Design for Empowerment, the Stigma-Free Design Toolkit

Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC, volume 824)


Designing assistive devices is not only clinically and technically demanding, it can also be a very intimate and emotionally sensitive task. Many of them have been developed by medical and engineering experts, for whom ergonomic and physiological considerations are paramount. Although these product need to function properly on a technical and ergonomic level, scant attention is given to emotional aspects, such as social stress, stigma and shame. Even when users feel perfectly at ease and self-reliant with their assistive device, all too often, the obvious or subtle remarks of bystanders, fueled by culturally embedded product stereotypes, keep challenging these users [1].

This paper addresses the topic of product-related stigma (PRS), social disapproval associated with the use of a particular product, and introduces a stigma-free design toolkit for designers and development teams. The toolkit focusses on the emotional and social challenges associated with the conception of stigma-sensitive assistive devices. The stigma-free design toolkit contains two tools that can be used in sequence or individually. The PAMS (Product Appraisal Model for Stigma) ‘unveils’ stigma pitfalls and social conflicts between users of stigma-sensitive products and their surroundings. The PIMS (Product Intervention Model for Stigma) is a set of 14 stigma-alleviating design interventions.

The model was first introduced in 2014 and has been improved through its application in education and research projects. After 5 years of development the stigma-free design toolkit reportedly assisted to increase empathy with end-users, inspire designers, alleviate the effects of product-related stigma and increase user-product attachment, user empowerment and collective well-being.


Assistive devices Product semantics Inclusive design 


  1. 1.
    Vaes K (2014) Product stigmaticity-understanding, measuring and managing product-related stigma. Delft Academic Press, Delft University of Technology – University of Antwerp, ISBN 978-90-6562-351-5Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Vaes K, Stappers PJ, Standaert A, Vaes J (2010) “Masked Emotions” – measuring implicit and explicit attitudes towards stigmatizing products (dust masks). In: Proceedings of the 7th international conference on design & emotion, Spertus Institute, Chicago, USGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Vaes K, Stappers PJ, Standaert A, Coppieters W (2012) “Masked Aversion” – walking and staring behavior towards stigmatizing products. In: Design research society conference proceedings, vol 4, Chulalongkorn University Bankok, Thailand, pp 1908–1919Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Vaes K, Stappers PJ, Standaert A (2016) Measuring product-related stigma. In: Design proceedings of DRS 2016, design research society 50th anniversary conference, Brighton, UKGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Jacobsen S (2014) Personalised assistive products: managing stigma and expressing the self. Aalto University publication series, Doctoral dissertation, ISBN 978-952-60-5499-5Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Pullin G (2009) Design meets disability. The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Desmet PMA, Hekkert P (2007) Framework of product experience. Int J Des 1(1):57–66Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Krippendorff K (2006) The semantic turn; a new foundation for design. Taylor & Francis, CRC Press, Boca Raton, London, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Norman DA (2004) Emotional design. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Steele CM (1997) A threat in the air: how stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. Am Psychol 52:613–629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Crocker J, Major B, Steele C (1998) Social stigma. The handbook of social psychology, vol 2, 4th edn. McGraw-Hill, New York, pp 504–553Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Goffman E (1963) Stigma: notes on the management of a spoiled identity. Prentice-Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Blom JO (2000) Personalization - a taxonomy. In: Extended abstracts of the CHI 2000, conference on human factors and computing systems, 393–401. ACM, New York, p 313Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Wobbrock JO, Kane SK, Gajos KZ, Harada S, Froehlich J (2011) Ability-based design: concept, principles and examples. ACM Trans Access Comput (TACCESS) 3(3):1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Rosenfield S (1997) Labeling mental illness: the effects of received services and perceived stigma on life satisfaction. Am Sociol Rev 62:660–672CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Allport G (1954) The nature of prejudice. Addison-Wesley, BostonGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Miller CT, Myers AM (1998) Compensating for prejudice: how heavyweight people (and others) control outcomes despite prejudice. In: Swim JK, Stangor C (eds) Prejudice: the target’s perspective. Academic, San Diego, pp 191–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Product Development, Faculty of Design SciencesUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium

Personalised recommendations