils to alter one’s mind, mood, cognitive function and health.
We considered an assortment of soothing and stimulating smells such as spices, food, flowers and even sea air. One popular soothing homely smell is that of baking dough and bread and we wondered whether we could apply these kinds of smells to our piece. The easiest application of smells could be through oils. Upon reflection we also thought we could perhaps incorporate the smell of bees wax by applying it to the wood.


When researching visual stimulation we discovered that different kinds of light and its origin can also impact us through our visual senses which can have multiple effects depending on our associations. Some examples of this would be the light from a fire beacon or a light house could instill a sense of safety whereas the light from fireworks could recall a sense of celebration.

The light from candles on the other hand could symbolise many things from romance, anniversaries to religious ceremonies. Or gas light could remind us of mining lanterns.

Light from stars could stimulate not only personal recollections of the night sky but also perhaps ideas of astrology or navigation.

The placing of light and the kind which is used in a design heavily impacts which associations might be recalled.


Through sound and harmonics it is also possible to communicate and trigger memories. Whether the person hearing a familiar sound used to be a musician or simply a music lover, particular sounds can activate different memories in people. From lyrics in a song to wind-up music boxes, these all remind us of different things. For some people if they have played an instrument in the past simply hearing the same sound can be a reminder of the physical action it would take to play that instrument, for example guitars can require a plucking or strumming movement, where as a piano requires a pushing movement and a xylophone requires a hit to create sound. A good example of memory being triggered through sound is through this video of a man who has severe dementia.

As the video begins he remains very passive but at around the 2:00 minute mark they give him music from his era and his reaction is incredible. Life begins again.  It’s a beautiful story.


Different textures stimulated through touch can also bring forth various memories and reactions. Some forms of textures suggest interaction and playfulness where as others like braille suggests learning and communication.


Not only textures but also different fonts in words can provide many interpretations to a particular word. The letter format can suggest anything from poetry to rhymes to formal business addresses.

Clearly there are many forms of communication and in the creation of our art work we must explore the ability to communicate not only visually but also through a multitude of senses like smell, sound and touch. Through a multitude of sense stimulation we can hope to compensate for varying cognitive, social and physical abilities and encourage a positive experience for all.