Making In The Moment: Insight from Participatory Arts for Co-Design Practice in Dementia Care Settings

Henry Collingham, Abigail Durrant, John Vines

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Design for dementia literature calls for greater degrees of personalisation and participation for people living with dementia, while acknowledging that ‘alternatives are also needed to the one-on-one approaches, often used in the development of highly personalized outcomes’ (Kenning 2018, 2).

We respond to these provocations by reporting on a qualitative study in a care home setting that informed Inclusive Design directions for dementia care. The professional practice of conducting participatory arts workshops in this setting was empirically observed and analysed, to deliver transferable insights that may advance co-design methodology for dementia care design contexts.

This paper presents an autoethnographicaccount taken from a year-long participant observation in a residential care home in Northern England, by a designer volunteering for a creative ageing charity that runs participatory arts workshops. In presenting the designer’s account about his involvement in the development of a large-scale participatory artwork with this charity, and his facilitation of 30 workshops, the paper captures empirical insight and learning from working alongside experienced creative professionals.

We critically reflect on this insight, discussing its relevance to co-design practices in residential care contexts, and calling for designers to draw their strategic focus away from identifying notions of ‘good; or ‘bad’ design outcomes, and towards celebrating the act of creative intent and voice-giving through co-design practice. We offer methodological insight for Design4Health that is grounded in a recognition of the importance of authorship and autonomy of people with dementia: the facilitation of creative expression should ensure that there is reciprocity within co-design methods, between those who are involved with creative practice in the form of one-to-many, or many-to-many.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 6th International Conference on Design4Health
EditorsKirsty Christer, Claire Craig, Paul Chamberlain
Place of PublicationSheffield
PublisherSheffield Hallam University
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781838111700
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020
EventDesign4Health 2020: Designing Future Health - University of Twente, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 1 Jul 20203 Jul 2020


ConferenceDesign4Health 2020
Internet address


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