Alexandra Tinning

A dependent relationship between Human-Centered Design and Ethics of Care in Mental Health Care.

The predominant aim of this practice led research proposal is to develop, implement and evaluate, design interventions that challenge the established way of supporting people with lived experience of mental health.

Design has long been considered a method for improvement and a “force for social good” Shaughnessy, (2015) and over recent years there has been a transition within the Design profession and beyond, that promotes the belief that Designers should no longer only be defined as being the creators of a physical objects.

Accordingly, Designers, and Design tools eg storytelling, extreme empathising, making connections between the seemingly unconnected etc, are increasingly being deployed to improve services, systems and working environments. This genre of Design activity is known as Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is an innovative methodology used by cross-functional, interdisciplinary teams to solve difficult problems, and unlock worthy solutions for the end user. It requires a balance of intuition, analytical skills, insights and imagination, to explore and develop innovative interventions that have the potential to positively impact people’s lives and society as a whole.

It is believed that “Design Thinking” has a real value to offer outside of Design. Brown, (2009) describes how Design Thinking can “transform organizations and inspire innovation”. Brown, who started the firm IDEO with David Kelley, the man who coined the phrase “Design-thinking”, explains how Designers can now use their design-developed skill set to tackle intangible strategic and behavioural issues.

D.School (2010) defines the design thinking process into the following elements: “empathize, define, ideate, prototype and testing”. It is this process that the researcher will use to develop design interventions for people living with bipolar disorder. Whilst also learning more about Design as process to solve social issues.

Despite the large number of people who suffer from mental health issues there is huge disparity in the spending that physical health receives compared to mental health. “£115 million is spent on mental health research each year compared with £970 million on physical health research” The five year forward view for mental health (2016). This has recently been recognized by the government with David Cameron stating "We should be frank. We have not done enough to end the stigma of mental health. We have focused a lot on physical health and we haven't as a country focused enough on mental health." The Nation must focus on mental health (2016).


Alex has a rich history with Northumbria University – starting with 3D Design from 2005 -2008 and graduating from MA/MSc Multidisciplinary Design Innovation in 2011. Now studying for her PhD focused on design thought/action for mental health care.

In 2011, Alex was chosen as one of 6 UK designers to travel to Sri Lanka to take part in the British Council’s “Ideators”. Where 6 UK design students and 6 Sri Lankan design students go head to head in a multitude of design challenges.

Following on from Ideators - Alex was introduced to Sue Wilson, then Global Head of Design at Mars Confectionary, and was offered the “Emerging Market Design Manger” role in the Global Design Hub in Slough. Being able to work on the Mars brands (Snickers, M&M’s, Twix, Galaxy) at the fuzzy front end of innovation in diverse markets with a talented, passionate design team and skilled network partners.

Following a steep learning curve on designs role in the Mars Confectionary Slough – Alex seized the opportunity to move to Dubai to be the Design lead for the middle east region. After 4 years abroad the time was right to come home to dedicate time to study for a doctorate.