Designing for happiness

I have the privledge of conduting new employee orentation for my health system. There is an excersize I ask the new hires to go through which I’ll share with you here.

Take a few moments and think about something in your life you cannot imagine being without….something where you think I don’t remember how I got along without XYZ… It can be a thing, or a place, or even a person.

What did you think of?

9 out of 10 new hires usually shout out “my iPhone”.

Sure, some folks reply with non-consumer answers such as my family, my children, or my last vacation. But for the ones who say it is their phone, what makes it such a compelling device, why could they not live without it? What they often tell me is it’s just magic, it just works. Apple’s marketing department would be happy with that response. I believe its just magical is a proxy for it was designed well.

Over the weekend I had the chance to re-watch one of my favorite documentaries, Objectified. Objectified is director Gary Hustwit’s homage to industral design and designers. The film moves from vignettes of iconic design to narritaves of personal insight from famous designers. It is a wonderful film and part of a trillogy where Hustwit focuses on asthetics and design.

In healthcare, we often think about design in a few very narrow contexts. We think about the archatecture of new buildings. Sometimes we think about the shape and styling of medical devices. Yet, that’s not how designers see the world. As Jony Ive, head of design for Apple, puts it: “it’s part of the curse of what we do… think about how everything we encounter is designed.”

Source: Nick on Pinterest

In Objectified, Erwan Bouroullec, of the designers says the goal of design about creating an enviroment where people feel good.

Isn’t that sort of also the goal of a hospital or doctor’s clinic? Don’t doctors start practing medicine because it feels good to take care of people? Don’t we go to the doctor because we want to feel good?

Regrettably, so many of our processess for delivering care were designed by consensus, rather than with a goal of creating an eivnroment where people feel good.

A few months ago I wrote a post about designing for experience where I suggested many processess are designed by consensus, or created through committees which often involve compromise for political agreement or to avoid conflict.

Try my new hire exercise again only this time think about an object or process which makes you feel frustrated or challenged when you interact with it.

My guess is whatever that thing is, it was probably not well-designed. It may be the result of design through consensus or it may simply not have been designed with attention to user experience or detail.

Now, more than ever healthcare needs to begin to apply design thinking to its processes and services. Design thinking has two major benefits: first it builds things which are in empathetic towards the user. Secondly, as Bouroullec says, it makes people feel good.

Davin Stowell, a principal designer at SmartDesign discussess working with OXO, the kitchenwares company on their vegitable peeler. Stowell says it’s not as important to understand how the average person who use the vegetable peeler. What matters is the extreme usecase – the person with arthirtis in his example. “When you design for extremes, the middle takes care of itself…” says Dan Formosa, also of SmartDesign.

Healthcare has an opportunity to embrace its extreme users too.

Examples most certinally include those who identify as ePatients. ePatients want to participate in the development and implementation of their treatment plans. They often lament a lack of access to their clinical data, or even access to their physicans using modern things like text messaging or skype.

We might also look at other extemes for inspiration. What can a “frequent flier” in the ER tell us about processess in the emergency room? What can the single, working mother with three kids tell us about process in the familiy medicine clinic?

These users are all around us, yet for some reason, we fail to consider them when designing care delivery processess and services. Instead, we design for the middle, creating average offerings rather than standout offerings.

There are competitive advantages to good design. It gets more people in the door. There are also imporant humanistic aspects. If good design really does create an enviroment that makes us happy, doesn’t healthcare have an obligation to design things well?

It is not my intent to judge our entire industry unfavorably. Good design can be as ambigious as the term itself. If it were easy, every phone manufactureer would have invented the iPhone years ago, right?

Still, there are ways to learn and practice design thinking:

  • Watch Objectified – pretty good place to start. It’s on Netflix for streaming. Listen to the designers talk about the objects they’ve designed and apply their terms and language to processess and experiences in healthcare.
  • Be empathatic – Empathy might be the single most important skill for anyone working in healthcare. Practice by thinking "Today, I’m not a provider or administrator. Today, I’m the patient walking in these doors for the first time. What do I see? Riff on the idea, always challenging yourself to put yourself in the patient’s shoes. How would a patient use this service? What would a patient think of this cafeteria food?
  • Embrace extreme usecases – Identify the extreme users of your services and observe their behaviour and listen to their communications. What can you learn from them? Are your waiting room seats uncomfortable for the elderly? Do ePatients with smartphones portend the future for the entire next generation of patients? What processess would you develop or change based on the answers?
  • Engage designers – OXO didn’t re-invent the vegitable peeler on their own. They worked with SmartDesign. Healthcare providers can find local or nationally renound tallent. Sure, it comes at a cost, but think of a well designed offering as a compeitive advange. You’d pay a reasonable price for a consultant who could help you grow marketshare, right?

By the way, healthcare device manufacturers and supply vendors are no strangers to working with designers. IDEO and SmartDesign have both worked with vendors on items such as:

  • Cardinal Health Endura Scrubs

    Many hospital workers complain about the baggy, pajama-like, and unprofessional look of traditional ‘scrubs’. Furthermore, over 70% of hospital employees are women, yet they are forced to adapt to clothing that was designed for an XL-sized man. The Endura Performance Apparel Scrubs is a line of cost-effective high performance scrubs that we designed as true unisex wear with benefits for women and men alike. They are a vast improvement on their predecessors because of design innovations such as collars that don’t blouse open to over-expose females…

  • Ethicon Endo-Surgery Generator

    Equipment in the operating room environment can be complex and intimidating, prompting the need for intuitive technology solutions that help OR nurses focus more on patient care. The new EES Generator combines advanced technology, multifunctionality, and intuitive touch screen simplicity into one compact, easy-to-operate unit.

  • Lifeport Kidney Transport System

    The LifePort Kidney Transporter provides a new high-tech alternative to the conventional method of organ storage and transportation—a cooler filled with ice.

  • Finally, here’s IDEO’s Tim Brown at the 2009 TEDmed event on Designing Healthcare