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How was the problem solved?

You’ve just read about the project Reducing violence and aggression in A&E. The project developed three design solutions to make A&E departments calmer and safer for patients and staff.

The cross-disciplinary team, led by design studio PearsonLloyd, worked with three partner NHS trusts for four months to create practical, affordable solutions that could be easily fitted in to current A&E departments. How did they approach the problem?

image - Design Council - Reducing violence and aggression in A&E project

Empathise: research and observation

At the start of the project, ethnographic researchers spent more than 300 hours interviewing people and observing them to understand their experience in A&E. The team also worked with managers and emergency care specialists to understand the issues that frontline staff face.

This helped the team understand more about the kinds of people who assault staff and how their experiences make assaults more likely to happen.

The design team visited A&E departments and witnessed violent incidents as they happened. They realised that improving people’s experience of being in A&E would help improve their behaviour.

Define: analysing and creating a brief

The team created customer journey maps and user profiles to help them analyse and summarise the interviews, research and reports.

Ideate: co-design and communication

The designers ran co-design workshops and worked with the hospital staff to come up with ideas for ways to help staff and communicate to patients better.

Prototype: signs and systems

The team made sketches, mock ups, prototypes and computer models to test their ideas for signage and patient tracking systems.

They worked on ideas for showing live data about waiting times on screens. They also experimented with ways of delivering personalised information using touch screens and patient’s own mobiles.

Test: improvements and evaluation

The team tested their designs in two busy hospitals to get feedback from staff and patients. The feedback on the prototypes helped them make them better.


The solution the team designed was installed in two hospitals and led to the following outcomes:

  • a 50% reduction in aggressive behaviour
  • 88% of patients felt the guidance signs clarified the A&E process
  • 75% of patients said the signs reduced their frustration when they were waiting
  • 50% reduction in the number of patients who felt they’d been forgotten
  • improved staff morale and wellbeing.

For every £1 spent on the design solutions, £3 was generated in benefits.

The prototypes, evaluation reports and toolkits have been shared across the NHS, helping other trusts see the value of a human centred design process and to create innovative new experiences to protect their patients and staff.

You can read further details about how they approached the problem in the case study notes in Downloads section below.

Over to you:

  • Are you surprised at how simple the solution to the problem was?
  • Do you think the designers would have found this simple solution if they had not worked with the people involved?
  • Now you understand the process behind HCD a bit better, are there any places you think you could apply it to solve problems in your work or every-day life?

Share your reflections and ideas with other learners in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Get Creative with People to Solve Problems

University of Leeds