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There are many drivers for health service reform; a rise of long term conditions, an ageing population, a health service that has evolved to deliver acute care rather than primary care, reduced funding and rising expectations from an increasingly informed population. These are some of the key challenges to society today, and ones that require a new way of thinking, a radical step change and innovative approaches in the ways we deliver care.

In recent years there has been growing interest in the potential of design approaches to transform health care where we can draw on a tradition of creative and divergent thinking to address these fundamental and yet practical challenges to our societies’ health. These challenges are by definition ‘wicked problems’, ones where there is no single true answer and where design’s strength lies in creatively responding to these complex interdependencies. Design in health is an emergent theme in design, one where there is activity across key institutions in the UK but where currently there is no one network to consolidate and share the best practice experience and research.

This project builds on links forged through Lab4Living’s International Design4Health conferences (2011, 2013) at which a critical mass of practitioners from design and health have come together to discuss and debate these issues. This collaborative research has the potential to inform both policy and practice and the beneficiaries of such work is broad. In health and social care it is broader still as we look at the potential value to service delivery and patient experience.

While there are synergies between the disciplines of design and healthcare their practices and approaches to research are most often disparate. Formats for dissemination can be diverse within design while healthcare adopts a more traditional approach to the publication of research. The different disciplinary cultures and protocols in creating knowledge also present significant challenges in accessing and sharing this knowledge. Consequently much valid design research is not brought to the attention of the health community who might benefit from it.

The project network led by Lab4Living, a specialist unit within the Art and Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, and comprising of leading practitioners and researchers from Glasgow School of Art, Helen Hamlyn Centre, Royal College of Art, University of Coventry have creatively explored the ‘state of the art’ of design in health. The research project has been an opportunity to bring together a multi-disciplinary group of experts around an emergent topic to undertake a new review of activity providing the basis for design to articulate it’s potential contribution to healthcare and allow cross-institutional and disciplinary discourse.

The research network has allowed for critical reflection leading to fresh insights and research questions to inform the positioning of design at the centre of innovation within healthcare. This report describes the methods, results and houses the references generated from this novel process.

Prof. Paul Chamberlain Signature


Prof Paul Chamberlain

Director Lab4Living

Head of Art &Design research Centre

Sheffield Hallam University


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