Designing Tactful Objects for Sensitive Settings

P. D'Olivo

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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Childhood cancer is a disruptive life event that creates high levels of stress and anxiety in families. It turns everyday routines up-side-down, and can block the child’s psychosocial development when families have difficulties to emotionally cope with this potentially traumatic event. D’Olivo developed three interactive objects aimed at preserving space for quality time and stimulate interpersonal communication between family members. These objects were deployed in the homes of children who are receiving cancer treatment in order to better understand how families responded to them, and whether they were appropriate to support their situation. The broader question addressed by the work is ‘how can vulnerable users be empowered by design in sensitive settings?’. Tactfulness was found to be a critical expressive design quality of such objects, leading to the idea of Tactful Objects as a design perspective on interactive artefacts that function in sensitive settings. According to this perspective, designing tactful objects for sensitive settings means to design objects that behave like sensitive partners, establish a balanced collaboration with people, resemble familiar characters and maintain a discreet presence in the context where they are introduced. The thesis discusses the practical value of Tactful Objects in healthcare as well as the methodological implications of conducting Research-through-Design in sensitive settings.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Giaccardi, E., Supervisor
  • Grootenhuis, Martha A., Supervisor, External person
  • Rozendaal, M.C., Advisor
Award date9 Jun 2021
Print ISBNs978-94-6421-365-2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Tactfulness
  • Sensitive Settings
  • Childhood Cancer
  • Interactive Artefacts
  • Tactful Objects
  • Intelligence
  • Research-through-Design


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