Skip to content

Good #healthdesignis _________.

December 18, 2013

Last night I attended #DesignMeets Healthcare and left with a topic for today’s #hcsmca inspired by Tai Huynh @taimhuynh. Tai is Senior Fellow and Lead, System Engagement, Centre for Innovation in Complex Care, University Health Network. Here are some of his slides and nuggets from his presentation.

Tai started out his presentation by asking: What is design? What is good design? What is good design in health care?

What is good design in health care?

Design is a noun. It is a verb. It is also an adjective, as in “design thinking.”

design is a noun, verb and adjective

Design is different things to different people. Perhaps that’s okay. We all look at design from different perspectives and can influence it.

good industrial design summary from Dieter Rams

Tai shared 10 good industrial design principles summarized by Dieter Rams, German industrial designer and Chief Designer at Braun. These principles are for industrial design, consumer products. But what about health care?

Tai maintains that

“good design in healthcare is about a deep understanding of user needs and a considered approach to solutions. The key is to focus on outcomes; not to be too hung up on the process (e.g. throwing sticky notes on a board) or the idea (e.g. how clever it is, how beautiful it is) that we forget about the outcomes. We need to demonstrate through evidence. In consumer products, the evidence can be measured by sales. In health care, design needs to compete on the same playing field of evidence as everything else. We need to do more evaluation and prove that good design produces good outcomes.”

Tai started a hashtag at DesignMeets last night asking us to crowdsource the principles for good design in health care. Today on #hcsmca, let’s continue the conversation, using the hashtag to complete this sentence:

#healthdesignis _________________________________.

Here is the #hcsmca chat transcript from the Dec 18, 2013.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2013 9:33 am

    Love this post! I think of Rams often when I think of our overly complex systems and processes in healthcare. Good healthcare design should be as little design as possible. It should be honest – which is also a form of transparency. Frankly, 10 of Rams’s principals should apply.

    It would be fun, sometime, to kick off a strategy or process design meeting with a review of his Principals and use them as a test throughout the design work. “Does our new cancer treatment center meet all 10 of these? Does the registration process feel honest and and useful?”

    Even the last word there is powerful – when’s the last time we asked if something like registration or admissions felt “useful” to patients? How could it be made to feel that way?


    • December 18, 2013 9:43 am

      Hi Nick, I agree that all 10 of Rams’ principles apply in health care. Using them as a checklist during the design process would go a long way to keeping design focused on the goal. This checklist should be revisited often.

      I especially liked your re-framing and asking ‘how can we make healthcare feel useful?” Do you have any examples of healthdesign that achieves this now?


    • December 18, 2013 10:17 pm

      I’m glad you like the post Nick.

      The principle that really stuck with me is “good design is thorough down to the last detail.” The accompanying text on this principle, which I didn’t include in the above, is “Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.”

      By the way, I love this short 1-minute clip of the 10 principles. They sound great in German.


      • December 19, 2013 8:50 am

        While we’re trading design videos, Tai, I’m sure you have seen Objectified?
        Anyone who reads this post will love this film:
        Also Eames: The Architect & The Painter:

        Those two films, before being formally exposed to IDEO and their school of design-thinking, fundamentally changed how I approached my work in healthcare. Its where I learned the language of usefulness, aesthetic, and empathy:

        As I’ve taken some time away from a direct hospital administration role, I’ve been reflecting on the culture of healthcare. With the exception of device manufactures and consumer healthcare products, the idea of design-thinking hasn’t really been part of mainstream healthcare. Instead, we’ve modeled our culture on that of graduate medical education (GME).

        Practically, that manifests itself as 6:30am meetings mimicking physicians’ grand rounds. Culturally it appears in the competitive ‘I know best’ / top-down style of leadership prevalent in the industry. Medical schools accept the top undergraduates, who are by nature a competitive lot. My observation is, as a consequence, GME bakes that competitiveness into the culture of being a physician, which we’ve adopted across the industry.

        With that overly wrought preamble aside, I want to say again how much I love posts like this. We need to move away from that top-down ‘one person knows best’ style to the inclusive, grass-rootsy style of design-thinking. Shouldn’t we celebrate anything which improves outcomes and experiences, regardless of how we got to it?

        I’d love to see provider organizations start to ask questions about processes and services based on Rams’ 10 rules:
        ‘Is this new service we want to offer _honest_?’ (and what does it mean to be honest?)
        ‘is it useful? Is it sustainable?…’
        What a fantastic litmus test! And, by asking those questions, we’d likely see a very welcomed and even comfortable transition away from the parochial culture we see today, to an inclusive design-thinking culture more aptly representing the populations being served.


  2. December 19, 2013 9:58 am

    Just posting to say that Nick Dawson here in the comments has summed up the healthcare culture perfectly as I’ve seen it. There IS a culture of ‘one person knows best’, and unfortunately none of those that we’ve run across have ever heard of someone like Dieter Rams or his ten principles, and rarely are they open to learning about the benefits of design thinking from those such as us. Trade experience (25+ years of designing signs and graphics if you only count Rosemary) doesn’t seem to get very much respect from those folks.


    • December 19, 2013 11:35 am

      Tagg Design,
      You hit on an important point. Not everyone in health care has to have heard of Deiter Rams’ design principles, but they should be open to learning about how design thinking could benefit them and those they care for from the practitioners of design thinking.

      How can the expertise of trade experience be brought into the problem solving? What had worked in your experience?


      • December 19, 2013 12:04 pm

        Unfortunately the only thing that’s worked really so far is when we and the health system get to the same conclusion through different means – Hand Sanitizing Stations are one such area. We put a lot of work into their design – colour, material, lines-of-sight, weight, readability of communications areas, reach & accessibility, all with the goal of drawing and inviting use, particularly among the untrained public. That’s what design can do! The health system has also put a lot of work into the studies behind hand sanitizing – when, where, who and with what liquids, and what good could come from doing so. The hospitals that use our stations typically just want a hand sanitizing stand. They like how ours look and work, and we try to communicate with them WHY they both look like they do and why they work, but the impression we’ve gotten is that most don’t care – as long as they have their ABHR dispensers in the lobby they seem to feel like their job is done.

        As to how the expertise can be brought in… all I can think of is some real deep culture change at the hospital level because right now sometimes it’s like talking to a wall.


    • Tai Huynh permalink
      December 20, 2013 9:54 am

      Tagg Design, Nick, Colleen,
      I think you’ve hit on something very important, and that is culture. But I challenge the notion that in order for design to gain a foothold in healthcare, the culture must first change. Designers take pride in figuring out the behaviours of people, their social systems and culture, and in designing solutions that are empathetic to all of that. I think it is more constructive to view it as a complication, a challenge, rather than a barrier that causes us to throw up our hands. This is a global challenge for design in healthcare, one than transcends any particular project. If we turn back the clock a decade or two, engineering + healthcare was going through the same thing where there was culture clash on things like TQM, LEAN, Six Sigma, etc. and to a certain extent, it still exists today. This clash probably had a lot to do with the fact these things came from the outside, as far as healthcare was concerned. But over time, a different, hybrid culture developed around the approach and gave rise to new variants that are unique to healthcare: quality improvement, improvement science, etc. I think the same could be true for design + healthcare, but these things take time. More immediate, designers need to be mindful of what it is that healthcare people value: evidence, cost effectiveness, etc. If good design produces good outcomes, let’s demonstrate.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: