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Gemma Wheeler PhD, MDes

Design Researcher


I am a Design Researcher at Lab4Living, an interdisciplinary research cluster with a focus on bringing Design-led research to fields of health and wellbeing. Our work spans a range of health contexts across the entire life course, and is characterised by the use of creating and making. 


I have a broad experience of using Participatory Design methods in complex healthcare contexts, and enjoy adapting my approach to the particular needs and sensitivities to each community we collaborate with. I am interested in the role of creative, empathic, design-led methods in creating a ‘common language’ between patients, family members and healthcare professionals for mutual learning and real-world innovation. 


After completing an integrated masters degree in Product Design here at Sheffield Hallam University (2013), I undertook a Doctoral study between the Glasgow School of Art and the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit, Glasgow (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme). During this PhD study I worked collaboratively with inpatients, outpatients, hospital staff and related charities explore and enhance patient participation in spinal cord injury rehabilitation.

I returned to Sheffield Hallam University in 2017 as a Design Researcher at Lab4Living. Here I enjoy engaging a range of healthcare service stakeholders (including patients, family members, clinicians, academics, industry experts, etc.) in creative, collaborative research activities.

These activities, or ‘co-design’ workshops, focus on identifying unmet health needs, mobilizing knowledge and/or developing healthcare products and services. My role involves planning and running co-design workshops, creating context-specific and audience-appropriate workshop tools, analyzing the data gathered and reporting the findings to audiences from design and healthcare. I am involved in bid writing, dissemination and also provide graphic design support for conference posters, websites, newsletters, exhibition spaces, etc.

Within this role, I liaise with and provide design input to Devices for Dignity, a National Institute for Health Research funded MedTech Co-operative based in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, as well as their associated partners.


My key project is The Starworks Network, a Department of Health funded initiative bringing together children, families, clinicians, academics and industry experts to explore the unmet needs of children who use prosthetics. 

I took a key role in planning and facilitating a series of 4 multi-stakeholder full-day workshops across the country, and I am currently the main point of contact supporting ten ‘Proof of Concept’ projects funded by The Starworks Network. I am also involved in planning and delivering the next stage of this project following allocation of further funding from the National Institute for Health Research. 


Key Publications

Wheeler, G., Mills, N., King, S., & Culmer, P. (2018). Child-led, Creative Exploration of Paediatric Incontinence. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Design4Health, Sheffield, UK, 4th – 6th September 2018.

Journal articles

Jones, H., Dupan, S., Coutinho, M., Day, S., Desmond, D., Donovan-Hall, M., ... Nazarpour, K. (2021). Co-Creation Facilitates Translational Research on Upper Limb Prosthetics. PROSTHESIS, 3 (2), 110-118.

Wheeler, G., Langley, J., & Mills, N. (2019). Risk & reward: Exploring design’s role in measuring outcomes in health. Design Journal, 22 (sup1), 2231-2234.

Conference papers

Langley, J., Wheeler, G., Mills, N., & Heron, N. (2020). Starworks: Politics, Power and Expertise in co-producing a research, patient, practice and industry partnership for child prosthetics. In Christer, K., Craig, C., & Chamberlain, P. (Eds.) Design 4 Health 2020, (pp. 314-322). Design 4 Health, Sheffield Hallam University:

Langley, J., Bec, R., Partridge, R., Wheeler, G., Jane-Law, R., Burton, C., ... Williams, N. (2020). ‘Playing’ with Evidence: combining creative co-design methods with realist evidence synthesis. In Christer, K., Craig, C., & Chamberlain, P. (Eds.) Design for Health 2020, (pp. 323-335). Lab4Living, Sheffield Hallam University:

Langley, J., Ankeny, U., Partridge, R., Wheeler, G., & Carroll, C. (2019). Co-designing resources for knowledge based self-reflection for people living with Parkinson’s disease to better enable independent living. In IADE/UNIDCOM’s 10th Interna,onal Conference Senses & Sensibility 2019: Lost in (G)localiza,on, Lisbon, 27 November 2019 - 29 November 2019. Springer

Langley, J., Bec, R., Wheeler, G., & Partridge, R. (2018). The need for distributed co-design in healthcare contexts. In Christer, K., Craig, C., & Wolstenholme, D. (Eds.) Design4Health, 4 September 2018 - 6 September 2018. Sheffield Hallam University

Wheeler, G. (2018). A reflective tool to consider notions of healthcare community participation in design. Proceedings of the 5th European Conference on Design4Health, Sheffield, UK, 4th – 6th September 2018.

Book chapters

Langley, J., Wheeler, G., Partridge, R., Bec, R., Wolstenholme, D., & Sproson, L. (2020). Designing with and for older people. In Intelligent Systems Reference Library. (pp. 3-19).


Wheeler, G., Mills, N., & Langley, J. (2020). The Starworks Project: Annual Report to National Institute for Health Research 2017-2018. Sheffield Hallam Universuty.

Wheeler, G., Mills, N., & Langley, J. (2020). The Starworks Project: Annual Report to National Institute for Health Research 2018-2019. Sheffield Hallam University.


Wheeler, G., & Mills, N. (2018). The Starworks Project: Achievements and Next Steps. Presented at: International Society of Prosthetists and Orthotists UK MS Annual Scientific Meeting, Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton, 2018

Wheeler, G., Partridge, R., Bec, R., & Langley, J. (2018). ‘Making’ Knowledge, ‘Making’ Impact. Presented at: Creating Knowledge Conference, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK, 2018

Culmer, P., & Wheeler, G. (2017). Drawing on new ideas (and paper) to better understand kids’ toileting needs. Presented at: Incontinence: The Engineering Challenge XI, One Birdcage Walk, London, UK, 2017

Other publications

Langley, J., Partridge, R., Wheeler, G., & Bec, R. (2018). Invited masterclass: Creative thinking and problem solving.

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