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Design and dementia: success through reflection

During her studies, healthcare innovator Gerjanne van Gink (33) became captivated by people with dementia. Using Design Thinking, she tries to make their daily lives easier, prolong their independence, and uphold their dignity. In 2018, she presented two designs at Dutch Design Week (DDW): her ADS-mirror, and her Forget-Me-Not Walkway©.
Design and dementia: how did this combination come to you?

In my final year of study, I had a side job in healthcare. I was asked to create an “experience corner” for a nursing home. It was such an interesting assignment, I thought: ‘this direction would suit me. But how?’ That’s why I decided to get my Master’s degree in Crossover Creativity, in which you learn to connect different sectors with each other. I researched how to improve the lives of people with dementia through design. Communication is difficult for them, so you have to be very creative to get information about them.

Alzheimer
©Studio Gerjanne van Gink
How did you come up with the ADS-mirror?

ADS stands for algemene dagelijkse structuur: which means ‘general daily structure’ in Dutch. You can offer that structure to people with dementia by demonstrating practical activities. The ADS-mirrors offer those with dementia a “model” for everyday behaviours, to remind them how to do them. Of course, a healthcare provider can brush your teeth. But the longer you can do that yourself, the better. Autonomy is important to a person’s self-esteem and well-being.

You call yourself a ‚Äúhealthcare innovator‚ÄĚ. What prevails: care or creativity?

The latter. When you test a prototype, you often find a mismatch between what clients say and what they do. Design Thinking and good observation help. Quickly getting a sandwich and a glass of milk into a patient’s belly is never my end goal. How to do that pleasantly, with care, or – better – how to help them do it themselves, is my goal.

How did you end up at Dutch Design Week in 2018?

I signed up for Driving Dutch Design, a programme from ABN AMRO, the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO) and Dutch Design Foundation. During this programme, in the run-up to Dutch Design Week, an ABN AMRO colleague gives you about ten months of coaching. Every month, you discuss a different topic. From putting together a good pitch to the business side of design: how can you earn enough to keep doing what you enjoy?

Useful?

Tremendously. It enables you to think better about your positioning. I’ve also become more financially empowered. At first, I did a lot of work for free. Now, I dare to ask for something in return. There’s nothing wrong with that. You also make all kind of interesting connections through the huge networks of BNO, DDW and ABN AMRO. That already gives you a boost, and then your work is presented at Dutch Design Week!

DDD pitch
©Studio Gerjanne van Gink
What kind of help did ABN AMRO offer you?

They taught me how to set priorities. But the bank’s network was also really valuable.  They also made a video about my work. It’s been viewed a lot of times, so something will likely come from that. Through exposure and publications, more people know about me, and I’ve gotten larger assignments.

Such as?

A healthcare organisation approached me. They had seen my ADS-mirror at DDW, and wanted to become my pilot partner. Now, I’m testing the mirror on the work floor, with clients. So, my work hasn’t just been noticed, it’s actually adding something to people’s lives. That’s what I do it all for. And, not unimportantly, I can now make a living from my design.

Vergeet mij niet pad
©Studio Gerjanne van Gink
Any other developments?

In Rotterdam-Overschie, I designed a safe and dementia-friendly shopping route called 'Blokkie om': “around the block”. We’ve now started a new design process in another district. I also do research about potential opportunities abroad, together with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

In short: was DDW a positive experience?

Absolutely. But there is still a lot of work to do! Getting sensors into my ADS-mirror to make them ‘smart’, for example. A tough process, which I largely pay for myself. So, I’m looking for funding, also for qualitative research. Within e-health, growth is often based on data. I think it’s important to research the user experience first, before you start to scale up.

About Gerjanne

Gerjanne van Gink studied product design at the HKU. Her designs focus on people with dementia. She invents and makes her designs from her Studio Gerjanne van Gink (link in Dutch only) and Buro Zorgelozer (link in Dutch only), together with Hilde de Wit. Among other innovations, Gerjanne designed de ADS-mirror (Dutch only), and the Forget-Me-Not-Walkway© (Dutch only).