What’s in a place?

Last week I met an incredibly inspiring woman, Sarah Brown from The Purple House. The Purple House is a charity located in Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia, providing services to indigenous people in remote Australia. 

It made me start thinking about how we use diverse experiences to innovate solutions that work for the most edge case user. The Purple House, which was started as the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, utilised the experiences of the Pintupi community. The Pintupi, were forced from their land in the 1960s during the Blue Streak missile tests and fought for their right to return to their Country. However, this story didn’t end with a happy return, as many faced a challenge that would force them from their traditional Country once again.

Remote indigenous people in Australia are up to 30 times more likely to suffer renal failure than that of the rest of the population, and Alice Springs hosts the largest renal unit in the southern hemisphere. The only problem with this was that it forced people to migrate towards cities such as Alice Springs or Darwin, and completely remove themselves from their Country, community and family.

The Pintupi saw this as a critical design failure in our healthcare system, and for a culture that places family and community so highly it was disrupting major parts of their lives. For the Pintupi the first step in ensuring those that had to move for treatment still had this connection was to create a space where that connection could still be felt. The Purple House was born as a place where community, family and a connection to Country could still be felt despite the geographical distance.

The Purple House created The Purple Truck in 2012 to further boost renal care in remote Australia. The Purple Truck is a renal unit on wheels which allows patients to travel back to their traditional Country for festivals, funerals, cultural events or to visit their family. Initiatives like this mean that not only can a patient receive care whilst keeping this connection, but Central Australia has gone from having the worst survival rate to the best survival rates for renal failure. The Purple House share responsibility in creating this change, a change that was brought about by listening to and utilising the experiences of those considered to be ‘edge users’ (people are aren’t a statistically average) to design a solution that truly worked.

When we consider the story of the Pintupi community and how the changes they brought about saw a real change in survival rates we start to understand how the ‘edge’ begins to influence the middle. Whilst The Purple House was designed for the one community, it now operates in 16 locations and services a range of different remote communities and looks on track to continue opening new facilities – all thanks to the experiences of one group of people.

Any inclusive designer will tell you that the system should bend for the user, not the other way around. If your system is forcing change on people, then it might be time to start asking those people how the system can be changed to help them, just like The Purple House did.