Our User-Centred Design process

The Helix Centre is a healthcare design team within Imperial College London, that works across the UK DRI Care Research and Technology Team.

The role of design within the centre includes:

We are actively developing a “design for dementia process” and will be expanding on the process described below with examples and resources in due course.

The key steps in designing and introducing new devices, sensors and apps to the Minder platform can be summarised as follows:

1. Deep background

Minder designers spend time learning about the lives, needs, and aspirations of people living with dementia and their cares. This is to provide a broad understanding of the context for which we are designing.

Design activities include home visits, studio workshops, and more recently online video interviews and meetings.

One output of this background work was a series of personas – designed to represent the broad spectrum and variety of aspirations and requirements of people living with dementia, to the Centre’s engineers, scientists and other workers.

2. Ideation and brainstorming

Designers, researchers, engineers and users meet to discuss challenges and provide direction on ideas and technologies emerging from the labs at Imperial College.

For example, The ‘Hearables’ team were able to bring early ideas for a wearable device to constantly measure EEG signals and other vital signs to a group of carers, to discuss the potential benefits and challenges this technology offers for people with dementia. The group gave feedback on various form factors (e.g. headphones, hearing aids, necklaces) as well as the type of feedback and data they would like to see from the device. This was fed  into the early development of the technology.

Example: Hearables

3. Prototyping and feedback

Prototypes are developed by designers, clinicians and engineers working together . These can then be brought to prospective users for early feedback and testing. These prototypes are often click-though models, and can be shared with users through online meetings. Feedback often includes usability assessments, where assumptions of how users will behave when shown a design are challenged and corrected.

For example, a team within the centre are developing a remote cognitive assessment tool, that can be delivered over the internet, so that people with dementia, and others can take cognitive tests in the comfort of their own home. Helix designers created click through prototypes to improve the experience and understanding of the tests, which subsequently informed the software development.

4. Testing within the team

Before sending new devices apps to the homes of people with dementia, where the time and patience of family carers in particular is a precious resource, we test them within the Centre with people who are not familiar with the technology. This process serves to identify and iron-out technical and broad usability issues, before the devices are tested in the homes of those living with dementia.

Example: Minder Check-in

5. Onboarding development

More often than not, the technical issues are around the complex process of deploying and setting up the devices, especially when COVID restrictions make it difficult to help with home visits. Connecting to Wifi, setting up accounts, and configuring devices can be more complex than the daily use of devices and apps, especially for a demographic that is not so technologically literate.

Example: Minder Check-in, Minder Watch

6. Testing with Minder Champions

Minder champions are participants in the research that have consented to extra involvement in the design and development work in the centre. The design team meets with them regularly, online or in person, to discuss ideas and get feedback. Minder Champions may also choose to try out new prototypes or experiences before they are deployed to other participants. When we send out a new device, we will provide regular contact with a particular focus on getting set up with the device, and ask their feedback on all aspects of the experience. This feedback will then be incorporated into the next iteration of the design before being deployed to the wider cohort.

Example: Minder brand, Minder Watch
Planned example: Minder App

7. Deployment to wider cohort, feedback and iteration

Only when we have completed the steps above, as well as achieve all the ethical and data governance requirements for a new device will it be delivered to a wider cohort. We believe that reaching a suitable level of design (usability, acceptability and desirability) is equivalent to the ethical and data privacy requirements of research. The design of the devices and services we are creating has an impact on the daily lives of people with dementia and carers, which are already often under strain. We have a duty to help make that daily routine easier, more joyful if possible, as well as work towards better understanding of dementia and care of people with dementia.

Furthermore, the design process does not stop as the interventions are delivered. Working alongside our colleagues across the centre, we will look at how effectively new interventions are used, and how that use changes over time. We will iterate based on ongoing feedback (provided through the Minder App and other routes) to improve the daily experience of being part of the Minder studies.

Planned example: Minder Dashboard