PhD case study - Open Design for Medical Products

PhD case study - Open Design for Medical Products

Open Design for Medical Products - PhD case study

Research Centre
Art and Design Research Centre

March – December 2012

Exploring the impact of the future of design, production and consumption in a Post Professional era

Involving users in the design of medical products appears to be ‘common sense’; the notion that an individual that lives with a particular condition has a unique insight into life with that condition appears self-evident. Certain élite design consultancies use sophisticated methods to capture and implement experience; but often this is focussed on the clinician or health professional. This practice is also not industry-wide, with recent papers even proposing frameworks and guidelines for how people can be more effectively included in the development process. 

How might the people who have to use medical products be empowered to have a say in their development- to the point of identifying what should be investigated?

This PhD aims to answer some pressing questions regarding this opportunity. The main question - Can open design be used in MDT design? Also has more sub-questions: Where might this method fit in the process of designing products, and how might it change the process altogether? These questions stem from the wider issues currently being asked in the open design movement- intellectual property for physical things, and the issues of copyright and patents are currently unanswered, and to a certain extent even untested. Medical product design currently relies upon this closed-off research and development. However, this radical change in practice is not without precedent; the big pharmaceutical industry, similarly relying on closed R&D is developing a more open development platform.

In order to best answer this question, this research is based on an Action Research methodology, using participatory design projects within themed case studies to engage people with a stake in a particular medical product design field (e.g. people with a chronic medical condition) to use open design in this new and unproved arena.

The first such case study seeks to answer some of these big questions by building a small community of people with Cystic Fibrosis, who can engage in open design via a bespoke social network – known as AIR. The people who participate are not limited by physical location, and are empowered to participate in an open design project. This first case study is currently ongoing, and will be presented at the doctoral consortium for the Participatory Design Conference (PDC) 2012.


Please click here to learn more about AIR.

You can also visit the User-centred Healthcare Design website here.

Researchers involved

Matt Dexter - Research Associate

Professor Paul Atkinson - Professor of Design & Design History

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