Hannah Manley used to think she’d be a practising designer in an agency as soon as possible after graduation. But attending Design Council's Design Academy taught her the level of impact that a well-researched product can have. She told us how that changed her career for the better.

“One of the big things I remember being said to us was that they didn't want a final design, that we shouldn't worry about the end result,” says Hannah Manley, MSc student at Nottingham Trent University. She is talking about Design Council’s Design Academy, which she took part in as part of her undergraduate degree in 2016.

It’s scary to design without any idea of the outcome. Design Academy gave us the confidence to do that

Hannah Manley, MSc Student, Nottingham Trent University

Hannah was part of an interdisciplinary group of fine artists, illustrators, textile and product designers, all tasked with coming up with design ideas that would improve healthcare. Over the course of the programme, they learned a range of primary research methods that prepared them for their design careers outside of the university walls. Hannah’s team focused on the mental health care of 18-25 year olds, identifying a gap in the signposting of provision and, once young people had found services, long waiting lists.

“It’s scary to design without any idea of the outcome,” says Hannah. “Design Academy gave us the confidence to do that. It taught us how to step out of our own experiences and expectations and properly research what our user needed.” Hannah’s team eventually designed a system that helped to get young people into the care system quicker. It also utilised the time they spent on waiting lists to good effect, preparing them better for their treatment.

Hannah’s experiences on Design Academy have transformed her career path since. After graduating she took part in a graduate scheme in Nottingham looking at dementia care. “Before Design Academy, I probably would have shied away from similar projects. I just thought that healthcare was all about product designers designing needles and things like that. The programme changed my perception of design for public healthcare and made me realise that it’s actually about designing whole systems with people at the heart of it.”

Hannah is now forging a healthcare design career for herself, in a very different way to that which she expected. “I thought I’d be out there practising design in society as soon as I’d finished my degree,” she says. “I never thought that I would do a Masters, but here I am, ten days from submitting my final project.”

Hannah’s MSc in Design, Products and Technology builds on an affinity with healthcare design that she discovered during Design Academy. She is researching ways to make the donation of menstrual blood easy and painless. Menstrual blood contains mesenchymal cells, which have similar regenerative capabilities as the stem cells in umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. They can differentiate into many different cell types. Medical research is in the early stages, and one of the problems that will have to be surmounted is donation.

The programme changed my perception of design for public healthcare and made me realise that it’s actually about designing whole systems with people at the heart of it.

Hannah Manley, MSc Student, Nottingham Trent University

“Research into this area has been primarily scientific at the moment,” says Hannah. “It shows that these cells have huge promise. That’s great, but it’s only worth anything if women feel able to donate. When you start thinking about that human side of it, you realise that you are dealing with what society thinks about this subject, which is still one of its great taboos.”

The skills that Hannah used in the Design Academy have supported her further study. “It has definitely helped me to complete this Masters. I already loved research, but there’s just something about having the ability and techniques to dig into qualitative research and human factors. As a result, I have been able to produce a strong research thesis. I also learned how to hold focus groups and interview people, work in a team and to a deadline. And how to take all your research and present it. It was a massive boost to my confidence.”

Hannah’s work has proven so compelling that she is planning on doing a PhD. “I need to see this project through,” she says. “It’s something that could save people from pain. It could make their lives, and the lives of medical professionals easier. I would love to see something on the NHS, rather than in the private sector. It’s the impact that I could make on real people that motivates me as a designer.”

How do I get involved?
If you're a student and are interested in Design Academy, please speak to your university course leader and let them know you are interested.

If you're a university and would like to get involved with Design Academy, or if you have any questions,  please get in touch with the Design Academy team at innovation@designcouncil.org.uk. You can also download our brochure for more information about Design Academy 2018-19.

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