Thinking Through Design and Rehabilitation

Teaching ‘Design thinking’ skills to people with Spinal Cord Injuries to increase self-efficacy.

This project builds upon a pilot project ‘Design and rehabilitation’ undertaken by the Lab4Living team supported by the Silvia Adams Trust and the Royal Society of Arts.

This SHINE 2012, Health foundation funded bid was awarded to Sheffield Hallam university in collaboration with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Princess Royal Spinal Injury Unit and the Clinical Improvement Team at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust in 2012 to implement the spinal injury design workshops and ‘measure’ the impact of them on spinal cord injured patients using various clinical metrics.

The award began in February 2013 and allowed the team to run design thinking workshops as part of the patients’ therapy timetable within the unit. Pre and post data was collected from the participants to understand the impact of the sessions using validated outcome measures such as self-efficacy and perceived manageability, as well as qualitative interview data on the patients experience of the workshops.

The aim of the project was to see if taking a design approach to exploring problems and perceived barriers would allow patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) to have a greater say in their own rehabilitation and see what positive effect this could have on helping them approach life with an SCI.
Patients were consented to a programme of four, one to one, 45 minutes sessions delivered as part of their therapy timetable. The workshops are based around the double diamond tool which was created by the Design Council to explain the basic design process. Key design thinking skills explored within the workshops include:

  • Trial and error
  • Creative thinking
  • Thinking outside the box
  • Communication of ideas
  • Lateral thinking

In total 35 people signed up to the workshops (over half of those who fit the specified inclusion criteria) with complete data sets for 20 of those patients (factors such as sudden discharge, bed rest and hospital transfers affected the data collection).

The delivery of the workshops was completed in December 2013, the data analysis is currently taking place and a full write up will be completed by the end of March 2014. As part of this project the designers are currently developing a sustainability plan for these sessions, working with staff to look at how best to integrate them into the unit, and whether or not they could be run by non-designers.

Initial qualitative data analysis is very positive, with feedback from patients such as;

‘I’m more positive about a lot of thingsā€¦I’m more confident, you’ve got to take control of you, not let everybody around you do everything-you have got to start doing it because when you get outside its going to be so different.’

‘You can go the quickest route but it’s never the most satisfactory. In this situation, as you will appreciate you have got to think of life completely differently. And those sessions have really, really helped because it gets your mind thinking’.

‘I mean, it’s like, it’s a different way of thinking. Not thinking of the easiest way to solve a problem, it’s exploring all avenues and getting to a point where you can say, right, we’ve done this this and this. And this is what the answer is.’


Lab4Living, Sheffield Hallam University,
Furnival Building, 153 Arundel Street, Sheffield, S1 2NU
Phone 0114 225 6753 | Fax 0114 225 6931