Design Engineering
Showcase

Helix Centre

Student
Lauren Dowling
Team
Design Strategy Team
Supervisor
Dr Michel-Alexandre Cardin
Role
Design Strategy Intern
Sector
Consultancies

Helix Centre is a Healthcare Innovation Lab based in St Mary’s Hospital, run by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. Patient experience is at the forefront of the Helix’s agenda. User-centred methodologies are used and promoted through their work with academics in research projects and healthcare providers seeking to improve a product/service. After joining Helix in April 2020, I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects focusing on dementia and mental health, whilst working with different healthcare professionals across various institutions.

 — Helix Centre

Demonstration of Design Engineering Thinking and Skills

For me, carrying out user research is the most interesting part of the design process. It gives you the opportunity to gain insight into other people’s difficulties and is often rather grounding. Upon joining Helix, I was assigned to a project aiming to counteract the loneliness and isolation resulting with such a user group completely diminished my ability to empathise with the challenges they faced. I felt the best way to overcome this was through reading. I read ‘Somebody I used to know’ by Wendy Mitchell, which told her personal story as someone experiencing the early stages of dementia. ‘What Dementia teaches us about love’ by Nicci Gerard offered insight into the destruction and devastation caused by the disease across every aspect of a person’s life. These books were eye-opening, humbling, and heartening. I was determined for compassion and empathy to underpin the work I was involved in at Helix. No doubt this is something every Design Engineer should strive for.

Helix uses a user-centred approach to translate academic research into effective physical and digital products. By participating in a large number of workshops and design reviews, I gained skills and experience in user research that will prove highly useful in future projects. Additionally, I had the opportunity to work with a number of academics and healthcare professionals. This provided a unique insight into the world of healthcare innovation.

Before starting my industrial placement with Helix, I had no previous experience of user-interface design (UI). Being involved in real-life projects allowed me to gain experience and knowledge in this field and develop fluency in Adobe XD. The structure of the UI/UX project Minder Tests allowed me to experiment with prototyping and gain overall confidence. I am proud of the progress made between my initial low-fidelity prototypes and the final design solutions.

 — Helix Centre
I worked on a project called Community Makers which sought to offer guidance for virtual community groups supporting people with dementia and their carers during COVID-19 lockdown.
 — Helix Centre
I was involved in the redesign of an online cognitive testing platform called Minder Tests.

Role and Contributions

Due to Helix’s affiliation with the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) and UK Dementia Research Institute (UKDRI), I had the opportunity to work on projects across both organisations. Within IGHI, I was part of a design team who produced infographics for an academic paper detailing the impact climate change has on mental health. They will soon be published in a scientific journal. Across the UKDRI, I worked in a team to produce onboarding material to help recruit participants for a remote health monitoring study of vulnerable older adults. This work will be distributed and will allow the UKDRI to provide all essential information in an accessible way to help potential study recruits make an informed decision regarding participation.

My involvement in the Minder Tests project enabled me to best utilise my design skills and create the most impact. A clinical team working across the UKDRI and Imperial have spent a number of years developing new cognitive tests that make up the Minder Tests platform. The tests themselves have been promoted by Michael Mosely and the BBC. The team was composed of twelve clinical leads, including clinical directors, researchers, neurologists, and neuropsychologists from Imperial, UKDRI and Great Ormond Street Hospital. I was one of two designers from Helix to join the team to improve the UI design of the existing platform. I was assigned the position of Design Lead, under the supervision of Pip Batey.

We spent several months working alongside the clinicians to translate complex user needs into design requirements. To ensure the long-term success of the platform, we had to look far beyond the UI design. A holistic approach considered the overall user experience, focusing primarily on the potential risks associated with the platform and overall testing process. We sought to realign the vision and goals of the project by moving away from the inclination and tendency to view Minder Tests as a standalone platform and realise its function as an entire service. As a design team, Pip and I offered a new perspective to ensure empathy for those completing the tests. This was particularly important given who the platform targets (ie. people with dementia, a traumatic brain injury etc) and the nature of what it seeks to assess. ‘Design thinking’ was incorporated into the weekly clinical meetings. Such an approach was effective in tandem with the expertise and experience of the clinical team to address various practicalities.

User research extended beyond the clinical team, with workshops and design reviews being carried out with a group of older adults to ensure a highly accessibility final design solution. This research informed changes to both UI and UX. After presenting the difficulties faced by this focus group to the clinical team, key and significant changes were made to reduce any potential distress associated with the overall testing procedure.

 — Helix Centre
I was part of the design team creating the onboarding material to recruit vulnerable older adults for a remote health monitoring study.

Summary

Before starting, I had reservations around the practicalities of a remote internship and was worried that a lack of proximity would diminish my opportunity to contribute and learn.

My worries were quickly put to rest. The strong sense of community at Helix meant that I was warmly welcomed. I felt like a valued member of the team, being brought onto projects and given responsibilities that enabled me to be challenged whilst providing an unparalleled insight into healthcare innovation.

 — Helix Centre
My role in the project Climate Cares involved facilitating workshops for young people discussing the impact of climate change on mental health. Additionally, I helped design infographics on the subject.

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