Dr Tom Ainsworth is a researcher, lecturer and designer with a particular focus on design for well being.
His doctorate on ‘The Development of Persuasive Design Theory to Improve Patient Engagement with Therapeutic Exercises in People with Rheumatoid Arthritis’ followed work as a Research Assistant at Brighton and Sussex Medical school, researching for the project 'Using Biomechanical data to inform student learning about chair design' (2007).
Tom's work at the University of Brigton includes lecturing and research management, where he has developed expert knowledge to help foster practice-led research. His own research interests seek to achieve social benefit through activities in design for health, design innovation and interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
A researcher and lecturer with particular interests in design for health, behavioural design, interdisciplinarity and collaboration, Dr Tom Ainsworth completed his doctorate at the University of Brighton in 2013, following which he has worked in research management and teaching as well as the pursuit of his own research.
Tom Ainsworth’s research interests seek to achieve social benefit through activities in design for health, design innovation and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Research projects conducted in pursuit of these ambitions include: EU TEMPUS project ‘Inter Disciplinary Education Agenda (IDEA): An essential driver for innovation’, A project that aims to improve knowledge exchange and innovation between engineering and design disciplines and business, at higher education institutes from an industrial perspective; ‘The Human Body Form’ A collaborative arts/medicine pedagogic research study investigating the potential benefits of drawing as a method for inter-disciplinary learning; and ‘Designing for the Future’ a multi-disciplinary design competition that seeks to develop design innovations to benefit an ageing population, sponsored by The Future Perfect Company.
In 2007 he was awarded a Postgraduate Certificate in Further and Higher Education Teaching (PGCE) from Manchester Metropolitan University. Having developed a deeper interest in teaching and learning, Ainsworth was appointed as a Research Assistant at Brighton and Sussex Medical school to work on a collaborative arts and health research study titled: 'Using Biomechanical data to inform student learning about chair design' (2007). The study, which aimed to develop innovative models for interdisciplinary teaching, was funded by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning through Design (CETLD). The successful completion of this project led to a second CETLD-funded research study titled: 'Design in the Clinical Environment' (2009). The project was a further development of the interdisciplinary teaching model identified during the previous study and moved the focus from the chair to the built environment.
In 2013 he completed his doctorate at the University of Brighton with an AHRC funded thesis titled: ‘The Development of Persuasive Design Theory to Improve Patient Engagement with Therapeutic Exercises in People with Rheumatoid Arthritis’ and in the same year co-authored a pedagogic research paper, published in the BMC Medical Education Journal, titled: 'An exploratory study of the potential learning benefits for medical students in collaborative drawing: creativity, reflection and ‘critical looking’.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA) and has served as a member of the university's Research Ethics and Governance Committee.
I am course leader for MA Sustainable Design, having previously taught on the Design and Craft programme and a number of research-driven teaching projects, including interdisciplinary collaborative projects with the Brighton and Sussex Medical School which are ongoing. I have also taught research methodology at a postgraduate level and practice-based research in art and design.
Working across disciplines is important part of my teaching, as art and design can often exist within a bubble in which the student is surrounded by others who are sympathetic to their interests and values. Design sensibilities, creative thinking, pragmatic approaches, risk-taking, are all valuable in many different areas of life after university and involvement in interdisciplinary projects helps students to recognise and use their skills effectively. For example, design students and medical students discover (to their surprise) that their processes and creative practice for finding solutions – sketchbooks, prototypes – are very similar.
My role as a teacher is to help students recognise students' creative potential, to help them understand what it is they do; the skills they have which they often see as natural abilities, and help them to develop in areas that they may not be as strong. At masters level students are much more self-directed so it is matter of empowering them. I like to challenge students, ask them "What could design be?" making students consider and qualify their ideas. I like providing students with engaging experiences. We invite a broad range of people from different backgrounds to come and engage the students with concepts and ideas such as sustainable design. For example, we had a lecture from a chef, his theoretical perspective on sustainability, and then experienced that in the restaurant environment - the principles and the reality were something students could then unpick and critique.
Students learn best when they feel a sense of ownership over the direction of study and line of enquiry. They like to be challenged, but at the right point – you can demotivate students if you challenge them in the wrong way at the wrong time, so an understanding of what motivates them; the values and priorities individual students have is key. The course draws in students with diverse aims and pathways, so I aim to find course projects particular to the their long-term ambitions.
Inspiring students, getting them to recognise the talents they, perhaps, didn’t know they had. Finding and encouraging their potential, are important elements in teaching and to student learning. I expect students to be self-motivated, to challenge me, and to challenge themselves in areas where feel less comfortable. I think it is important to disrupt a student’s established practices and the formalities of their particular specialism.
There are a lot of pressures on students to succeed which can be disruptive for them so managing pressure is critical. I encourage students to be self-reflective in a pragmatic way to help them see outside the disciplinary, educational, bubble. It’s important [at times] that they bring in more practical solutions, to sometimes reign in their ambitions and consider more constructive solutions. It’s about teaching students how to learn, and to learn about themselves so they can manage and adapt.
