Tactile Tools Co-Design Method

  • 2021

  • Design Research

Commissioned By:

Dr Leah Heiss

Designed In:


The Tactile Tools co-design method brings together diverse groups of people to solve complex problems, iteratively and collaboratively. The toolkit draws from human-centred design research and has been used by over 250 professionals in aged care and healthcare to solve complex problems, including redesigning end-of-life experience.

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Image: Photographer: Adam R. Thomas
Image: Photographer: Adam R. Thomas
Image: Photographer: Adam R. Thomas
Image: Photographer: Adam R. Thomas
Image: Photographer: Adam R. Thomas
Image: Photographer: Adam R. Thomas
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  • The design challenge was to develop a co-design approach that would enable diverse groups of people to problem solve in an iterative and collaborative way. Dr Leah Heiss designed the Tactile Tools while she was iteratively creating wearable technologies for healthcare. She questioned whether people could iteratively prototype solutions to complex problems, in much the same way that she was creating iterative models. The challenge was to create a tactile way of engaging interdisciplinary teams to break down complex healthcare journeys into their constituent parts and encourage experts to empathise with the lived experience of health seekers.

  • The Tactile Tools comprises a set of design artefacts used by interdisciplinary teams to 'map' the experience of an individual as they navigate a complex healthcare situation. The toolkit is composed of physical acrylic 'tiles' that represent elements of the healthcare experience (goals, roadblocks, workarounds, empathy, stakeholders and pathways). The activity is supported by personas, co-created with industry partners and clinical experts. The toolkit enables diverse stakeholders to map complex journeys of care while keeping the lived experience of patients in mind and heart: addressing systemic healthcare issues while empathising with the individuals who are seeking care.

  • The Tactile Tools method has supported social change by assisting government organisations, NGOs and healthcare providers to address complex issues including: redesigning end-of-life experience, implementing Voluntary Assisted Dying in Victoria; understanding acquired brain injury; improving cancer care; improving human centred engineering; and, understanding the lived experience of disadvantaged families with low birth weight babies. It encourages organisations to have a human-centred approach to the development of services and supports all stakeholders to better understand the complex experiences of patients and improve their quality of life. The Tactile Tools approach informed the creation of Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Model of Care.

  • Tactile Tools workshops have key features that promote impact and success: - Mobility: The method reframes complex problems in terms of mobility and performativity, enabling teams to address challenges in a playful way. The tiles slide, helping participants to bypass traditional power hierarchies. - Sustainability: The toolkit is infinitely reusable, cleaned after each workshop and reframed for the next challenge, saving wasted post-it notes and butcher's paper. - Personas: We co-create personas with industry partners and healthcare experts to guide explorations and ensure participants are focused on the lived experience of consumers. North Western Melbourne Primary Healthcare Network CEO Associate Professor Christopher Carter states, "(Tactile Tools) personas help ensure that the reforms and changes we make, and the programs we fund, always have the needs of individual people in mind. That is after all why we exist - to create better care for all of the more than 1.7 million individuals living in our region." - Empathy: The method encourages healthcare providers to keep the individual experience of patients at heart by using the empathy tool. - Adaptability: The method has been used by over 250 experts from healthcare, aged care and education and informed the creation of Victorian's Voluntary Assisted Dying Guidelines.