Professor Alastair Macdonald

Job Title:

Senior Researcher, School of Design


School of Design



Professor Alastair Macdonald
image - HAIVAIRN project

Professor Alastair Macdonald


Professor Alastair Macdonald

Professor Alastair Macdonald is Senior Researcher in the School of Design. His expertise is in design-led research for age, health and care, operating at the interface between design, health and care practice, and people’s experience of products and services, using evidence-based and speculative approaches.

Peer recognition

In 2018, Macdonald was awarded the ‘Best Research’ category in the inaugural AHRC / Wellcome Health Humanities Medal awards. He was awarded a Personal Professorship by the University of Glasgow in 2000, a Japan Foundation Research Fellowship in 2004 and was made a Design Research Society Fellow in 2015. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Research Portfolio

His portfolio encompasses work in spinal cord injury, stroke rehabilitation, hospital nutrition, end-of-life care for dementia, and healthcare associated infections. This research is funded through UK research council grants (EPSRC, ESRC, AHRC and MRC), the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR) and charitable trusts.

His working methods typically involve adopting participative design, visualisation and iterative prototyping approaches to bring synergy to the different research disciplines and stakeholders, and to co-produce, refine and evaluate interventions.

Improving infection prevention and control

In the area of infection prevention and control, a series of Arts and Humanities Research Council grants have funded the development and evaluation of interactive digital training tools, using behavioural and microbial data as their basis.

For AMRSim (a microbial reality simulator) his team developed and trialled a training intervention designed to change veterinary staff’s perception of the risk of bacterial contamination and, ultimately, their related behaviours. It comprises a digital tool, educational content, and an interactive mode of presentation and delivery. By 'making the invisible, visible' the ambition is to reduce bacterial contamination in small animal veterinary practices, reduce reliance on antibiotics, and contribute to decreasing the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) developing.

The prior visionOn project produced a proof-of-concept tablet-based tool for hospital staff to improve awareness and understanding of the location, persistence and transmission of pathogens in the hospital ward environment.

Improving stroke rehabilitation outcomes

A programme of inter-disciplinary research led, in the envisage project, to the trial of a therapeutic intervention, a visual tool which revealed, in real time, the deficits or achievements in the physical movements of stroke survivors undergoing rehabilitation, thereby improving communication and understanding between therapists and their patients. Further details can be found here.

Stroke is a common health problem often leaving people with disabilities requiring specialist stroke unit care. Patients and carers regard inpatient therapy and rehabilitation as the most important elements of treatment after stroke. The CREATE study (Collaborative Rehabilitation Environments in Acute STrokE), funded by an NIHR grant, uses co-production methods to improve patient, carer and staff experiences.

Ultrasonic Glasgow

The Ultrasonic Glasgow project documents the early Glasgow pioneers of medical obstetrics ultrasound, particularly the pivotal role of design in the development process through the work of the then graduating GSA designer, Dugald Cameron, in his first paid commission, in transforming industrial apparatus into humane and manufacturable designs that helped revolutionize the clinical management of antenatal treatment and care. The project re-positions, alongside the scientific and engineering achievements, the historical contribution made by design and, for the first time, documents the experiences of the women who experienced this pioneering technology during pregnancy. A short video is available here and a publication to accompany the exhibition is available to download here.

Profile and research outputs

Further details:

Research supervision

As Primary Supervisor his principal interest is in supervising PhD students largely researching and developing the application of design-led approaches within the ageing, health and care fields. Sample PhD studies include:

• Gemma Wheeler: The use of design methods to improve confidence, resourcefulness, and self-determination in spinal cord injury survivors. AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit, Glasgow. PhD. (Completed 2018). Principal supervisor.
• Gayle Rice: A practical exploration into the use and effect of visual communication tools in social work practice. PhD. (Completed 2016). Principal supervisor.
• Sandra Neves: Enjoy your meal: design tools and strategies to improve the post-stroke mealtime experience in rehabilitation. PhD. (Completed 2014). Principal supervisor.
• Ji-Wei Wu: Improving the understanding of the innate abilities and coping strategies of visually impaired people (VIP): an analysis and modelling of the variables and their spatial navigational abilities. PhD. (Completed 2014). Principal supervisor.
• David Loudon: Towards a design tool for visualizing the functional demand placed on older adults by everyday living tasks. PhD. (Completed 2010). Principal supervisor.
• Chris Lim: Age and generation effects: handling complex user interfaces and implications for inclusive design. PhD. (Completed 2008). Principal supervisor.

Teaching programmes

A product designer by training and part of the founding team for GSA’s award-winning MEng/BEng Product Design Engineering (PDE) programme, he was its Head of Department from 1996-2006 and was a primary contributor to the development of the PDE programme in 1996 at The Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, modelled on the Glasgow programme.