A participatory approach to the design of assistive technologies enriches lives worldwide

The market for assistive technology (AT) is fragmented, with each niche generally supplied by small specialist businesses which have limited access to R&D investment.

We developed the Loughborough User Centred Assistive Technology (LUCAT) design process to support these organisations – facilitating the timely and cost-effective development of products that disabled people want and need.

A key element of LUCAT’s success is the involvement of end-users and stakeholders in the process, and it has greatly enhanced design across the domestic goods manufacturing and construction industries.

Our impact

Identifying need – providing solutions

  • The Usability-NET website provides free access to LUCAT – it has been used by over 1,500 students as part of their studies since its launch in 1996 and has been regularly upgraded.
  • More than 500 national and international designers are trained in the LUCAT process.
  • Many companies worldwide – including Philips and Nottingham Rehab Supplies – use LUCAT.
  • LUCAT has supported collaborative projects with a range of organisations – including Boots and DS Smith.

Leading products designed by LUCAT

  • Three popular products have been designed the LUCAT way in recent years.
  • Kura Care – designed in just three months on a small budget – is NRS Healthcare’s best-selling cutlery product, with sales expanding year on year.
  • With an R&D budget of £4,500, the Visual Impaired (VI) Boccia grid was developed in three-months – more than 100 have been sold worldwide since 2016.
  • The VI Running Line has been demonstrated at nearly 300 events across the UK and used by over 1,600 Blind and visually impaired children and adults - most of whom would have never experienced running independently.

The research

LUCAT is a novel design method combining participatory research and heuristics that draws on social psychology and systems engineering to create an optimised process structure.

It is a streamlined collection of design, engineering, ergonomics and human factors theory as well as best practice that enables time-compressed market R&D decision-making. Supported by the Usability-NET website, it is a unique bottom-up approach that puts the end user at the heart of the design process.

The creation of the approach began in 1996, and drew on the conventions of design innovation, the fast and iterative cycle of participatory design and best practice from small batch production design engineering, with significant development since 2016.

Several novel heuristics – including ‘social camouflage’, the ‘blacksmith’s approach’, ‘technology footprint’ and ‘cultural blindness’ – were added to the mix.

I have introduced much of the LUCAT process into our new product development process and to the multi-disciplinary team, enhancing our ability to gain consumer insights.

Senior Usability Designer

Research funders

Development partners

  • Sense College (Formerly RNIB), Loughborough
  • Mark Beeby Limited and Mayfields Lifeskills Centre
  • REMAP, Leicestershire and Rutland
  • Andrew Simpson Sports Enabling Trust (ASSET)
  • Youth Sports Trust
  • Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA)
  • Age UK, Leicestershire

Meet the experts

Photograph of Mike Fray

Dr Mike Fray

Senior Lecturer in Human Factors Design