Make It Better: how universal design principles can have an impact on healthcare services to improve the patient experience

Jeremy Myerson, Professor of Design, Jonathan West, Research Fellow

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art


The delivery of frontline healthcare services has traditionally been framed by clinical considerations and viewed predominantly from the perspective of the medical professions involved in care of patients.  But what if a broader approach was adopted in which the patient experience was placed at the centre of the process and services were framed by design thinking as well as clinical considerations? This paper explores an alternative patient-centred approach to healthcare – both in the hospital and in the community – that draws on universal design principles.

The paper examines the Seven Principles of Universal Design (as defined by Ron Mace, North Carolina State University, 1997) and evaluates which of those principles are relevant to the complex demands of healthcare today. The value of four principles in particular – Simple and Intuitive Use, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Error, and Size and Space for Approach and Use – are illustrated using case studies from The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, RCA, including a redesign of the Emergency Ambulance and innovations to reduce medical error on surgical wards. The paper concludes by reflecting on the implications of a broader approach for both clinical and design practice, and on the lessons for educating designers.

Jeremy Myerson,

Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design, Royal College of Art


Purpose: the aim of this interactive workshop is to highlight and demonstrate user research methods used for design in healthcare settings. Workshop participants will work in small teams to explore a range of tools and techniques. Delegates will investigate how to switch from divergent to convergent thinking, the power of observations, a day in the life study, the use of design provocations and the techniques of asset mapping. Exercises will be short, informal and fun  - providing a host of new ways to apply universal design principles within healthcare.