Spinal Injury Design Workshops

This project relates to Design & Rehabilitation, an RSA initiative which began in 2009, to teach design to people with spinal cord injuries (SCI) as a route to independence, resourcefulness and greater control over their lives. It began with an initial pilot; a 3 day workshop in London supported by the Back-up Trust. The success of this led to support from The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust  in 2011, allowing the RSA to commission a series of design workshops with three pairs of national partners

  • Bucks New University and the National Spinal Injuries Centre at  Stoke Mandeville
  • Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield Princess Royal Spinal Injuries Centre
  • Glasgow School of Art/University of Strathclyde with Glasgow Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit.

The team from Sheffield Hallam University was the Lab4Living team. We wanted to establish shared ownership of the project with the SCI participants from the Princess Royal unit. We made explicit the fact that this was a joint enquiry; an opportunity for shared learning and to break the stereotypical view of the designer’s role as the ‘expert’ drafted in to solve functional problems identified by the users.

The aims and objectives in the project were summarized as:

  • to challenge the perceptions of design among non-designers
  • to investigate how design can support self-efficacy
  • to understand the opportunities that the development of design skills might present to individuals living with long term disabilities
  • to further Lab4Living’s work and help define the role and value of co-design and participatory design
  • to encourage the transferability of skills and knowledge

The project took the form of a series of 6 workshops that introduced the concept of design as a way of thinking interwoven with practical actions to resolve problems that anyone could face in everyday life. We specifically attempted to steer clear of specific challenges or issues that might be faced by the individual participants as we feared that this might potentially narrow down the focus of design. The workshops were losely based around the following themes:

1. What is design?
2. Prototyping; iterative trial and error
3. Design Encounters: ‘sensing’ the world differently
4. Mapping and Contextualising
5. Design Questions; asking the right question
6. Lateral thinking

The research team were hugely supported by by a team of students from the MDes and MA course run here at Sheffield Hallam University who committed their time to this project over and above the demands and requirements of their course. The feedback from all the students was overwhelming positive with references to the impact of this project on their own design practise and more widely on their lives.

This phase of the Design and Rehabilitation project concluded with a seminar hosted by the RSA, at which clinicians, designers and SCI patients from the three different teams from Glasgow, Sheffield and Buckinghamshire came together to share their experiences. A summary of this seminar can be found here and a report of phase two can be found here.

Project updates

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