Participatory Design

Invisible Design

Invisible Design is a technique for generating insights and ideas with workshop participants in the early stages of concept development. It involves the creation of ambiguous films in which characters discuss a technology that is not directly shown. The technique builds on previous work in HCI on scenarios, persona, theatre, film and ambiguity. By not visibly showing the design on-screen – although it is still in the scene – the films provide opportunities to seed discussions about the experiences around a particular idea or design space without focusing on the physical form and exact functionality of the design. We have used the Invisible Design approach in a number of projects:

  • Smart Money was used in the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project to explore issues to do with sharing money with people you trust and don’t trust.
  • Panini (aka Hagels Bagels) was used to explore problems related to physical mobility and navigation for older people.
  • Biometric Daemon was used to elicit concerns about security and privacy in the context of biometric authentication technologies that hold sensitive personal information.

The concept and development of Invisible Design was developed in collaboration with Pam Briggs of PACT Lab at Northumbria University.


Viewpoint is a simple, lightweight voting mechanism designed to allow organizations and elected representatives to solicit feedback from a community, and to make it far easier for residents to voice their opinions on local matters. Councillors and community groups can post weekly questions on three Viewpoint devices deployed in public locations around the Callon and Fishwick areas of Preston. When each poll closes, question posters can then submit responses to be displayed on the devices. The device features two buttons that residents can use to vote and a wheel that, when turned, displays the results of the previous week’s question. Throughout the week, the device displays the number of people who have voted, which way the vote is leaning, and how long it is until the poll closes. Residents also have the option to vote via free text message.

Part of the Bespoke: Increasing Social Inclusion through Community Journalism and Bespoke Design project.


Press: Gift of the gadgets to get residents talking, Lancashire Evening Post, 11 August 2011

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Community Cheque Clearing

Cheques are important as a means of payment for many people, particularly the older old, as they allow them to track their expenditure, to send payments over distances without using digital technologies, and are often more safe and secure by older people than online, telephone and card-based banking. As a way of exploring how cheques might continue to be used in the future if the banks stopped processing them, we designed our own ‘community’ cheque book service. Pre-paid cheque books were provided to groups of ‘eighty something’ participants who used them as they would a normal cheque. They encouraged members of their local community – friends, neighbours, family, window cleaners, newsagents and dance teachers – to accept these unusual cheques. The main differences with these cheque books were that they were ‘pre-paid’ and that, rather then using the bank to process them, each cheque was sent to a researcher who made an electronic payment on the participant’s behalf.

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project.

Questionable Concepts

We gave postcards to the people involved in the participatory design aspect of “New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old”. These cards posed a question about a specific scenario relating to banking, inspired by some of the points raised during the interview stage. On the other side of the postcard was space to draw a solution for a difficulty that might be encountered in that scenario. Many of the suggestions made were impractical or dangerous, and some would cause as many problems as they would solve. These suggestions were not intended to be real solutions, however, but rather to be provocative and to instigate further discussion.

Some of the scenarios we posed were:

• “Imagine walking down the street with a large amount of cash on you. Draw something that would protect you.”
• “Imagine someone paid a bill for you. How would you make sure it happened?”
• “Imagine using intelligent cash. What might it look like?”

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project.

Cueing for Swallowing in Parkinson’s

This cueing device has been developed as a way to behaviourally manage drooling, which is commonly symptomatic of Parkinson’s Disease. The device was developed through a participatory design process, taking into account the needs of people with Parkinson’s Disease to ensure that the result was something they would want to wear.

Existing cueing devices give auditory or visual cues and can therefore draw unwanted attention, as well as being unsuitable for visual- or hearing-impaired users. Other issues with previous devices include the difficulties that could be presented to users with impaired motor function by an operating switch or the need to change the battery. With this in mind, the device we have developed resembles a wristwatch and gives a vibrating cue so as to minimise attention drawn to the wearer. In addition the device turns on and off automatically, with motion sensors recognising whether it is in use, so that the wearer does not have to operate any buttons or switches.

We are currently in the process of trialling the device with thirty NHS patients.

Part of the Cueing Technology for Parkinson’s project.

Cueing Technology for Parkinsons

Approximately 70% of people with Parkinson’s Disease experience problems with swallowing. The resulting build-up of saliva can cause drooling, which is often a source of embarrassment and puts the person at risk of choking or pneumonia if the saliva gets into the lungs. Therefore, it is important that people who suffer from drooling have a way to combat the problem.

Many therapies offered to tackle this issue work by decreasing saliva production, but this can result in problems relating to eating or oral hygiene. In addition, therapies such as Botox involve injections and can cause discomfort. One form of management that does not cause negative physical side effects is the use of a cueing device, which is worn on the body and reminds users to swallow their saliva by giving them cues at regular intervals, allowing them to manage the drooling behaviourally. However, this form of management is not widely used, and there are numerous issues with available devices, such as that the cues are noticeable to observers, that manually-operated devices are difficult to use, and that the designs are not aesthetically pleasing.

The aim of this project is to investigate the use of cueing to manage drooling in such a way that the cueing device itself is not embarrassing or uncomfortable for the wearer. We have developed a device through a participatory design process, ensuring that the design takes into account the needs and desires of people with Parkinson’s Disease so it is something they wish to use. This is an interdisciplinary project involving speech therapists, old age clinicians, interaction designers and hardware engineers.
Following feedback on the initial prototype, an improved version of the device is being trialled for one month by thirty NHS patients.

