Research and Knowledge Exchange

Collaborating to improve the experience of the built environment for people with dementia

Using findings from a literature review, researchers have assisted a design company to develop consistent, helpful and attractive signage for a range of environments.

The project

Finding your way around can be a challenge in many types of built environment, but even more so if you have problems with memory and perception. Dissatisfied with existing ‘wayfinding’ systems in meeting the needs of people with dementia, the award-winning design agency, StudioLR, set out to develop a fresh, evidence-based approach.

Through Interface, Scotland’s knowledge connection between business and academia, the agency made contact with researchers in the Universities of Edinburgh and Stirling who together had extensive expertise in understanding the care and lived experience of people with dementia. The collaboration was supported by a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher.

Using literature review findings to develop design guidelines for signage

The project’s priority was to use insights from people living with dementia to develop signage that was both effective and attractive. This would make the product more likely to be used in a variety of settings, increasing people’s independence and reducing stigma.

Under the direction of Professor Heather Wilkinson in the School of Health in Social Science, Edinburgh researcher Dr Sarah Keyes undertook an extensive literature review of studies on dementia and living environments, highlighting key factors relating to orientation and disorientation. StudioLR used the findings to develop a set of design guidelines for creating consistent, helpful and attractive signage, with practical feedback from Dr Fiona Kelly (formerly of the University of Stirling, now at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh).

Increased collaboration within the University and beyond

The project has attracted the attention of other partners, both from industry and academia, who are interested in dementia-friendly signage. It has led to increased collaboration between the new Edinburgh Centre for Research on the Experience of Dementia (E-CRED) and Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh, for example, as well as with HammondCare, an Australian charity specialising in dementia.

Funding from the Australian Dementia Collaborative Research Centre has been secured for a new project with HammondCare, Showing the Way, which got underway with workshops in Edinburgh and Australia in April 2015, and has continued to develop through the ‘Delphi method’ of iterative problem-solving, with StudioLR as a contributor. In November 2015, StudioLR’s founder, Lucy Richardson, presented the design guidance to delegates from policy and practice at the annual Scottish Health and Social Care Facilities Conference.  

“The collaborative process we have experienced... has been both stimulating and fruitful, with exciting new thinking emerging throughout the process. As the project builds in momentum our purpose has become clearer and more worthwhile.”

Lucy RichardsCreative Director, StudioLR

Funded by

Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher.


Professor Heather Wilkinson, E-CRED, School of Health in Social Science

Dr Sarah Keyes, E-CRED, School of Health in Social Science


Edinburgh Centre for Research on the Experience of Dementia (E-CRED)


Scottish Funding Council - Innovation Vouchers