What is the Health Design Lab?

The Health Design Lab is a research and design centre at Emily Carr University. Within the lab,  faculty and students work collaboratively on projects with industry and community partners to address complex challenges in health and healthcare through a human-centred design approach that places an emphasis on participatory design research and the involvement of patients, care providers and healthcare staff throughout the design process.

The Health Design Lab works with a range of partners including Health Authorities, hospitals, public organizations, non-profits, private business and local start-ups.  Through recent partnerships with BC Health Authorities we have designed and implemented interactive hand sanitizers, improved residential care facilities, conceptualized mobile apps, and boosted patient engagement.  Our work has also been supported by local start-up companies such as Agartee Technology Inc. and Simpli Innovations Inc.

Projects often result in the conceptualization and design of tangible products such as communication materials, websites, applications, wearables or medical products. Other projects focus on the improvement of services and experiences through human-centred participatory research methods. In these cases our projects begin with problem-finding and sense-making through ethnographic research and co-creation workshops to engage users or participants in the design process and gain insights into their needs. These projects allow our partners to design more patient and user-centred products and services by surfacing a better understanding of the users’ needs and providing recommendations for how to meet these.

Faculty and students working in the Health Design Lab primarily come from four key programs at Emily Carr University: Communication Design, Interaction Design, Industrial Design and our Master of Design program.

In all cases, Emily Carr students are at the core of our projects—led by faculty, they develop research strategies, design final outcomes, write up the process and analyze the results. This approach to design and design research teaches critical thinking to our students and better prepares them to take leadership roles in society.

Our lab is supported through funding from our project partners as well as the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR).

Our Expertise

  • Human-centred Design Research
  • Communication Design
  • Industrial Design and Wearable Tech
  • Interaction Design
  • Systems & Experience Design

What is Human-Centered Design?

IDEO, one of the world’s leaders in human-centred design, posts the following definition on its website: Embracing human-centred design means believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality, and clean water, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer. Human-centred design offers problem solvers a chance to design with communities, to deeply understand the people they’re looking to serve, to dream up scores of ideas, and to create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs. (IDEO, 2015)

Human-centred design puts people at the core of the research process. It ensures that the experts, the actual stakeholders in a problem, have a voice.  As design researchers we collect primary data through the generative design process of co-creation and use secondary sources to learn about the needs of the user. This involvement results in more innovative outcomes, higher acceptance rates of proposed solutions, and ultimately ensures that those whose health needs are being addressed have a voice in the process.

Design Research: Our Methodology

The HDL’s primary focus is on human-centred participatory design research and applied practice-based research. At the core of our practice is the use of co-creation sessions, largely following the methodologies established by Sanders and Stappers (2012.) Co-creation is the creative act of making, telling and enacting, wherein designers prompt participants to interpret and answer ambiguous questions; discuss problems; describe future experiences, concerns or opportunities; make artifacts or “things”; and create prototypes. Co-creating allows us to quickly understand complex social problems, explore possible solutions, detect mistakes in design ideas, and create solutions tailored to people’s needs. Ultimately, co-creation taps into the latent and tacit knowledge of the co-creators (participants) and provides insights into the needs, hopes, and desires that may not be captured in traditional research methods such as interviews and surveys.

At the Health Design Lab, we …

  • support and generate new ideas and approaches for health and wellbeing;
  • work through an iterative process of research, user engagement, ideation, prototyping, and user testing;
  •  conceive of new products, services, experiences, and knowledge;
  • engage users in the design process to develop insights and drive outcomes;
  • advocate with empathy;
  • strive to improve the physical, mental and social health of our community.

We seek partners who are committed to catalyzing and empowering change in our health systems and services through a people and community-centred approach.


Videos about the HDL

An interview with the HDL’s former Director, Jonathan Aitken:

A documentary overview of the HDL by local creative studio Giant Ant:


Our Partners