Tool Stories: Swallows


Capturing conversations

Design researcher Leigh-Anne Hepburn is the first to pick a tool from the Experience Labs for our Tool Stories series.

Leigh-Anne led the recent Crossreach Confidential Connections project. Crossreach is a charity providing counselling services across Scotland. Their main centres are in the central belt, although they have outreach posts in other areas, including the Highlands and Islands, and Moray. Due to increasing demand for perinatal depression counselling, Crossreach wishes to consider opportunities for using digital technology to deliver services.

The Labs explored the experience of counselling, from the perspective of both people experiencing perinatal depression and counsellor. Participants’ experiences were recorded using specially designed tools bearing the image of a swallow.

Here, Leigh-Anne describes the tool and the effect it had on participants.

Design researcher Leigh-Anne Hepburn with swallow cards

Design researcher Leigh-Anne Hepburn with some of the items from the CrossReach project. Image credit: Hannah Laycock.

“For Crossreach, we were looking for something that represented a journey. We came up with the idea of the swallow.

“It has a lot of cultural interpretations. It’s used in seafaring – sailors used to get tattoos for every 5,000 miles of a journey. But there are also other interpretations: freedom, motherhood, faith, steadiness and lifelong partnership. Those interpretations fitted in quite well with the Crossreach values and about that journey through a counselling experience.

“We laser-cut swallow tags and while participants were sharing their experiences, we used the swallows to capture conversations. The swallows were hung in a row so that as well as people sharing, their stories were visualised. Everything that went up on the line became shared knowledge.

“We asked both groups, health professionals and past service users, to map their journey of experience through the counselling service. We used the swallows to map the points of interaction with the service and what it felt like for them. The swallows represented each point of their journey.

“As well as acting as a prompt to begin conversations and sharing of experiences, the tool worked to break down barriers. Because the Crossreach project tackled a very sensitive topic, it was often challenging for participants. This was perhaps the first time they had recounted their own personal experience. They were going back to a point in their lives that was challenging and something they hadn’t revisited in a long time.

“I feel the tools enabled them to do that in a much more careful and considered way.”

Swallow templates Crossreach

Participants filled in the swallow templates and hung them on a line. Image credit: Hannah Laycock

Read more about the Experience Labs on our Research pages.


Introducing Design Tools


What is a design tool?

Our Experience Labs team has worked on more than 20 digital health projects in the past three years, covering subjects such as diabetes, back pain, counselling and Internet safety.

The Labs were developed by InDI and are a central element in the Digital Health & Care Institute (DHI), a Scottish Innovation Centre funded by the Scottish Funding Council, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Because each topic and group of participants is different, the design researchers create special tools to use in each workshop. These are designed to engage participants and encourage them to share their own experiences.

In a series of blogs, called Tool Stories, members of the Experience Labs team reflect on some of these bespoke tools and why they were so effective.

Blank swallow cards CrossReach

Image credit: Hannah Laycock

But what is a tool?
We asked our design researchers and for this, the first blog, we bring you their definitions. Let us know what you think about the term.

“A tool is something that gives form to thought…we’re trying to capture experiences and asking people to share their stories… The tools help people to visualise that experience because perhaps they can’t do it in a conversation.
Leigh-Anne Hepburn

“A tool is anything that is populated with experiences or thoughts in a session. It moves the conversation beyond a chat, and makes the structure and shape of the process tangible.”
Jeroen Blom

“A tool is something that facilitates engagement and helps people either to think about new ideas or express and share their experiences and ideas. It is anything that helps to articulate and makes tangible the different thoughts and experiences that people bring to the labs.”
Sneha Raman

“A tool is anything we use, whether it be software, hardware, a piece of paper, that facilitates discussion, can be used to record discussion or can be used to provoke some reaction and then discussion.”
Dr Jay Bradley

Until the next blog, you can read more about a different approach to tools on the Leapfrog page and by searching our blogs.