I like to use a broad range of resources – different ways of running tutorials and crits, putting structures around discourse so it’s not simply an open discussion. I like to bring in guest speakers, academic and non-academic, and also arrange excursions into the local area, London and perhaps to another European city.
We have great material resources which unlock students’ thinking, being able to grasp ideas in a real world, applicable, way. The process of realising those concepts through ‘making’ can help students understand the nature of the ideas in a more detailed way to unlock new lines of enquiry.
In the interdisciplinary projects I take students to environments that are at the front line of design. I take students to the hospital, to take students outside conceptual, academic, design to see the ‘end user’ to allow them encounter those situations, patients’ needs in this situation, to understand where to target their design interventions.
The project Human Body Form, initially looking at chair design, in the context of physical health and well being and working with local hospitals, was about teaching and learning and how to facilitate interdisciplinarity particularly its value to the student experience. It required design students and medical students to explore the human body, anatomy [and the design considerations]. Working and drawing from the senses looking at sound and touch to help the students’ understanding – critiquing the contrast between medical students, who see the body as a ‘system’, and design students, who perceive the body through its interaction with ‘space’.
This is research informed teaching and also teaching informed research. From my perspective this is driven by my own research interest in behaviour looking at established behaviors and design and interventions to support them. This research informs my lectures and the discourse [with students] it is a critical part of my teaching.
Lyon, Philippa, Letschka, Patrick, Ainsworth, Thomas and Haq, Inam (2016) Drawing pedagogies in higher education: the learning impact of a collaborative crossdisciplinary drawing course International Journal of Art & Design Education, 37 (2). pp. 221-232. ISSN 1476-8062
Lyon, Philippa, Letschka, Patrick, Ainsworth, Thomas and Haq, Inam (2013) An exploratory study of the potential learning benefits for medical students in collaborative drawing: creativity, reflection and ‘critical looking’ BMC Medical Education, 13 (1). ISSN 1472-6920
Ainsworth, T. “The Development of Persuasive Design Theory to Improve Patient Engagement with Therapeutic Exercises in People with Rheumatoid Arthritis” PhD Thesis.
Ainsworth, T. "Improving Therapeutic Exercise Devices for People with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Research Method Combining Cultural Probes and Persuasive Design Theory." Persuasive Technology: 1.
Ainsworth, T. "A new approach within persuasive design theory to improving patient engagement with exercise therapies” (Poster presentation at the British Society for Rheumatology annual conference, Glasgow, Scotland).
Blincoe, K., A. Fuad-Luke, J.H. Spangenberg, M. Thomson, D. Holmgren, K. Jaschke, T. Ainsworth, and K. Tylka. "Deeds: A Teaching and Learning Resource to Help Mainstream Sustainability into Everyday Design Teaching and Professional Practice." International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development 4, no. 1: 1-23.
Haq, I., Ainsworth, T. “An interdisciplinary art-science collaboration to study design in healthcare environments” (poster presentation at Internation Medical Education Conference (IMEC), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malasia).
Haq, I., Ainsworth, T., Rose, C., and Lee, R., “Using biomechanics in chair design” Networks (Art, Design and Media Higher Education Academy (ADM-HEA)).
Presenter at Crafts Council Parallel Practices Knowledge Exchange event, Kings College, London.
“Interdisciplinarity at the University of Brighton”, TEMPUS IDEA Project, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy.
“Persuasive Design to Support Independent Living” Brunel University Design Plus Breakfast Briefing - Independent Living (London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UK).
“Improving Exercise Devices for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis Through Design”, STEM to STEAM: Developing new frameworks for Art/Science Pedagogy, (Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island, USA).
“The Role of Design in Enhancing Health and Wellbeing in Hospitals”, Is Design Good for you? symposium (University of Brighton, Brighton, UK).
Drawing workshop “Creativity and the process of drawing as a valuable teaching method for facilitating cross-disciplinary teaching and learning.” Is Design Good for you? symposium (University of Brighton, Brighton, UK).
“DEEDS podscape”, INDEX: Design to improve life (Danish Museum of Art & Design, Copenhagen, Denmark).
“Ideas on Sustainable Design” 100% Sustainable? (100% Design, Earls Court, London, UK).
Chaired panel discussion “what opportunities could a shift towards sustainable design, offer the design profession?”, 100% Sustainable? (100% Design, Earls Court, London UK).
Conversational Drawing Video: The Hand, Mobility of the Line / Utility of the Line exhibition (Grand Parade Gallery, University of Brighton, Brighton). Lyon, Ainsworth, Letschka, Haq.
Bodies Beautiful, Creative Campus Initiative (Jubilee Library, Brighton). Ainsworth, Letschka.
Science of Ageing: Global progress conference (Hilton Metropole, Brighton, UK).
Safe to Touch (The Hub National Centre for Craft and Design, Lincolnshire).
Tactual Explorations (North Light Gallery, Huddersfield, UK).