Boost service design for children with cancer

Boost is the result of a ten week service design project with the goal of designing to reduce anxiety for children with cancer undergoing radiotherapy. Through recursive empowerment, the Boost service encourages regular reflection, offers opportunities to refocus and provides tools for sharing the experience.

This project took place in 2013 at Umeå Institute of Design with project team members Henriette Stykow and Jessica Williams. Research and concept design were a full team collaboration while my primary design role was the final animation – including script, storyboard, character design, graphics and production. For an in depth look at Boost, please see our Service Blueprint (PDF) and Project Report (PDF).


Boost is a result of Keeping Calm, a ten week service design project with the aim of designing to reduce anxiety for children with cancer undergoing radiotherapy. During the project, we were asked to understand the current healthcare services provide for children with cancer and their parents, specifically during radiation therapy treatment, and to create scalable concepts that could be implemented into the existing treatment services. Working in conjunction with the Barncancerfonden as part of the three-year research project called Project DUMBO, we collaborated closely with three major hospitals in Sweden offering radiotherapy treatment to design for the needs of the children, their parents and staff involved.


The service design project began with field research visits to three hospitals in Sweden: Akademiska in Uppsala, Karolinska in Stockholm, and NUS in Umeå. During this time we step by step reenacted the user journey as a patient, family member and hospital staff; visited both front stage and back stage spaces; and carried out ethnographic research through observations and interviews. Interviews with staff and families gave us a unique opportunity to hear many examples of case studies that were not possible to observe otherwise.


Upon returning to Umeå we shared and compared field research while mapping the observed patient journey to identified key touch-points. This led us to four main research themes: Child Empowerment, Defined Roles, Parental Support, and Underleveraged Knowledge.


Our final service design concept rested upon the overarching theme of recursive empowerment. Current procedures are already in place to empower the child during radiotherapy, yet as identified in our research, both parents (or directly involved family members) and relationships removed from the treatment process, can have a profound impact on the anxiety of the child during and after treatment. Therefore, we aspired to create new and strengthen existing lines of support between all parties both directly and indirectly involved in the patient journey, with the aim of creating a recursive cycle of support reinforcing itself.

This concept of recursive empowerment is accomplished through the encouragement of:
[1] regular self reflection
[2] offering opportunities to refocus on roles and responsibilities, and
[3] providing tools to make sharing the experience with others easy.


The boost service is comprised of five components – activities, kit, site, mobile, and spaces – that each work together throughout the entire treatment journey. They encourage regular reflection, offer opportunities for both parent and child to refocus, and provide tools to make sharing the experience with others easy.

Activities: Modifications and additions to current protocols form the boost activities. They build the foundation for the share, reflect and refocus mindset, and occur from the very start of treatment. Activities are designed to require minimal direction from staff members – to respect their workload.
Kit: Assets within the kit can be chosen to suit the age of the child patient. The different assets are collected at varies stages throughout the treatment journey, serving as tangible tools to support the share, reflect and refocus mindset. Post-treatment, the assets facilitate and encourage reflection and sharing.
Site: A personal account on the boost site links together the other four service components.
Mobile: Relevant daily tips are sent to parents and teenagers fed through their account on the boost site database.
Spaces: Within the hospital, the boost spaces serve as portals to either the outside world or between parent and child during treatment i.e. through the radiotherapy room barriers that separate the child lying alone on the LA machine and the parents waiting outside. Functionality in the spaces is streamlined through the personal digital account.