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
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.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.