Designing for playfulness through compassion: design for advanced dementia

The LAUGH project is a recently completed international three-year UK Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded design research project.

Outcomes from the research include a collection of playful objects designed to support the wellbeing of people living with advanced dementia that aim to provide comfort, pleasure and fun. These artefacts - a series of seven prototypes of playful objects, have recently been exhibited in London at the Royal Society of Arts, the Senedd in Cardiff and in Sydney, Australia. This visual essay provides an explanation of the research underpinning the designs and the Compassionate Design methodology that has informed the work.

Those in society who have the greatest need for excellent design are often the most vulnerable and may find it difficult or impossible to articulate what they want due to physical, sensory or memory impairment as a result of accident or disease. These people need innovative design solutions that are highly appropriate, customizable and sustainable. Finding ways to understand the challenges they face moment-by-moment and day-by-day is vital. Including
them, and those who care for them, in a co-design process can provide rich insights into design requirements and result in better design solutions. LAUGH has involved key experts in dementia, including those living with the disease and their carers, at every stage in the research process.

Each of the LAUGH playful objects has been designed for a specific person living with advanced dementia. Most of them contain embedded electronics, are interactive, stimulate the senses and are highly personalized. The design narratives behind three of the playful objects will be explained in relation to the three key themes of Compassionate Design, which stress the importance of personalization, sensory stimulation and maintaining connections between
people and the world.


Paper published in Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Design4Health.