Professor Paul Chamberlain is Head of the Art and Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University and Director of Lab4Living, an interdisciplinary research initiative at the University. A graduate of the Furniture School at the Royal College of Art, he was co-founder of London-based FLUX Design Ltd and achieved international recognition for his work through exhibition and awards. Paul has extensive teaching experience as course leader at under and postgraduate levels and has lectured and published widely, developing significant international collaborations.
The centrality of human, material interaction to makers’ work is evident in Paul's products for the healthcare and sanitary ware industries. His more recent work has seen his interest in people’s interaction with objects applied to design capable of transforming quality of life. Paul's work with Ideal Standard – the Futures Bathroom project – seeks to address the needs of an ageing population, and specifically to help older people to live at home for longer, by working with people and testing their behavioural responses to objects, materials and physical environments. Previous projects have seen Paul work with children with visual and hearing impairments, exploring the children’s sensory responses to different tactile and visual experiences in collaboration with acoustic engineers and therapists, and building the findings into furniture manufactured by Rompa – which engages the children with a multi-sensory experience.
The skill Paul demonstrates in observing, interpreting and responding to people’s interactions with objects has even resulted in a life-saving innovation, in the form of a medical connector device developed with Braun and in collaboration with psychologists at the University of Leeds. Research had revealed a 23 per cent risk of fatality from mis-connection of the existing Luer connector across the five drug delivery routes (intravenous, intrathecal, respiratory, cardiovascular and enteral); and had identified the connectors’ location, hidden from view under bed sheets as a key risk. Paul’s project – funded by the Department of Health – sought to eradicate this risk by making the five routes easily distinguishable by touch.
Paul’s work on this project took place within an interdisciplinary team, including specialists in human factors and anaesthesia as well as the manufacturer B. Braun Medical. He adopted a user-centred approach which involved hand modelling, testing and refining the connector through many iterations. Paul articulates clearly the crucial role played by his ability to understand the dynamic between people and objects, in developing products which meet user needs. For him, it is about ‘using artefacts to find out about people, as people respond through objects emotionally and psychologically, and as they find value in things.’ Engineers and psychologists often bring a theoretical solution to the problem, he says, but lack the ability to translate these into artefacts which will become a useable and desirable part of people’s lives. The ‘non-Luer connector’ design concept has gained professional recognition through the Committee for European Normalisation, and patents have been filed.