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Design4Health 2013, Day One

Gemma Teal presenting ‘Live Well

This is an exciting week for me – I’ve just embarked upon my new job at Movelab physical activity and exercise research group at Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine. I’m going to be working on a number of projects, starting with a new iteration of the Movement as Medicine physical activity learning pathway for practitioners and patients with mild cognitive impairment.

I’m also attending the Design4Health 2013 conference in Sheffield at the moment, which is proving to be a great way to get my brain ticking over some of the challenges ahead of me!

The first day has featured a range of fascinating speakers from different disciplines. Sonja Baeumel kicked things off with her artistic work that explores the science of bacteria, the ‘second skin’ we all carry around (and a 2.3kg second skin at that). Sonja’s art pieces included a coffee-table sized Petri dish that travelled around while ‘growing’ her own samples, and crocheted membranes that Sonja speculates could become responsive garments that grow, spread and retreat in reaction to changing weather and climate.

Next up on the keynotes was Alastair Macdonald from Glasgow School of Art, speaking about his work on a number of healthcare projects including Hospital Foodie, which utilised participative co-research and co-design to address malnutrition in hospitals. Alastair commented on how, early on in a healthcare project, it’s often not clear what design is bringing to the table – and that designers don’t help themselves when they’re unclear on what their outcomes will be. While medical science goes back centuries, design – particularly of the immaterial, such as service design – doesn’t have that compelling track record as yet. Alastair believes that the likes of co-design, participatory and inclusive design can bring new tensions, but also that these methods can become social mediators, flattening out hierarchies and revealing the nature of complexity within a project.

Paul Chamberlain from Sheffield Hallam’s Lab 4 Living gave a keynote on design’s ability to create ‘theatres of conversation’. Paul’s team used their Engaging Ageing exhibition to generate discussion and ideas around ageing to kickoff their project – exhibition as ‘salon’ rather than for the sharing of outcomes. Other Lab 4 Living work on show included Loo Lab, exploring the hidden world of the bathroom.

Over the lunch break, and with the Twitter encouragement of my good friend Dr Emma Jefferies, I met up with Kathryn Grace for a chat about service design in industry and research contexts, how research might become reality, the lack of design training for those who commission design, and Kathryn’s involvement in developing the Synergy Surgery-winning Health Spark.

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Daniela Sangiorgi on NHS commissioning

The breakout sessions covered a wealth of topics. Of particular interest to me were Daniela Sangiorgi’s in-progress work around the development of more collaborative NHS commissioning, touching on work by Lambeth CCG and The Kings Fund; and two projects involving Glasgow School of Art’s Gemma Teal, Live Well, a multidisciplinary project to develop diet, activity and social interventions (including collaboration with some of my new colleagues at Newcastle University); and the ‘Living it up’ Dallas (Delivering Assisted Living Lifestyles at Scale) project in Scotland, that is taking co-design approaches out into communities using an assets-based approach that focuses on things that work and the hidden talents people have to share (rather than the standard deficit-driven approach that focuses on problems).

After an opportunity to view the Design4Health exhibition of art and design project work, there was one more presentation from Julia Cassim of the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the RCA, giving the background to her work on inclusive design that informed the 24hr Design Challenge that was completed earlier in the week. I found Julia’s dismissal of personas quite thought provoking (‘I hate personas! Why a persona, why not a person?’). Julia is also hosting an Inclusive Hacking workshop later in the week, to which delegates have been encouraged to bring their ‘most loathed’ products!

So, that was day one. Let’s see if I have a blog post this detailed in me tomorrow, after another full day of sessions and the conference networking dinner!