Tool Stories: Comic Book

From tool to artefact and beyond

In the latest Tool Stories blog, design researcher Sneha Raman shares a tool from the Game Jam project and explores its journey from tool to artefact and back to tool.

Game Jam worked with a group of young people with learning difficulties and sought to create design requirements for a learning/educational game to encourage safe practice online. A series of five labs explored different aspects of the game and included activities such as story-sharing and mapping learning needs.

The design of tools was particularly important in helping to shape engagement tailored to the group. One was a comic book, which provided scenarios to encourage participants to think about areas of risk online and ways of overcoming those problems.

Sneha Raman comic book

Design researcher Sneha Raman with the Comic Book tool. Image credit: Hannah Laycock

Sneha takes up the story of how the tool was used:

“The nature of the group that we were working with definitely influenced the aesthetic and the language of the tool. We had to think about making things visual and engaging, keeping text simple, keeping the language simple… more everyday language or casual tone.

“I think it was effective because of the aesthetic. The general idea behind a comic strip is more light-hearted and that made the prospect of talking about some of these challenges less threatening to the participants. They didn’t feel judged in expressing or sharing some of their experiences using this tool.

“… it (the comic book) transitions between being a tool and an artefact. As the activity progressed, participants started to respond to some of the problems and build onto the scenario presented in the comic strip. The tool captured all their new ideas and thoughts. I think that’s how it became an artefact.

Comic Book in lab

Close-up of the Comic Book being used in the Game Jam Lab. Image credit: Louise Mather

“The artefact was brought back to a subsequent lab with the same audience. Here, it acted as a tool because participants were asked to then think of ways that these solutions could be incorporated into the learning game that they were designing.

“We consistently brought back the artefacts created in previous labs to the next ones. Overall it helped to create continuity but also gave a sense of being valued and having important role to play in the process.”

Read more about the project and the use of the tool here:



Tool Stories: Music Box

Supporting interaction

The second of our Tool Stories series features a tool made one of our design researchers, Jeroen Blom.

He was part of the team working on The Box project, which aimed to develop a flexible and creative way in which to make the delivery of therapy-based musical interactions achievable for all, regardless of musical ability. Initiated by BW & FM Sherret Ltd, a company based in Nairn, The Box project was supported technically and creatively by the University of the Highlands and Islands and The Glasgow School of Art, working in partnership.

The Experience Labs team visited a primary school unit for children with various complex needs, as well as a children’s hospice. Various musical interaction tools were created, one of which was a music box that played four different sounds – drums, guitar, bells and organ – with the tone changing depending on how hard the coloured pads were pressed.

Music box

One of the musical devices made for The Box project. Image credit: Hannah Laycock.

Here, Jeroen tells the InDI blog how the tool was used by the children:

“Some of the children couldn’t move any limbs but because the object vibrates, a parent can put it on a leg or an arm, or the tummy, and press it. Since there is a clear link between sound and vibration, the children understand that if someone does something to it, it vibrates and that’s what you feel and that’s what you hear.

“The shape seemed suitable because it’s a nice shape for two people to hold.  Using different colours was something that came from the observations done before. Clearly the children like the visual stimuli so different colours means different things.

“As a thing to support and trigger interaction, the musical tool worked really well. We gave it to them and said if you press that it makes sounds and it will vibrate and they understand that. There’s nothing more to it but they were still using it for 10 or 15 minutes because they liked the vibration and they liked to do something to each other or with each other. That was a real sign that even though that particular musical tool is a very simple thing and not going to be an end solution, it’s already something that people value for their own interaction.

“There were two little girls who didn’t have any motor skills or any verbal interaction. It was difficult for me to read in them how they were feeling. But I saw their eyes light up at some points, particularly with the bell sound that they liked a lot. When their mum figured that out, she just kept closer and kept playing with the bell sound.

“It’s up to the people to find the real meaning in the interaction and the girls looked at it and smiled: it’s those meaningful moments that you want your tool to offer. You can then see what they respond to and that’s what you want to focus more on in the next iteration.”

Music device components

The music device and its various components. Image credit: Hannah Laycock


You can find out more about the work of our Design Innovation researchers here.

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.

Leapfrog at the Creative Campus

Academic writing and tool sharing

InDI was delighted to welcome the Leapfrog project to the Creative Campus at Forres for their Spring event last month.

Leapfrog is a collaboration between ImaginationLancaster at Lancaster University, and The Institute of Design Innovation at The Glasgow School of Art. It is a £1.2 million, three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, which aims to transform public sector consultation through design.

The project sees close creative collaboration with Highlands and Islands community partners to design and evaluate new approaches for better engagement.

The visit allowed the Leapfrog team to meet members of the Experience Labs and share stories of design research.

Leapfrog research activity

A research activity during the Leapfrog event at GSA Highlands and Islands.

The Experience Labs were developed by the Institute of Design Innovation at The Glasgow School of Art. They 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. They offer a safe and creative environment where researchers, businesses, civic partners and service users can collaborate on innovative solutions to the health and care challenges facing Scottish society.

The collaborative event highlighted some of the contrasts between the two, particularly in how they deal with the issue of tools.

Experience Labs researchers create bespoke tools to use in their workshops. These are designed to encourage interaction and help participants share their stories and experiences of a certain subject. Insights provided by the tools are then analysed by design researchers as they progress the project through the design innovation process.

Leapfrog tool sharing

Leapfrog’s Hayley Alter presenting during a tool sharing session with the Experience Labs.

On the other hand, Leapfrog sets out to work with people to design a tool, which is the outcome of the project. The designed tool is then shared publicly so that other communities can adapt it for their own use.

The Leapfrog team also used the trip north to plan their academic output for the next year, including a publishing timetable and draft abstracts.

Members of both teams found the event useful. You can read more in two blogs on the Leapfrog website:

Leapfrog Spring Internal event: the writing activity;
Leapfrog Spring Internal Event: Designing new tools with the Digital Health Institute.

Writing activity

The writing activity.