Design for
Health and
Wellbeing Lab

Industrial Design and Innovation

Design for Health and Wellbeing Lab -

Integrating design with healthcare

Dr Steve Reay finds how design-led solutions can enhance health environments through the innovative DHW Lab.


The design profession is known for its creativity, intuition and open-ended approach – the medical profession for its precision and regulation. So what happens when the two disciplines work collaboratively to solve design problems? How can design enhance health and wellbeing outcomes? And how can patients and their families have greater input into their health environments and experiences?

The Design for Health and Wellbeing Lab, a collaboration between the Auckland District Health Board and AUT, is a physical space at Auckland City Hospital where these questions are being explored. From way-finding design to industrial design to uniform design to technology design, academics and students tackle real-world briefs to advance applied and theoretical research, and to integrate the benefits of a design-led approach within a healthcare environment.

Lab co-director Dr Steve Reay of AUT, and the Auckland DHB’s performance improvement director Justin Kennedy-Good, are promoting deeper consultation with patients and their families to define issues and requirements, and to provide feedback on design solutions that reflect real needs rather than assumed needs. Having the lab on-site has made this more feasible than ever before, and allows health staff to be part of the design team.

For the researchers (academic, postgraduate and undergraduate students), collaborative learning and working within the health industry is providing a rich, hands-on environment, where practical solutions can be prototyped and tested rapidly. For the hospital, design innovations have the potential to significantly enhance staff, patient and family experiences over time. Half design consultancy, half teaching environment, the DHW Lab is a space where designers and clinical experts can creatively challenge how we design for and view health and wellbeing.

Summary

Project name

The Design for Health and Wellbeing Lab

Department

Industrial Design and Innovation

Researcher

Dr Steve Reay

Stephen Reay

Industrial Design and Innovation

Steve Reay’s current research explores the interaction between users and environments, and how product, service and experience design can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of people. Building on his background in biology and ecology, he is working toward a better understanding of how communities, society and the wider environment relate and interact, and how design may be used to positively enhance these interactions.

The Design for Health and Wellbeing Lab, a collaboration between the Auckland District Health Board and AUT, is a physical space at Auckland City Hospital where these questions are being explored. From way-finding design to industrial design to uniform design to technology design, academics and students tackle real-world briefs to advance applied and theoretical research, and to integrate the benefits of a design-led approach within a healthcare environment.

Lab co-director Dr Steve Reay of AUT, and the Auckland DHB’s performance improvement director Justin Kennedy-Good, are promoting deeper consultation with patients and their families to define issues and requirements, and to provide feedback on design solutions that reflect real needs rather than assumed needs. Having the lab on-site has made this more feasible than ever before, and allows health staff to be part of the design team.

For the researchers (academic, postgraduate and undergraduate students), collaborative learning and working within the health industry is providing a rich, hands-on environment, where practical solutions can be prototyped and tested rapidly. For the hospital, design innovations have the potential to significantly enhance staff, patient and family experiences over time. Half design consultancy, half teaching environment, the DHW Lab is a space where designers and clinical experts can creatively challenge how we design for and view health and wellbeing.

The DHW Lab models a learning environment of the future. We are rethinking how a university can better prepare students, and have a positive impact on society.

Dr Steve Reay

Co-design for dementia

User-centred design is at the core of product design, but when the end user lives with dementia, how does a designer engage with them from an ethical and practical point of view? Working with Alzheimer’s Auckland, masters student Rebecca Jury has co-designed a new app in collaboration with four people affected by dementia. Her project sought to discover a life enrichment activity they could do at home, and to develop it through a genuine co-design process. Product design is user-centred; but when the end user lives with dementia, how does a designer engage with them from an ethical and practical point of view? Working with Alzheimer’s Auckland, Masters student Rebecca Jury has co-designed a new app in collaboration with four people affected by dementia. Her project sought to discover a life enrichment activity they could do at home, and to develop it through a genuine co-design process. 

A series of carefully designed workshops uncovered what was important to each member of the group: popular topics included discussing their grandchildren, looking at pictures of New Zealand, WWII videos and listening to 1950s music. These things engaged them, igniting discussion and personal memories, so an accessible multimedia app became the focus of Jury’s research. 

By providing easy access to digital content, the project has the real potential to break down the current barriers to technology for this patient group. It will be as simple to use as a slideshow, and Jury is creating a companion book with diagram instructions so the carer can add and update the content.

Supporting health journeys


A positive outpatient experience is supported by good communication design, especially when navigating a large site like Auckland City Hospital. From the initial appointment letter to car parking signage to finding entries and exits, careful guidance through these steps has a significant impact on stress levels and therefore the whole health experience.

Masters student Eden Short is prototyping how a design-led approach can lead to an improved heath-seeker experience at Starship Children’s Hospital Outpatient department. Through observation and on-site questionnaires, Short is researching the challenges children and families may face during a visit, and gaining feedback on proposed design solutions. By identifying the key information points of contact within their journey – before, during and after their scheduled consultation – she is developing design assets that have the greatest potential to improve communication and guidance, and therefore improve the success of a visit.

Her research shows how the unique demands of the site require empathetic and timely communications to not only navigate the health-seeker physically through the environment, but to also support them emotionally through their health-seeking journey.