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Cardiff School of Art and Design Masters Show 2017: "I wanted to design something to make people’s lives better.”



Alex Hirst, a Product Design Masters student at Cardiff School of Art and Design, helps tackle missed NHS appointments with his final project.

Alex Hirst, a Product Design Masters student at Cardiff School of Art and Design, helps tackle missed NHS appointments with his final project.

Alex, a 32-year-old ex-senior advertising accountant manager, is preparing to showcase the result of a one-year Masters course in Product Design. His creation provides a practical solution to reduce the number of hospital appointments missed due to patients being unable to find the right department for their appointment. 

From his frequent contact with doctors and patients at University Hospital of Wales, Alex realised that hospitals face a big problem with the number of missed appointments. People arriving late to appointments or missing them entirely, has a knock-on effect on NHS waiting times, leads to inefficient use of staff, diverts resources away from where they are really needed, and is a financial cost to the NHS. 

Conversations with out-patients revealed that the phenomenon of missed hospital appointments cannot just be explained by forgetfulness, but is partly caused by patients getting lost on the way to their appointment. 

Alex noted “Many hospitals are like the Heath - they are huge buildings with a very complex layout. GPS doesn’t work inside and out-patients have great difficulty finding the right department for their appointment.”

Motivated by a desire to solve problems, Alex thought he might be able to help minimise the number of missed appointments.

CSAD’s Product Design course asks its students to cooperate with an industrial partner to tackle an unmet need. Alex worked closely with the Health Board to develop a technical solution: “The product is a working prototype to guide patients to where their appointment is. It involves an interactive screen with a bespoke website and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)."

Similar to a barcode, RFID provides unique identification for an object. In this case, patients will arrive at the hospital with the letter giving their appointment details. They will scan the letter and the interactive screen will bring up the details of where their appointment is; the software then shows them a plan of the hospital and guides them to the appointment.

“It is a technical version of customer service. It has potential to be adapted to any hospital layout and can benefit out-patients, visitors and new staff.”  

During his undergraduate Fine Art degree, Alex worked with reclaimed metal to create kinetic sculpture. However, he then worked in advertising for several before the transition into product design and medical devices.

He said: “That job just wasn’t quite the right fit for me. I decided I wanted to widen my skillset, to get a postgraduate qualification and ultimately to change my profession. The MSc Product Design course at Cardiff School of Art and Design has given me the opportunity to completely turn around my career, something not many people my age have the chance to do.

“Initially, I thought I wanted to use the course to do furniture design, but I quickly found that I could make an impact by using more technical product design to solve problems.”

This was confirmed by Alex’s attendance at the Yale Healthcare Hackathon 2017. With financial support from Cardiff Met and Santander mobility fund, Alex was able to travel to Yale University to compete with 200 other attendees to develop a product to address an unmet need in healthcare. He worked on a project about pollution levels in cities and the impact of this on asthmatic children. He developed a smart bracelet to communicate key health information to a child’s parents. The product won the ‘Careers, Life and Yale’ prize.

Alex says: “It is definitely the challenge of solving problems that motivates me. The whole process of product design is user-experience led. The course is embedded in the need to speak to people and design something that they can genuinely use; something that will fill an obvious gap in the market. I got continual feedback on the product from doctors and patients to ensure that it was user-friendly.”

The product was also tested in CSAD’s ‘Perceptual Experience Lab’ which simulates social and environmental conditions to give Alex an idea of how people will interact with the product.

The showcase itself will combine a sculpture and installation element, but will mainly focus on video footage.

The Cardiff School of Art and Design Masters Show is open until Septmber 13th (from 10am to 4pm) on our Llandaff Campus.