Spotlight: Nathan Brown

Over the past month or so we have been sharing stories behind some of the winning projects from the 2017 Creative Conscience Awards. Up next is Nathan Brown, awarded silver in the Technology category.

This emergency services project is the result of a self-initiated concept that I instigated at the beginning of my third year at Falmouth University. I’m always trying to create for social change, but this was my first UX/UI project. This was uncharted territory; a thrilling challenge and a massive learning curve, and evolved into a proof of concept which could possibly be used one day in the future.

The current services are 80-years-old as of this year (2017) and do an incredible job already, but my idea stemmed from my own lack of education as I sat on a train one day. Who would I phone if I wanted advice on an illness? Who would I phone if I needed help in a situation where I couldn’t make a sound? I asked myself more questions and couldn’t find the answers.

My research fell off the back of those thoughts, and led me to a staggering insight from a BBC article from 2012. It stated that only 3% of 2000 people surveyed knew that the 112 number was an EU emergency number. This made the UK “one of the bottom three countries in Europe for awareness of the services”. With this in mind, I would always ask those asking about my project “what is the 112 number for?”. The answer being a resounding “I have no clue”, which is a shame when it’s to be used in a potentially life or death situation.

Looking further and talking to people I found stories of dialling wrong numbers – non-emergency medical assistance instead of non-emergency police for example – hoax calls, and generally extending waiting times for those who seriously need the help. Consequently, I updated the UI with iconography as a means of associating scenarios through basic imagery – a universal language that can be globally understood, something that even a young child could understand. A person wouldn’t need to remember numbers, but merely associate with the icons and call.

Designing by committee was the main process here. For example, a focus group drew scenarios such as ‘fire’ and ‘police’ in order to find common ground within imagery. This input was essential due to the massive range of the audience. Designing something on my own terms could hinder decision times and render the project useless. However with this, and rigorous feedback sessions, I was able to create something that wasn’t just about what I wanted, but what would work for everyone.

After I grounded the initial idea, suggestions from numerous people implied that using smartphone and wearable technology could propel the idea forward. If a smartphone can measure vibrations and pressure of touch, could it detect an epileptic’s seizure and speed-dial an ambulance? Moreover, if wearables can measure heart rates, breathing and blood pressure, could the technology work almost like how a dog can detect an incoming seizure; finding anomalies in vitals and speed-dialing services through bluetooth? Could those vitals then be transmitted to responders on the way to the scene so they’re better informed?

The scope of the project has been the most exciting so far and there’s plenty more life still in it. I hope that one day a project such as this can be created, even if just to create awareness for our current systems. To be able to help so many people and save so many lives is why I design, and it’s why I will always continue to.