In our From The Edges series we feature Aotearoa NZ Academic Design Projects. Our practice as designers can be seen to be explored, pushed and perhaps become something entirely new where it exists at the edges of our practice in the world of academia. Free from the constraints of commercial outcomes and clients, designers explore and challenge existing paradigms.
In this article, we talk to Katie Twisleton, Communication Designer and AUT Master of Design graduate about her project for Good Health Lab. Katie’s masters research explored how graphic design could be used in a stroke ward environment to improve the overall experience of healthcare professionals, patients and their families.
What is your background and how did you get to where you are now?
I have a background in Communication Design. During the final year of my undergrad degree, I got given the opportunity to gain some industry experience with Good health Design, an interdisciplinary design studio based at AUT City Campus. Through this, I was introduced to the potential communication design had in healthcare. I was asked back to complete a studentship at the end of 2019, where I created a prototype for a mobile sensory resource for older adults living with dementia. Working with healthcare professionals at Auckland Hospital, I saw more of what communication design had to offer in healthcare and the importance of design research in our healthcare system.
I have always known communication design was more than aesthetics, it had the potential to create positive change within communities and have a positive impact on the lives of others. Through my experiences with Good Health Design, I gained a passion for design for health and design research and ultimately to completing a Master of Design at AUT.
When did you first learn about your area of specialty and what first piqued your interest about it?
I first learnt about design for health during my work experience during my last year of undergrad. I was surprised to learn that communication design was an area that needed to be utilised more in the healthcare system. Whether this is through designing a wayfinding system that makes it easier for people to make their way through a hospital space or making an appointment form easy to understand even by those with low health literacy.
Can you give us some background on your current project?
My master’s project began when a senior staff member working on North Shore Hospitals’ stroke ward expressed an interest in having a communication designer create something on the ward. When brainstorming what opportunities communication design had in a hospital environment, one of my supervisors introduced me to the Zeitgeist project that a group of Communication Design students from Emily Carr University in Vancouver had done. This particular project saw students co-design with residents of a retirement home, to create a series of zines that communicated the stories residents had shared.
Unfortunately due to ethical concerns I was unable to collect the stories or insights of those who have had a stroke. This led me to redirect my approach to create a healing environment through installed graphics. When talking with healthcare professionals at North Shore Hospital, it was continuously emphasised to me that everyone’s recovery journey after having a stroke is different. So combining this with ideas of creating a healing environment through nature, I started to create designed installations that were tested in North Shore Hospitals’ stroke ward.
The physical environment of a hospital caters to the technological advancements in medicine, focused on curing illness rather than supporting the wellbeing of people. This project explored how graphic design might be used in a healthcare environment to improve the experience of healthcare professionals, patients, and their families on a stroke ward. After a stroke, many people experience mental and physical impairments. This affects their ability to move and communicate as well as how they respond to their surrounding environment. The hospital environment can heighten the anxieties already faced after experiencing a stroke.
In this research, healthcare professionals working in North Shore Hospital’s Acute Stroke Ward were involved in the design process. Through methods used in action research and human-centered design, staff were able to share information around the inpatient experience on a stroke ward and the challenges staff face when aiding patient recovery.
Observations and expert interviews with staff revealed areas on the stroke ward that may be activated through graphic design to create a positive healthcare experience. Although the participation of healthcare professionals supported the development of designed solutions throughout this research it also revealed the challenges many designers face when working in healthcare. The time restrictions of staff required creative ways of engaging them in research in between busy periods in order to gather data.
Through installing designed prototypes in the stroke ward, it was revealed that not only can graphic design influence the experience in this space but the behavior of staff. This highlighted the importance graphic design has in a healthcare environment, not only creating a positive experience but facilitating connections in this space.
The final output of this project incorporated ideas of holistic healing when supporting those recovering from a stroke, bringing nature into the stroke ward environment through designed installations. The journey to recovery for stroke patients was also communicated through the designs on the ward. The journey begins in the ward, the ink splotches and scribbles reflect the confusion and darkness that many people face after experiencing a stroke due to the damage and impairments they now have to live with. The scribble transforms into an outline of kowhai leaves that eventually split off, further emphasizing that everyone’s journey to recovery is different. The line begins the story in the welcome area of the stroke ward at North Shore Hospital. The black line then starts to blossom into a garden of kowhai and harakeke, providing hope for patients entering the ward as well as those leaving to continue their recovery journey in other care.
These designed installations revealed the ability graphic design has when transforming a clinical space into an environment that has the ability to aid the recovery of stroke patients. The graphics installed throughout the project aimed to provide hope and happiness to those on the ward but feedback from staff at North Shore Hospital also revealed that the graphics had also become a part of occupational exercises and promoting independence for patients on the ward. This highlighted that the graphics are not only an aesthetically pleasing. Element in the space but can change the activity of staff and patients, creating conversation and connections that can have a restorative effect on the wellbeing of healthcare professionals, patients and their families in a stroke ward.
What was the most challenging part of your research thus far, and how did you overcome this?
The most challenging part of my research was working with healthcare professionals and working as a communication designer in the environment of a hospital. Due to the busy schedules of staff, many weren’t able to participate in my research and weren’t sure about how my practice could benefit them or their patients. Through creating and installing designed prototypes on the ward, staff became more comfortable with approaching me and having conversations around the designs. Through my research, I learnt that working with the end-user when creating designed outcomes is important, but working in a system that doesn’t necessarily see the importance of design research makes it hard.
How has your post-grad study impacted upon your own design practice?
My post-grad study has impacted my own design practice as it has grown my passion for design research and solidified what direction I wanted to head in after post-grad. This also helped grow my confidence as a communication designer/design researcher who is new to the workforce.
What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
I hope to continue working in design research and even more so in healthcare. I loved every second of my postgraduate project, even when things were difficult. Seeing the impact my work had on those within the stroke ward at North Shore Hospital further emphasised my passion for design for health.
How can people follow you or where can we see more of your own work?
You can see more projects I have worked on my website https://katietwisleton.squarespace.com/