Almost one in 11 children in the UK is affected by childhood asthma. On average, there are three children with asthma in every classroom in the UK, and a child is admitted to hospital every 20 minutes due to an asthma attack.
So, researchers at the University of Cambridge conducted a program called Designing Our Tomorrow that focused specifically on childhood asthma. The main goal of the program was to design a type of packaging which would contain everything a young child with asthma would need, whether they’re at home, at school or elsewhere.
Ian Hosking of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering said, “In other words, we want to make it fun. We want to re-frame what education can be projects like these start to form a broader evidence base of what’s possible.”
Students from Wimbledon High School GDST presented 5 of the best designs. In real, students were not merely designing packaging but an experience. Themes included a monkey character where the inhaler and spacer become a banana that the child can ‘feed’ the monkey with and then copy themselves.
Other themes include a pack shaped like a cat where the inhalers become mice that are stored in a smaller box shaped like a wedge of cheese. There was a folding pack that can hang on a door for easy access at home but can be quickly zipped up and put in a bag to take out.
Each of the students was given all of the tools which a child with asthma needs to manage their condition. For example, inhalers, spacers, and emergency instructions. Based on it, the students’ way of thinking was developed in order to help them understand how to be creative by breaking fixation through the use of stimulus.
Bill Nicholl from Cambridge’s Faculty of Education noted, “Fixation was found as a common problem in design. For example, if you’re trying to design a new type of chair and all you’re shown are other chairs, you’ll just end up designing a variant of what already exists.”
“Children and young people are terribly creative, and the NHS should involve them more in co-designing what we do. We should not be afraid to put our heads above the parapet and should look outside the NHS to what partnerships might be out there to help us solve some of our tricky problems– I know that we can learn an awful lot from engineers.”
This project has shown the potential of young people and their ability to engage with, and ultimately solve, complex design problems. It also puts authentic challenges and engineering practice at the heart of the learning experience.
Sascha, aged 12 from Wimbledon High, one of the students who presented her design said, “It has been great doing something which is able to change and improve children’s lives affected by childhood asthma. I am so happy and glad that they have decided to take mine to the next stage and it could appear in people’s homes.”
Charlotte, aged 11 from Wimbledon High said, “Seeing how people were scared of asthma…this affects and could benefit a lot of people. The child wanted it to be fun, the Gran wanted emergency instructions, the parents wanted it to be compact and small and the nurse wanted it to be organized, so we took all of that and designed our packs.”
“I feel like I am doing something for a purpose and it makes me feel happy that I am helping people. I feel accomplished and proud of what I have done because it was a long process but it was all worth it.”