ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a lifelong condition affecting children and adults. In addition to problems with attention, memory and self-control, people with ADHD are more likely to experience mental health problems (Young & Bramham 2007) and engage in criminal activity: 30-50% of UK prison inmates are thought to have the condition versus only 5% of the general population (Young & Goodwin 2010). In 2000, excess treatment costs for adult ADHD in the USA were $31.6 billion, with loss of work productivity estimated to cost a further $77 billion (Weiss 2007).
Design has the potential to significantly reduce the costs of ADHD: whereas psychiatrists and clinical psychologists modify the individual through biochemical, cognitive and behavioural means, designers are best placed to modify the the physical, social and digital environment. For example, social design approaches used by the Design Council to reduce violence against staff in UK accident and emergency wards (Britt 2011) could inform programmes to reduce violence in prison by inmates with ADHD. As yet, however, designers have few academic resources to draw on when designing products and services for people with ADHD (McKnight 2010).
Design and the creative arts have a role to play in maximising the potential benefits of ADHD as well as minimising the costs. Four studies in the scientific literature (Sarkis 2011) have shown a positive correlation between ADHD and creativity, for example: "adults with ADHD showed higher levels of original creative thinking ... and higher levels of real-world creative achievement, compared to adults without ADHD" (White & Shah 2011). Several business schools in the USA teach design thinking (Harvard 2013) and improvisation (Tutton 2010) to develop creativity and leadership, skills that could could help people with ADHD “use creative advantages to strategically offset difficulties caused by ADHD symptoms in daily life" (White & Shah 2011).
Drama and improvised theatre can also be used in the design process to improve collaboration and communication (Gerber 2007), to develop empathy (Stewart 2011), and to facilitate participatory design (Brandt 2000) -- a particularly attractive proposition for a user group that may be inherently creative.
Designing for and with people with ADHD may ultimately benefit the non-ADHD population in an increasingly distracted world: “on 10 October 2011, BlackBerry’s messenger services went offline for 3 days … Dubai police reported a 20% drop in road traffic accidents. Abu Dhabi police reported a 40% drop ... the interfaces we create are killing our users ... maybe we can take some design lessons from [people with ADHD]" (Colborne 2011).
Brandt, E., & Grunnet, C. (2000). Evoking the future: Drama and props in user centered design. In Proceedings of Participatory Design Conference (PDC 2000) (pp. 11-20).
Britt, A. (2011). Reducing violence and aggression in A&E. Design Council.
Colborne, G. (2011). Driven to distraction. CX Partners.
Gerber, E. (2007). Improvisation principles and techniques for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 1069-1072). ACM.
Harvard (2013). The Business of Design Thinking. Harvard Magazine 29 January 2013.
McKnight, L. (2010). Designing for ADHD: in search of guidelines. In IDC 2010 Digital Technologies and Marginalized Youth Workshop.
Sarkis, S. (2011). Is the ADHD Brain More Creative? Psychology Today 13 June 2011.
Stewart, B. (2011). DD+D: a theatre-based design consulting firm. Dramatic Diversity.
Tutton, M. (2010). Why using improvisation to teach business skills is no joke. CNN 18 February 2010.
Weiss, M. (2007). The Economic Costs of ADHD. Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada.
White, H. A., & Shah, P. (2011). Creative style and achievement in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(5), 673-677.
Young & Bramham (2007). ADHD in Adults: A Psychological Guide to Practice. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester
Young, S., & Goodwin, E. (2010). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in persistent criminal offenders: the need for specialist treatment programs. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 10(10), 1497-1500.