Claire Craig and Paul Chamberlain

Dr Claire Craig is Reader in Design and Creative Practice in Health and Co-Director of Lab4Living at Sheffield Hallam University. She is a qualified occupational therapist and an award winning educator and researcher. She has over 20 years experience of working in health-care contexts with particular expertise in the field of design and ageing and design for people living with dementia. She is co-founder and editor of the Design4Health Journal and the Design4Health Conference.

Paul Chamberlain is a graduate of the RCA, Professor of Design, Head of the Art & Design Research Centre and co-director of a transdisciplinary research group Lab4Living www.lab4living.org.uk at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. Paul’s interest lies in designing and developing tools and methods to encourage and engender social innovation and he applies this with a focus on healthcare, disability and ageing. His work explores the multi-sensory aspects of design and the role of artefacts that help define pertinent societal questions as much as present solutions. He has led major interdisciplinary projects and delivered keynote lectures at leading international venues on innovation strategies and sustainable approaches to design and manufacture that have played a significant role in supporting regional industrial reconstruction. He has published and exhibited widely where research outcomes have resulted in the design of furniture, medical, healthcare, special needs and therapeutic products and systems. These have accrued two Millennium Product design awards from the Design Council UK, an Independent Living Award and an Innovative Design Award from the UK Housing Association 2017. His work is included in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum London and the Museum of Modern Art, Prague. He was awarded a major prize in the ‘Imagining Chairs’ category of the ‘Art on Chairs’ international design competition 2013 (sponsored by the Paredes Furniture Design Pole and Institute for Design, Media and Culture Research).

Design for health - applying design for good

Lab4Living based at Sheffield Hallam University operates across faculties engaging in interdisciplinary collaborations in design for health. Dr Claire Craig, researcher and occupational therapist and Paul Chamberlain, Professor of Design at the lab were guest speakers at the Health Collab Symposium.

The Lab4Living was established to research and apply ‘design for good’ in the health sector. For Craig and Chamberlain, design helps to rethink situations and frame problems while breaking down barriers to progress. Design that is more considerate and thoughtful is their focus.

“At Lab4Living we consider the consequences of design and embedding things in the world and how to manage the balance of design, technology with societal and human needs,” says Chamberlain.

“Design is changing. Today it has more of a social conscience. Sustainable design is a good example of this. Technology is also changing. As a society we are not just building things because we can. There is caution about the speed of change and we are not so reliant on big industries for access to technology now. Small industries and individuals use technology every day. Privacy, protection of data and personalisation issues are good examples of this. How do we monitor this? Sometimes doing nothing is best,” Chamberlain explains.

Design for health is not a new concept. Some of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs supported better health. Florence Nightingale worked on improving the hospital environment and the design of hospital interiors.

“Design for health is applying design for good. Rather than just to produce and infiltrate the market with more things and products. Designers have to be more considerate and thoughtful about how to use resources and that largely comes down to general well-being and the health of society,” says Chamberlain.

Craig says design uses creative methods to hear different people’s voices and to rethink things. It’s about the problem framing.

“There’s a danger in saying, ‘We’ve got this massive problem, our health services are stretched, we’ve got an aging population let’s bring in design’. This is the wrong approach,” she says.

“What inspires me is the notion that we can get stuck in our disciplinary silos and can go around in circles thinking and solving the same problems the same way because that’s what we think the problem is. Design for health enables us to step back and to see things differently and that’s very exciting,” explains Craig.

“It’s thinking in a different way. The power of bringing research disciplines together but having the person at the centre, that’s where we are going to see massive change. That’s what excites me about it. It’s not for all the old arguments, these are too transactional. It has to be something bigger as Paul said, because design can do good,” she says.

“We acknowledge there is an ageing society and people are living longer through innovative  design, engineering and technology. People are existing longer but not necessarily living longer. I think design can enhance the quality of that extended life. Because if it’s not enhanced or of good quality who wants it? This is important because we are seeing extension of life but it’s not always of great quality,” explains Chamberlain.

“It’s about humans flourishing and that goes further than well-being. It’s about how you enable people to optimise the possibilities,” adds Craig.

Technology is an important factor in improving people’s lives. Chamberlain warns that we have to be careful in using technology and embracing it.

“Technology is allowing a much faster speed of change. On the one hand that’s good but in some older, more formal processes we have more time to think about the consequences of our actions. Particularly now in industry if there’s an opportunity to make money and get a product to market very quickly. This is where we need question the long-term consequences,” he says.

“Once we start embedding technology there’s this contradiction where we are being a more conscious society about resources and yet technology creates lots of throw away products. There’s something nice about longevity of things and the attachment and emotion we have to objects. The history of design is often monitored through artefacts and objects. The history of design in the future is going to be monitored through technological evolution and not with a focus on the object. We are losing that attachment to things and objects and meaning. It’s hard to get emotionally attached to the technology itself,” observes Chamberlain.

For Craig and Chamberlain, design for health is about sharing and community, sharing practices and learning from one another. They feel it’s important to share what works and what doesn’t. Some ideas might work really well in one space but not in another and they encourage discussion about this.

“Society is moving all the time so it’s really important to have broader collaborations through our research networks. At our last conference, we had attendees from twenty-nine countries. We’ve worked with people from India, South America, the States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It’s a true global community,” says Craig.