CC Manuela Aguirre Ulloa & Jan Kristian Strømsnes

Designing for Dignity

Manuela Aguirre working with her "Designing for Dignity" project.







Manuela Aguirre, design researcher at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation reflects on her senior thesis project, in designing solutions that dignify the medico-legal process a victim goes through after a sexual assault.  Manuela and her research partner Jan Kristian Strømsnes were recently recognized for their Designing for Dignity project through an INDEX design nomination. Feel free to read the interview with Manuela here, and read more information at

What is the 'Designing for Dignity' project?

I studied service and system design at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, in Norway. In my senior year there was a lot of discourse in the media about safety, as there was a rise in sexual crimes. This issue started affecting a lot of individuals, because it brought into question our safety. I personally started thinking twice about how to walk home and get to places, as there was now a fear for my own safety and the safety of others.
Layout of potential walking paths that affect safety.







I wanted to do something meaningful, by helping the people most affected by the events – the victims of sexual crimes.  I also saw a huge opportunity to bring design into a new field, in an implantable and tangible way.

How did you start?

Well, we (my research partner - Jan Kristian Strømsnes) and I had no idea where to start! With such a multi-faceted problem we weren’t quite sure where to focus first. Under the guidance of Professor Birger Sevaldson and  tutor Adrian Paulsen, we decided to use a holistic Systems Oriented Design (SOD) approach and began by talking to anyone we could get a hold of, with exposure to both crime prevention and response, to see where they thought the real problems were. We contacted the crime prevention council, volunteers, crime analysts and insurance companies.

Discussing problems with crime prevention and response in the community.

Through interviewing them closely we were able to bring together the perspectives and expertise of multiple stakeholders and influencers.  We were also able to see that while there were noble efforts in prevention, there was little merging of multiple efforts to create maximum impact. Seeing this we chose to start bringing the stakeholders and sexual violence survivors into the design process, through visualization and co-creation exercises.

What surprised you?

Throughout the design process there we uncovered a lot of insights, encountered some resistance and discovered new layers of the problem.

The resistance to design was in-line with the thinking that design is just used to improve the look of something. We achieved more buy-in to design during a workshop that brought together different stakeholders, who co-created solutions that incorporated the perspective of all parties (victims, police, officers, doctors, nurses, etc.)
Design model of stakeholders who impact crime and its prevention.








The real surprise for everyone was that by using service design principles, we could gain the consensus to create solutions that would have a large impact on sexual assault prevention and response. The ideas generated with the key stakeholders could be made into solutions, designed for dignity.

What solutions did you create?

The solutions we created were designed with a core principle of Systems Oriented Design in mind, designing not what is good for one person, but the best solution for all. We designed several systems intervention spanning from small scale to interior scale and information  design. We identified some situations to be crucial (leverage points) e.g. the first minutes and hours after an assault where small details make a big difference. 

We chose to prototype a redesigned ‘safety blanket.’ The ’safety blanket’ provides a two-fold purpose; comforting the victim, while collecting DNA in an unobtrusive way.  The victim can place their hands inside the pockets, preserving traces of evidence on the hands. The victim can also squeeze a cushion inside the pocket, capturing their DNA better. Both elements of design help to prevent contamination or evidence while also offering the victim a sense of comfort.

Prototype of "safety blanket" for victims.








We also chose to redesign materials that a victim receives, after leaving the hospital. The materials were re-designed with the victim’s in mind. Each material was updated to be more easily understood, readily accessed and personalized. The materials were given to the victim in a black non-branded folder, in an attempt to provide some anonymity.
Redesigned materials booklet given to victims after their hospital visit.




We also designed a process flow, which allowed victims to pinpoint where and when they could make decisions, allowing them to feel like they were more in-control.  The process flow kept in mind all parties involved in the care of sexual assault victims, designing a process with all stakeholders in mind.

Process flow chart to help victims make decisions.







We also presented to an architectural office, who will be building the new sexual assault center in Oslo, explaining how the redesigned space could give a voice to the victims, allowing them to cope better both physically and emotionally, within the space.

New design space to help victims cope emotionally and physically.







What have you learned from your project?

You have to learn from people first, they have deep knowledge and many shared interests, they just need someone to help facilitate the conversation. Knowing this I feel I can go into projects with passion, making things that are meaningful to people. Design is a way to do just that, helping people see their potential and possibilities, in a new way.

I am interested in working in healthcare because there are so many layers to the problems within the system. I came to work at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation, with a group that uses design to improve the system and delivery of healthcare for people in a meaningful way.

Click here for more information on Design with Dignity and the INDEX Design Awards.