HSRN 2014 – Design4Health Space

In the Health Services Research Network (HSRN) Symposium 2013, Trish Greenhalgh suggested that new, more engaged research approaches “are strangled at birth in the name of rigour”.  She argued that the research establishment was hostile to the kind of health services research that might make a difference, providing insight into the complexities of the NHS (from Tara Lamonts’ blog http://taralamont.blogspot.co.uk/).


It may have been these words that motivated the organisers to invite us as a relatively new approach in health services research. Regardless, Lab4Living were invited to co-host a ‘Design Space’ with CLAHRC YH at this years Health Services Research Network (HSRN) Symposium in Nottingham.


Our ‘Design4Health’ Space showcased a range of user-centred and participatory design 4 health projects spanning product and healthcare technology through to service design and innovation.  These projects have a range of contexts and settings but collectively serve to illustrate the power of participatory design approaches to provoke debate, identify needs and define problems, to genuinely involve and empower service users, eliciting their experiential knowledge and to conceptualise and develop solutions that are feasible, viable and desirable. In the context of these project, participation is based on engagement of relevant clinical expertise along with services users and creative and technical disciplines, as equals, in purposeful activities that seek to unlock, elicit, share and embody the relevant experiential knowledge that the various participants hold.

The projects included:

  • Stigmas
  • Open Design
  • Head-Up
  • Exhibition in a box
  • Spinal Injury Design for Rehabilitation

Brief summarise of these projects can be found below.

Before getting onto these summaries, a brief reflection on what ‘Design’ is and what it is not. ‘Design’ has become almost a zeitgeist term in the health research domain where it is often (inappropriately) used to describe the formatting of a set of guidelines or a protocol (‘I designed these guidelines’). Further, there is still the common misconception that ‘design’ is merely the ‘lip stick on the pig’; it tarts things up and makes them look nice. Added to this is the lack of understanding of design as an academic research discipline albeit a relatively new academic domain in comparison to the disciplines that makes up the health services research domain. This is not the blog to discuss these difference further but if there are any readers from the health research domain, simply baring in mind that any preconceptions about ‘Design’ may not be a complete picture, will be a starting point. As you read through these case summaries below and perhaps browse through our website, consider co-design as a creative participation process through which people who participate learn about each other and from each other, through the creative activities. In addition, through the same creative process, they collectively learn about the problem, the users and stakeholder, the context and the current sate-of-the-art in relation to both problem and potential solution. The creative activity becomes a mechanism for applying academic knowledge and unlocking, sharing and applying participants experiential knowledge; the kind of knowledge that ‘My body understood but my brain couldn’t express’.

Many of the delegates passed through the Design Space and enquired about what the exhibitions represented. The artefacts stimulated several interesting conversations and ideas.

Stigmas…is a collection of furniture that embody issues relating to the physical, cognitive and attitudinal challenges older people face in everyday life. These critical artefacts do not present solutions but rather a series of questions that illuminate a landscape of old age.

Open Design…demonstrated that participants were, as a community, able to conceive, design and develop complex devices that fitted needs based on their own lived experiences. The use of Open Design was fundamental to this process as it allowed for the rapid development of ideas, with less chance of duplicated work. Open Design facilities collaborative design with people who would be excluded from the process, utilising the Internet and distributed digital manufacturer (e.g. 3D printing).

Head-Up…developed a next orthosis for people with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in response to a patient identified (and validated) unmet need. Current provision was either too soft or immobilising. The need was for a neck collar that gave support whilst allowing movement that had potential for asymmetric support and adaptability to increase support to match task specific requirements or disease progression.

Exhibition in a box…developing the notion of an exhibition as a research tool and inspired by Duchamp’s ‘boîte en valise’ the exhibition is distilled into a ‘suitcase’ and aims to compare the experiences of older people across Europe to inform design in supporting independence and quality of life in later life. Rather than the onus being placed on older people to physically access a traditional exhibition space, ‘exhibition in a box’ seeks to bring the exhibition to the older person and to transform the home into a discursive research arena, providing individuals with tangible prompts to scaffold conversation.

‘Design thinking’ rehabilitation workshops…these workshops were innovative design thinking sessions developed and implemented in Sheffield’s Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) rehabilitation unit. The project aimed to see if taking a design approach to explore problems and perceived barriers would allow patients with SCI to have a greater say in their own rehabilitation and see what positive effect this could have on helping them approach life with an SCI