Design for assisitive technologies?

Hi all,

First apologies if this is not the right place. I am a practising Occupational Therapist and PhD researcher in Design. I am trying to see if we can use User-Centred Design, Design Thinking and Human-Centred Design can assist in improving assistive technologies.

To do this, we need the assistance of the design community and your feedback; if you have 10-15 minutes in your busy day, please let me know.

The data collected here will go towards understanding current issues facing the design industry and how we can work together to improve this issue. The implication may mean improvements in the design and service design around assistive technologies. If you are still reading, there is a little more information about the topic below!

The World Health Organisation published a statement in late 2020 that over 1 billion people currently live with disability. With current issues such as ageing populations, increasing non-communicable disease and long COVID, this is predicted to reach 2 billion by 2030. The World Health Organisation notes that many individuals in this population use assistive technologies to assist in completing meaningful activities of daily living. With this, as of 2018, an estimated 1 in 10 people used assistive technologies to assist them in completing an everyday activity independently.

However, there is a known issue within healthcare that Assistive Technology is abandoned up to 70% or the time in the first year of using it. This represents a massive issue for people living with disabilities and their ability to complete meaningful tasks throughout the day. Anecdotally, a lot of the issues appear to be with the design of assistive technologies meeting the needs of this user group. We want to explore the importance of good design in encouraging assistive technology use so that the design process and fabrication become truly user-centred. To do this, we are completing research to understand the current issues in integrating design paradigms into the area of assistive technology. This is being done by speaking to the users, the designers and allied health professionals to understand both current issues and how to best move forward to promote true interdisciplinary practice.

Thank you for your time, if you have any questions or queries, please do not hesitate to contact the research team at

This forum focuses on graphic design. Graphic designers specialize in visual communication. Your post seems more aimed toward industrial designers and their opinions on the design of healthcare assistive devices.

Are you sure you’re on the correct forum?

Thanks! I appreciate the feedback, but I am also interested in the opinion of graphic designers and visual communications. While a lot of AT does fall under industrial design, there are other factors such as the branding, labelling, instructions of products that are abandoned and are significant contributor. That and while the niche of graphics may be different, I would still appreciate the discipline weighing in under the umbrella as designers, as I think as a community, graphic designers may work in a more interdisciplinary mode than others and have valuable input for the barriers in working with other professionals,such as health care professionals. Again, I may be barking up the wrong tree, but happy to discuss!

I’m in the demographic that has abandoned medical devices (and used many others that also were uncomfortable or stupidly designed) It sure as heck is NOT about the packaging, labeling, branding. Not in the slightest bit. In some cases I never even see the packaging, LOL. It’s what’s inside that’s important.

What should happen is that medical device designers should design a device, then get together with colleagues and swap devices one step to the left and live with them for a month. If they can’t do it, they get fired. There’s a lot of crap floating around out there that shouldn’t even be in production.


Thanks! Again, apologies, as I did not mean to touch nerves, but rants are exactly what I want. Especially when there are good points, and point taken that its not about packaging etc., I guess coming from a health background where good design is rarely considered, I wanted to know if this is even an area that can have an impact in the long term (one would hope it would), while I agree, this is still a long long way off.

I know this is super cheeky, but if you have used assistive technology, this whole project is about trying to incorporate user centred design and I would really like to speak to anyone who has seen both sides of using the technology, but also understanding it from a design perspective. Again, sorry for being a pain, but very keen to hear your thoughts.

Nobody here needs to know about anyone’s forays with the medical establishment. Let alone for a student project. Maybe others are willing to share.

No worries, as I said, it was being cheeky. But this is what informed consent and human research ethics are for. Sorry to intrude!

I find this fascinating and a hugely interesting (and often-overlooked) area of design. Personally I think these sorts of areas are where what we do can make a difference and be far more worthwhile and rewarding than more obvious uses of our skills.

My particular area of interest is typographic and psychology/ (specifically; perception and acceptance of visual information). How this is employed can make a significant difference to the effective use of any given device or system.

This extends across the entire gamut of application and goes far deeper than how ‘appealing’ the Instructions, labelling on any devices, etc, etc. form and placement can make a huge difference.

My father is blind. He has about 15% effective peripheral vision and no central vision and when I talk to him about his daily life, you see clearly (no pun intended) what helps and what hinders his life and how thoughtful, considered design can affect and effect this.

Recently, I did a project to design the touch-screen interface for a medical device for measuring sweat output in hands and feet. Although not directly an assistive device, nonetheless, it was an extremely interesting exercise. I realised, in doing it, that a lot of the time these things are created by the tech guys who design the touch screens themselves, with far less thought going into the interaction with it, than goes into the mechanics of it. Thankfully, the guy creating the touchscreen for this understands how a well-designed interface had a significant effect on the efficacy of the device, so suggested to the client, they brought me in on the project, as I’d worked with him before.

Not necessarily, the most high-profile, or glamorous project I’ve ever worked on, but definitely up there on the interesting, actually useful and rewarding hit-list.

I wonder how often this is also the case with assistive devices. Does more effort go into the physical ergonomics of the device itself, than is put into the visual / instructional interaction with it?

Anyway, I risk rambling (‘No, not you, sprout, surely not?!’), so I’ll stop here.

Hana, I’ll PM, or email you. If my experience and perspective can be of any use to your research, even in a background, broad-brush sort of way, I’d be happy to help.

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Abandonment of a medical device has nothing to do with the packaging or the instruction booklet, or even the touchpanel interface on the device itself. All can be glamorous and useful and easy to use, but if the device design sux in any way, that and that alone, is the reason for abandonment. Most of the stuff I’m familiar with comes in the same utilitarian hospital black and white packaging. But when given the choice I’ll choose one particular model over the other simply over the way it works or doesn’t work, how cumbersome it is, or how irritating it is.

The other part is support. Human support. Someone that understands the issues with said devices and knows about ALL the options instead of just the two or three their affiliated facility happens to offer goes a lot farther with long term usage compliance, or just getting through a short term thing, than any pretty package or instruction sheet. It’s great to have a pretty brochure to hand out, but there better be a human contact on there somewhere. And that’s actually saying more about the state of medical aide on this planet at the moment than anything else.

/another rant

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PD has brought up a great point. If the item has a design flaw that would most definitely cause anyone to stop using it out of frustration. I know … I’ve been there.

Now as far as design in the packaging - I’ve never given it much thought. Why you ask?

Well … given certain things myself and Mr. Kittie have gone through we have not been given a lot of choice when it comes to these sorts of items. We get what insurance will pay for. We don’t get to walk down aisles of medical devices and pick what catches our eye :wink:

I usually only get what the hospital will give me from the cabinet on my way out the door. And they’re usually pretty good about cobbling something together from one or two devices that works if I ask them. But I sometimes get to choose this over that, and it ain’t the packaging I care about. That’s where unfortunate experience comes in… :grimacing:

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