See also: Cueing for Swallowing

Funding: National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) £37,018
Researchers: Nick Miller (PI) -Institute of Health and Society, Patrick Olivier (CI), Roisin McNaney, Stephen LindsayKarim Ladha,  Thomas Ploetz, Nils Hammerla, Dan Jackson
Collaborators: Richard Walker – Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust

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Sundroids: Energetic Workshops


Sundroids was a series of workshops developed with secondary schools to explore solar electronic kits and kinetic sculpture. A design team of artists, engineers, and education researchers from University of Bremen, and Culture Lab worked together with a sustainable environmental and arts education facility in rural County Durham between June and October 2010. Existing and re-designed kits were trailed, used and adapted by secondary schools to incorporate into the Art and Design curriculum to promote discussion and creative exploration on sustainable energy and the natural environment.


New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old

Although there are more people aged eighty and over in the UK than ever before, current banking systems fail to cater to them. It is now almost impossible to opt out of having a bank account, using a chip and pin, and transferring money digitally—things of which many people aged eighty and above have no experience. Beyond the difficulty inherent in adapting to new systems, people in this age group may not know how to use the internet, struggle to remember PIN numbers, or be unable to travel to banks to withdraw money. For many, therefore, the phasing out of old methods of cash handling is confusing and makes them feel (or actually causes) a loss of financial control.

In response to the obvious need for the banking system to do more to be inclusive of the eighty-something age group, the aim of this project was to design innovative, provocative digital technologies that would enable this group to handle their finances more easily and highlight the ways in which the current system is failing older citizens. We conducted semi-structured interviews with older people and representatives from the financial sector to learn about issues relating to ageing and finance. Eleven people aged eighty to eighty-seven were invited to take part in a series of participatory design workshops to develop prototypes for new approaches to banking that would address some of the issues raised.

Among the prototypes we developed were:

The Biometric Daemon, a secure PIN reminder,
Digital Cheques to better integrate the traditional cheque, popular among our interviewees, with modern banking systems.
Guardian Angel, an application that would enable people to give delegates restricted access to their money on their behalf.
Questionable Concepts, a provocative exploration of ideas about money-related scenarios.

Date: May 2010 – April 2012
Funding: EPSRC (Digital Economy Programme) £7,947 + £168,264
Researchers:  Patrick Olivier, Feng Li (Business School), Paul Dunphy, Isaac Teece, Dan Jackson,  John Vines, Cas Ladha, Stephen Lindsay, Karim Ladha, Rachel Phillips, Vasilis Vlachokyriakos
Collaborators: Andrew Monk (PI) (University of York) and John Clark , Mark Blythe (Northumbria University), Jayne Wallace (Northumbria University)
Partners: Alex Aldler (Barclays Bank), Lucy Malenczuk (Age UK), Bruce Davis (Zopa)

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My Great North Run

The Great North Run is the largest half marathon in the world, and has been taking place in the North East of England every year since 1981. To celebrate thirty years of the Run, the Great North Museum ran an exhibition called “In the Long Run”, open to the public between July and October 2010. We developed a multimodal installation to be deployed as part of the exhibition.

My Great North Run interactive

The intention behind the installation was to capture, share and celebrate the diverse ways people have taken part in the event throughout the years. It consisted of a nine-metre table containing thirteen touch-screens, one for every mile of the Run. Visitors could explore preloaded stories and photographs from runners who had taken part in every year of the run. The purpose of this was to both celebrate the runners’ individual achievements and encourage visitors to add their own stories, drawings and messages using the digital (Anoto) pens and pads provided. People could also view the content of and contribute to the exhibit from home using an accompanying website; all new content loaded onto the site could be explored on the interactive installation and vice versa. By the time the exhibition had finished its run, the installation had extensively archived the experiences of runners through the years, having received over 12,000 submissions from around 100,000 visitors.

Date: March 2010 – Oct 2010

Funding: OneNorthEast £30,000

Researchers: Patrick Olivier (PI), Areti Galani (CI) – School of Arts & Cuture , Rachel Clarke, Tom Bartindale, John Shearer

Collaborators: SiDE: Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy, RCUK Digital Economy, Bupa Great North Run Culture Programme, Tyne and wear Archives and Museums, Great North Museum: Hancock.

Press release: In the long run: thirty years of Great North Running

See My Great North Run entry on the SiDE Website.

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User-centred Healthcare Design

The state of the health of Britain’s population and the ways medical professionals are expected to respond to health issues have changed drastically in the sixty years since the NHS was set up. Older people often have multiple health issues rather than one illness, while the number of people with chronic illnesses has increased. Commercially available products mean that people can more easily treat minor health issues without the help of professionals, and many people want to be more active and informed throughout treatment that does require professional administration.

The purpose of the UCHD project is to help the NHS respond to these changes. There are four major elements to the project. We take a user-centred approach, looking at current services through the eyes of their users to identify opportunities to create positive changes. We focus on innovative thinking, attempting to enact positive change across the broad picture rather than focusing on more narrowly-defined issues. We work towards the material realisation of our ideas through the use of participatory analysis, which includes role play, pencil sketches, dialogue and discussion. Finally, we engage in interdisciplinary dialogue, bringing in fresh perspectives from psychologists, social researchers, technologists, engineers, interaction designers, product designers and graphic designers.

With these aspects in mind, we aim to develop technologies that will allow patients to have control and choice, providing a customer-focused health care service that gives them what they require, attempting to enact positive change across the broad picture rather than focusing on more narrowly-defined issues.

Start Date: 2009

Funding: NIHR: National Institute for Health Research

Researchers: Peter Wright (PI)

See the UCHD website for more information.