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Participatory Design at Lingnan: Designing with and for the Elderly

Participatory Design at Lingnan: Designing with and for the Elderly


"We should embrace the struggle of a design process as part of learning and growth. It is critical to use different perspectives during the design process to create change."

Ms Sher Vogel, MIT D-Lab Global Trainings Manager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


On the 25th and 26th of November, 40 elderly, students, staff, and entrepreneurs gathered at Lingnan with Sher Vogel from MIT for a Participatory Design Workshop. In this workshop, Sher guided the participants through a Design-with-Users approach for elderly-related need analyses and conducted a session of rapid prototyping with our elderly participants. The Design Workshop was generously funded by Jockey Club “We Care, We Serve & We Learn @ Tuen Mun” Programme. Elderly participants were neighbours in the community, participations were open to all and free. This workshop is part of the efforts from the University to offer life-long learning opportunities for its community members.


Workshop pictures


Most people associate the word “design” with computer graphics and visually pleasing artwork in a museum, but we think it can be much more. With a team of inter-disciplinary and entrepreneurial individuals, Lingnan Entrepreneurship Initiative (LEI) believes that design is a tool for our everyday life, a mindset to improve human conditions, and an attitude to create significant impact. Services, products, learning and research all have elements of design. Innovations that change our lives incorporate various degrees of good design, simple or complex.


To design adequate services and products for an ageing society, LEI had invited Sher Vogel, the MIT D-Lab Global Trainings Manager of Massachusetts Institutes of Technology, to conduct a participatory design (PD) workshop with elderly, students, staff, and entrepreneurs. Under Sher’s guidance, the team of participants deployed various design tools to investigate the needs of the elderly. This valuable learning opportunity also provided an occasion for the general public a chance to learn about different design principles.


The PD workshop employs Problem Framing Wheels as a design tool to help participants dissect and identify the essential needs of the elderly using a Design with Users Approach. Using such tools, participants of the workshop identified that urban mobility, better food consumption, and greater accessibility to information are the three areas where better services or products are needed. 


This approach allowed the teams to successfully identify pressing needs, such as how a redesigned wheelchair can improve the mobility of the elderly in an urban setting. In a survey using a sketch prototype of a wheelchair, participants identified agility for better navigation, installation of standing aids, and affordable pricing as the top three features that should be included when redesigning a wheelchair. To make this a reality, LEI has started the co-development process with elderly for an improved version of wheelchairs. In addition, LEI will further develop more workshops and training with MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node to kindle more opportunity for Inclusive Business and Innovation and promote the idea of lifelong learning for community members in Tuen Mun and beyond.