When Professor Lisa Scharoun ponders the future of aged care, she hopes design thinking and co-design will play a much bigger role in the sector.
“Design is in everything, you have to hire a designer to design a new facility, but it often happens in silos,” the head of Queensland University of Technology’s School of Design explains.
Instead, the professor would like to see aged care staff collaborating with designers to develop the best solutions for older Australians in care.
Design thinking, Scharoun says, is a term popularised in the late ’90s.
“It’s the natural process that designers use when they come up with a solution.
“…it’s looking at the intricacy of the problem from different angles … the process of continual experimentation and testing to come up with something that works for the end user,” she explains.
“So that process when you pair it with co-design, which is designing with the end user, is really effective in coming up with solutions that are more robust and actually they really address the client’s needs at the end.”
Scharoun runs study tours to Asia with colleagues from QUT’s industrial design and nursing faculties.
On a recent tour, students from Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong took part in a co-design project which involved multiple visits to an aged care facility to learn about the specific challenges facing residents and carers.
Out of these visits, students came up with a variety of ideas, some of which were developed into products and campaigns.
Scharoun recalls a collaboration between nursing and industrial design students.
“[At one of the hospitals we visited in Singapore] was an older woman who had difficulty with falling, she continuously fell.
“And even though she’s been given a traditional walker and cane, it wasn’t working and she didn’t want to use it in some instances.
“So they came up with a product that would support her, she could pack it away, she could use it in different scenarios. It was also more functional based on her specific needs that she discussed with the students,” Scharoun says.
“So that was a product solution, but then students also decided to come up with different campaigns to encourage more young people to understand what ageing is like.”
The students developed a marketing campaign to feature in schools, on bus stops and throughout the community, increasing awareness of what ageing is, with a focus on healthy ageing.
Another group designed a customisable bed that long stay patients or residents could personalise, to feel more at home.
Scharoun says often nursing students and staff don’t feel they have the agency to make change in the sector, that it is not a part of their role.
“We were talking about, for instance, the bundles of cables that are sometimes everywhere … that they have to keep walking around, and they said ‘well, it makes it difficult for us to manoeuvre sometimes because of all these cables and wires’.
“We said, ‘well, you could be active in making a new design solution to that’,” Scharoun explains.
Scharoun is a regular attendee of the annual Australian Association of Gerontology Conference, and since being the sole designer present about six years ago, she’s happy to see more of a co-design focus creeping in.
“I think it should be an integral part whenever you look at designing a new facility, or services, or any part of working with residents or carers,” she says.
“It should just be a natural part of the process … not just an added bonus, but it should be embedded in that in that system.”