Supporting customer focused design in the assistive technology industry
Assistive technologies (AT) are the products provided to elderly and disabled people to enable them to live more independently. Despite their ability to help maintain independence and prevent injury, the literature discussed within this thesis indicates that assistive technologies are not meeting the needs of the end-user. In response, research has been undertaken with the following objectives: 1. To identify how and why assistive technology products are failing to satisfy the customer. 2. To establish if a design tool can be created that overcomes the issues identified in the inductive research and which enables companies to design customer-satisfying assistive technology products. In progressing these objectives, two phases of research were planned. The first comprised four parallel studies (focus groups, case studies, questionnaires and a literature study), which together examined the state of AT products and the product-development activities of AT manufacturers. The second phase of research examined four customer-focused product design methods for their suitability for utilisation by small companies within the AT sector. On finding that no method in its entirety was suitable, a customer-focused design tool for small AT companies was developed. The resulting tool comprises eight elements for application in the initial stages of the product development process. The tool was tested in four separate studies, which examined its usability and acceptability to AT companies and which gave further insights into the AT sector. The research both finds that AT products are failing the customer in five areas and that manufacturers are contributing to this failure through a lack of customer-focus in their design processes. In addition to identifying the market research and product development activities of small AT companies, a key contribution to knowledge resulting from the research is the concept of sectoral readiness for methods of design. In its conclusion the thesis finds that the two research objectives have been met.