User-Centric Design: Understanding the User and Designing to their Needs

It’s estimated there are over 700,000 young carers across the UK. This figure equates to one in twelve secondary school–aged pupils. It’s likely, therefore, that there are young carers in every school and college across the UK.

The South Oxfordshire based charity BeFreeYC (formally SVCC) works to provide advice and support to young carers, helping them with day-to-day life. Through their work, the centre identified a particularly difficult stage for young carers when they are in need of greater help and support – this time being when the person whom they care for has to stay in a hospital. Understandably, during such times young carers can be more susceptible to feelings of anxiety and isolation. The centre, therefore, sought a solution for providing more support and information to young carers at these times.

The project began with a workshop coordinated by the charity and held at a South Oxfordshire secondary school. The workshop included twelve young carers from the local area and as Creative Director at Design Eleven I was invited to join this collaboration to help develop a creative solution.

The aim of the workshop was to gain a deeper understanding of daily life for young carers. What are their challenges, concerns, anxieties, enjoyments, motivations etc? Essentially, what support and information do they need, in what format do they need it, with what tone of voice do they wish to be spoken to and what creative style of communication would engage them? To find an emotional connection to communicate effectively with this group required dealing with sensitivities and not assuming we already knew what they wanted. Listening carefully to them ensured we could develop a user-centred solution to meet their specific needs.

The project outcome was the development of a “Young Carers’ Hospital Pack” – a printed support and information pack. Informed by the young carers as to the content, illustration style and language, the pack was designed to engage and not patronise, to provide complex information in a simple and easy–to–read format and to always be easily accessible. Printed material was preferred over digital communication as mobile and tablet technology is not easily accessible in hospitals or for some carers who are as young as seven years old. A printed pack was chosen as best suited for ease of accessibility, the simplicity of use and affordability of production.

The young carers from the workshop were very enthusiastic to be included from the initial stages of the creative process. The hospital pack provided an efficient information resource in a fun and engaging, graphic style which containing crucial contact details for help, hospital information and guidance on staff and departments, what to expect etc. The packs were distributed in hospitals by NHS Oxfordshire and were well received by young carers and appreciated by NHS staff, parents and those who were being cared for.

Integrating user involvement from the start ensured that young carers remained the focus of the project. Whilst designers value their creative and imaginative skills, they shouldn’t second guess the needs of the user but aim to gain a deeper understanding of the user from the outset. Meeting with the young carers provided a valuable insight into what they needed and as a designer I could apply my creative expertise to meet their needs.

Following the success of this project in Oxfordshire the “Young Carers’ Hospital Pack” has been rolled out by NHS Gloucestershire.

Malcolm Buckland, Creative Director. DesignEleven