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Redesigning the British Red Cross wheelchair
loan service

The British Red Cross Mobility Aids is a volunteer run, donation based service providing short-term wheelchair loans for over 100 years. Unfortunately the NHS doesn’t give wheelchairs for patients that need one for less than six months. The Red Cross helps fill this gap by providing ⅔ of all short-term wheelchair loans in the UK.

The challenge

Up until recently, Mobility Aids had been operating the same way for the past 50 years. The service is now going through a transformation with the main goal of increasing its user reach. This was going to be done through the following workstreams:

Shift towards delivery model
A national delivery model was being introduced to provide for users in remote areas or those who can’t collect a wheelchair.

Standardisation of processes
Over the years many of the Mobility Aids centres have developed their own processes which has lead to an inconsistency across the service. By standardising the processes, each region could ensure it was running efficiently as possible.

Implementing an inventory system
The paper/spreadsheet system has been problematic. A service-wide inventory system could ensure centres have enough stock and reduce admin time.

Online ordering
Currently you can only request a wheelchair on the British Red Cross website. This was set to change by adding the functionality to either book a wheelchair for either delivery or collection.

Service Design
Several of my colleagues from the digital team and I were tasked with finding out how to better help the users of the service using service design.This was one of the first examples of service design used in the British Red Cross. My team and I found that the success of this project depended on working with these other projects.

My role

I have been a UX designer on the project since the outset in November 2016. My role included:

User research
I travelled around the UK to speak to users, volunteers and staff to get an understanding of the service. Discovering pain points and opportunities helped shape the new service.

Working with and within the service
Running workshops with staff to get a shared understanding of problems need tackling.

Prototyping and testing
I designed prototypes to test assumptions and inform what the service could look like. Presenting them with user feedback to stakeholders helped gain alignment and drove decision making.




For this project the team adopted the GDS service manual approach.


The core team expanded to include more staff from the service as the project went on. We presented regularly to stakeholders which helped build confidence and secure more commitment when needed.


In the discovery phase our aim was to find out who the service users are and how well their needs are met.

Over 4 weeks our team interviewed users and staff, ran workshops, reviewed analytics, mapped out the existing service and created a prototype.


Discovery prototype

During the last week of discovery we created a prototype to test a potential online ordering system with users. Presenting a prototype early on in the project was a great way of demonstrating the impact of the research and show stakeholders what alpha could look like.
The prototype:

  • allows users to order a wheelchair for collection or delivery
  • prompts the user to return the wheelchair at the end of the loan
  • allows users to make a donation online

Discovery insights

These are the key insights that informed what we would do in alpha:

Users don’t know they can get a wheelchair, unless they speak to the Red Cross
Users needed to ring up to find out if, how and when they could get a wheelchair. This is a problem for users as the centres are generally open for a handful of hours a week.

“My husband got out of hospital on Friday. I tried calling but you were closed.”
-Service user

Users keep a wheelchair longer than they need it
Users would often forget or put off returning a wheelchair. This could prevent someone else from getting one in peak season.

“I only needed the wheelchair for the weekend but kept it for a month.”
-Service user

Users don’t know how much to donate
Users are unsure how long they'll need the wheelchair and prefer to donate when returning it.

“I’ll give more after I know how long I need it for.”
-Service user

Users recommend the service to other users
Users were happy to recommend the service but they can only do this by word of mouth.

“I came to see the service the second time I needed a wheelchair so I could tell friends and family.”
-Service user

Mapping the opportunities

We plotted the insights onto a user journey map to help frame the key areas to focus in alpha.


Improving service awareness requires more research

Many patients discharged from hospitals didn't know they could get a wheelchair from the Red Cross. We found awareness of the service within the hospital system was a complex problem warranting its own discovery.

Doubts about delivery

Towards the end of discovery, I was beginning to have doubts about the shift towards delivering wheelchairs as most users preferred to collect a wheelchair. In Alpha, we would need to delve deeper to establish whether a move towards delivery would support user need.

Teaming up with the online ordering project

By allowing a user to order a wheelchair online you could help them understand if they can get one. We’d already created a prototype based our insights so it made sense from this point on to team up with the online ordering project in alpha.


Our goal was to explore ways users could order a wheelchair online and what tech/processes would be needed to support it. We created three prototypes:


Prototype 1: Borrow and return a wheelchair
This HTML prototype allowed users to borrow a wheelchair online. It helped us answer questions around demand for delivery, asking for donation and user confidence in selecting the correct wheelchair.


Prototype 2: When and where users can get a wheelchair
We tested this HTML prototype to find out if it would be enough to only show users stock availability. We discovered users felt more confident in getting a wheelchair when booking online.

Alpha prototype 2Alpha prototype 2

Prototype 3: Wheelchair checkout for volunteers
This Invision prototype allows a volunteer to confirm a user has collected a wheelchair. This was our first attempt at designing an alternative to the inventory system interface the volunteers have to use. Some volunteers were nervous to try it out but all could complete the checkout processes quickly and unaided.

Alpha prototype 3Alpha prototype 3

Alpha Findings

More users chose to collect a wheelchair
We ran several rounds of usability and online click tests with prototypes in a variety of scenarios. In all the tests users chose to collect a wheelchair rather than get it delivered.

“I’d collect it to save money on the delivery cost and so I can see the wheelchair.”
-Service user

Users could complete the process online but some preferred to do it offline
During testing, some users preferred to get in touch with the service if they were unsure of something. We learnt that this is something we’ll need to accommodate for in beta.

“I’d call up at this point. I prefer to speak to someone because it makes me feel more comfortable.”
-Service user

Volunteers found the inventory system difficult to use
Volunteers required training and a considerable amount of hours to build confidence in using the system. We also learnt through testing our checkout prototype with volunteers that we could design something much more suitable for them to use.

“I would totally feel useless using this. Because it’s suppose to be a simple thing to do.”

Adding the inventory system specialist to the team

By teaming up with the inventory specialist, we could understand the restrictions and opportunities to design a system the volunteers would want to use. In the process we de-siloed another project within the Mobility Aids transformation and help grow the team for beta. 


Moving away from a delivery model

By the end of beta, we had substantial evidence that the proposed wheelchair delivery model was not going to support user need. So for beta we would be focusing on making it easier for users to collect a wheelchair. There was however still the unanswered question of how to get wheelchairs to those who can’t get to a mobility aids centre, which needs further exploration.

Moving to beta

The aim for beta will be to build an end-to-end version of the service so we can further learn from users in a live environment. By limiting the amount of transactions, we can make changes to the service where needed before trying to scale nationwide.

Learnings so far

Everybody is already doing service design
Throughout the course of this project I met with volunteers and staff members who had designed their own processes in isolation. By including them into the project where possible we could use their experience to design the service together.

Pushing the boundaries with prototypes
In alpha our prototypes tested well with users. If I were to do this project again I'd create prototypes to test more radical ideas. The chance of failure would've increased but we could have learnt more and had a more innovative result.