May 20, 2024
Motionspot Brings Function and Form to Accessible Design

The U.K.–based consultancy helps design accessible spaces that look—and feel—good.

Like so many innovations, U.K.-based accessible design firm Motionspot was born out of necessity. Cofounder James Taylor was on holiday in 2005 when he suffered a diving accident that broke his neck, resulting in paralysis. “I spent some time in the hospital in Portugal and then returned to the U.K. for a further eight months [of hospitalization],” he recalls. When he was finally discharged, the homecoming was bittersweet. “I found it more like a hospital than a home, and it reinforced just how much everything had changed.” 

A financial analyst and investment manager before the accident, Taylor developed an acute understanding of how design affected his mental and physical health during healing. While the objects and devices around him had been designed for function, he says, the designers definitely hadn’t considered form. After many discussions of the topic, he and childhood friend Ed Warner realized they wanted to change that. So in 2012 Taylor and Warner founded Motionspot with the explicit aim of “changing perceptions around accessible design.”

Motionspot’s first project was for a former soldier and amputee who had been discharged back into a home where he couldn’t use the bathroom. Many such residential bathroom transformations followed, and in 2020 Taylor and Warner spun off this part of the business into a separate company, called Fine & Able, that specializes in accessible bathroom design. In addition to design and installation, the new brand offers a range of stylish accessibility products (some designed in-house) like showerhead supporters that double as grab bars, washbasin handgrips, and slip-resistant porcelain floor tiles. 

two co founders of Motionspot
James Taylor (left) and Ed Warner (right) cofounded Motionspot, an accessible design consultancy, after Taylor was paralyzed in a diving accident. COURTESY ANDREI LUCA

Motionspot, on the other hand, consults on accessibility design for the workplace, hospitality, retirement, and health-care sectors, and its aim has expanded beyond physical accessibility. “We’re designing for a much wider group of people that are impacted by their environment in different ways and may have hidden disabilities,” says Becky Storey, senior inclusive designer at the firm. Her team recently advised on a major piece of access design work for multinational banking group Barclays, with these considerations top of mind. 

interior of a bathroom designed by motionspot with wood floors and a green tile wall
Motionspot’s first project was to remodel a bathroom for a wounded veteran. Today, the firm does so many bathroom renovations that it’s created a subsidiary brand, Fine & Able, to develop aesthetically pleasing accessibility fixtures like shower seats and grab bars. COURTESY © HENRY WOIDE
table and chairs in semi-open workplace
Motionspot was brought on as accessible design consultant for the Gensler-designed Barclays office in Glasgow, Scotland, which aims to be among the most inclusive workplaces ever built. In addition to designing for workers and visitors with physical disabilities, extra care was given to making the space suitable for neurodivergent people by reducing visual noise and providing “recalibration spaces” to find respite from overstimulation. COURTESY BARCLAYS

Designed by Gensler, Barclays’ future campus in the Scottish city of Glasgow aims to be its most inclusive workplace ever, accommodating more than 5,000 employees and visitors. Motionspot was charged with scrutinizing everything from toilet and changing facilities to the floor plan, lighting, and finishes of all internal areas. The client took a particular interest in making the campus welcoming for neurodivergent people, including those who are autistic. 

“We thought a lot about the sensory aspects of each space–visual, auditory–and how they impact different individuals,” explains Storey. One of the biggest challenges presented by modern workspaces in general, she continues, is the open plan where telephone conversations, nearby kitchen clatter, and meetings can “impact people’s concentration, productivity, and work.” But that’s not the only noise that can have a negative effect on how someone feels at work, she says; there’s also visual noise. “Having lots of patterns and big graphics on the walls or geometric shapes on the floor in the carpets can have a really big impact on how someone processes that environment,” explains Storey. Arguably the most innovative aspect of Barclays’ Glasgow campus will be a series of recalibration spaces where staffers can go when they are feeling sensorially overloaded or anxious. “It’s a designated quiet room where you can close the door and adjust the temperature, lighting, and music and just decompress and reset before returning to your desk or your meeting,” explains Warner.

interior of hotel lobby with tiled floor and brick wall.
interior of hotel room with hoist track
The two suites in the Hotel Brooklyn in Manchester, England, that feature ceiling track hoists are the most booked. When not in use, the hoist mechanism is hidden in a recessed groove, which doubles as a lighting feature. COURTESY © HENRY WOIDE

Inclusive design is the way forward, says Taylor, because it is hugely beneficial for employee well-being but also, more prosaically but no less importantly, for the employer’s commercial and creative success. “People are starting to realize the untapped resource and potential of people with disabilities who haven’t been able to partake in work as much as they should have,” he says. It’s the same in the world of hospitality, where the inclusive design details of forward-thinking companies are fantastic for opening up travel to people with disabilities but also have a positive effect on the companies’ bottom line and reputation. 

One such example is the Hotel Brooklyn in Manchester. Of its 189 rooms, its two suites with ceiling track hoists are the most booked. That’s because they—and 16 other ambulant or wheelchair-accessible rooms—don’t compromise on aesthetics. For this project, Motionspot designed all of the accessibility features and products in each of the rooms. That included clever moves like ceiling hoists that are concealed within a recessed track when not in use and fitted with an LED light strip. That way, if someone who doesn’t need the hoist is using the room, it becomes a light feature. 

Successes like the Hotel Brooklyn have unlocked further demand for Motionspot’s design services. Right now, the consultancy is working on the design of another hotel for the same hospitality group in Leicester. It is also planning to open offices in the U.S. to fulfill a growing raft of office auditing projects for major global clients in North America. Warner says it might sound perverse, but he hopes that in ten years’ time specialist companies like Motionspot won’t need to exist. He says with a smile, “Accessible design should just be part of everything people do.”