Thesis on Design Management; identifying managerial issues of practicing empathic design

Finally I have put the last dot in my thesis on ‘Designing rehabilitation aids for post stroke hemiplegic patients – identifying the managerial issues of practicing design with an empathic approach’  in Design Management from Southern University Denmark/Kolding School of Design. I will do my defense on the 25th of June – please wish me luck!

The thesis conclude:

By questioning: “How can design research be useful in establishing design criteria for rehabilitation aids for hemiplegic patients? “ I combine design theory with design practice to locate findings in the field of design management.

The goal is to change the environment and experience of rehabilitation, and in the effort of doing so I have started to re-think the design processes involved, in order to create new suggestions that will benefit the life quality of post stroke hemiplegic patients. With this mission in mind, I have connected my prior research from Kingston University in London with current design research, to identify an approach of managing design within stroke, hemiplegia and rehabilitation.

In this definition, an empathic design discourse originates from a historical motive force to issue the management and practice of design with an empathic approach. This based on three perspectives.

In the hands of former designers and architects born with a condition who makes them disabled and therefore first hand users.

From those who use a costume or an artifice to attempt an empathic agenda.

Advocates of an empathic related agenda including former engineers, architects or designers that went into the field of research.

These different disciplines base the origin of the empathic design approach to which I conclude is similar to the latest developments of empathic design and in extension seen as part of the governmental agenda for societal changes.

The discourse frames a holistic approach in changing the health and wellbeing environment. Within this act I have defined to employ design management, a better definition of this can be seen as the managerial discipline of practicing designs with an empathic approach.

What I learned in the UK project is that the practice of empathic design includes several skills and plays a multifaceted role. This furthermore appear in processes that iterates, not only in time, but also across levels of abstraction to seek comfort in the tangible. I therefore conclude that the empathic design process is experimental in its form and therefore needs management to stay on track.

This conclusion makes me reflect that the empathic design process is parallel design thinking, as both are perceived multidisciplinary methods with a function to conceive, plan and present ideas into process.

To demonstrate how the discourse is related to design management I place it among the landscape of design in Sanders’ Topography to identify the challenges of this act.

To be able to coin this, I identify the day-to-day challenges and life-difficulties, physical as well as emotional, social as well as psychological of a post stroke patient, to make reason for an empathic agenda.

I furthermore reflect on the managerial issues reflected from the single case study of the UK project, to understand a post stroke hemiplegic patient’s challenges and opportunities in order to strategically manage a design process when designing for hemiplegia.

Within this discovery I identify a gap between the practice and the management of empathic design. In this act a new set of methodology rise to be methods that invent themselves from patterns of continuing managerial issues. These methods are as follows:

  • Experience-based Problem solving
  • Empathic Visual Transformation
  • Participatory Making
  • Facilitating Participants

To embed this methodology in an organisational context, I create a framework for these methods to figure. I thereby conclude that to successfully implement empathic design, the approach has to permeate a company, to affect the culture of the organization.

To organize the methodology, I analyse relevant methods, tools and techniques as a way to operate the empathic approach among a design team and stakeholders. This is done by developing six design criteria when designing rehabilitation aids for post stroke hemiplegic patients, in order to reflect on the issues of practicing and managing design on the operational, organisational and strategic level.

These are based on the fact that;

  1.  An empathic design process takes time to organize, practice, evaluate and plan.
  2. Embedding an empathic design policy can be a way of approaching an organization to be successfully embedded.
  3. An Experience-based Problem Solving approach can be a driver of an empathic design process.
  4. A design manager has to be aware of the importance of visual documentation of all information gained. This by using the method Empathic Visual Transformation.
  5. That a Participatory Making method can foster prototypes of “empathic tools”. This to be followed by a Facilitating Participants method to create an inspiring prototyping set up.
  6. To effectively manage the practice of empathic design – a solution can be to plan the work – and then work the plan.

I finally conclude that this framework situates the place of the post stroke hemiplegic patient to be put at the centre, when an organization wants to establish an efficient and effective work method for others to manage and practice design with an empathic approach.

Trine Møller June 2013

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