Designing Health, Making Health


Reblogged from Health Design By Us.

Health Design By Use

You may have noticed that the We Make Health Fest is sponsored by the Health Design By Us collaborative, of which Joyce Lee is the PI and I am a team member. So what is the connection, at least for us, between health design and making health? A good topic for the final post before the big event. For me, personally, my awareness of the intimate role of design in health began with doorknobs.

Doorknobs and Door Handles

Well, actually it came in the 80s when I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Don Norman. (Yes, THAT Don Norman.) In the presentation I saw Don described what he called “The Pyschology of Everyday Things (POET).” I would have loved the talk for the name alone, but there was so much more. One of the first things Don did was to put up a whole series of slides of pictures of doorknobs and door handles, then talk about how the door tells us we should open it. He pointed out doors that don’t tell us, or confuse us; doors which seem to say ‘push’ when you need to pull and ‘pull’ when you ought to push. He showed us doors that can only be opened with two hands, with one hand, doors that want you to be righthanded or lefthanded, doors that can’t be opened at all if you are in a wheelchair, and then he showed us doors designed so well that you can open them without hands at all.

When you look at the intersection of the maker movement and healthcare, a great deal of the creativity is focused on solving problems like doorknobs. Problems that began with design that didn’t go as far as it might to include the people actually using whatever it is. With the maker movement, people might say, “Dagnabbit, why didn’t they make it THIS way?!” And then they remake it the way it should have been made in the first place. Or, if they can’t remake it themselves, they look for someone who can. Just last week

Patients think about things like this. A lot! And parents of kids. And the public.

Joyce thinks about things like this, too. (It’s part of what I love about working with her — her insight, caring, enthusiasm, excitement, energy, and her fabulous sense of humor.)

What it really takes, though, is partnerships, collaborations, people talking to other people, people who know that other people are out there interested and working on the same challenges. When Joyce has one of her design thinking workshops with a group of people, she’s encouraging them to think about the topic together, to imagine a better world, to work in teams, to leverage the insights and knowledge of one with the skills and talents of another (and then to switch places, so everyone is using insights and talents!).

Tim Brown says “design thinking” is a combination of what’s desirable, viable, and feasible. Reuven Cohen gives several overviews in Forbes, of which one says it is intelligence gathering, design, and choice, while another says the process stages are: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. Wikipedia says “design thinking” is a combination of empathy, creativity, and rationality.

I like that so many of those definitions are rooted in empathy. Makers and inventors are excited by interesting problems. (So are researchers, of course.) In healthcare, there is an infinity of interesting problems. But it isn’t just about interesting problems, it’s about caring and need, that’s what starts people working on a problem. Given two equally interesting problems, the one with the greatest need, and the greatest need for heart, is the one that will get the most excitement.

In the maker community, a lot of what helps move things along is also about sharing, working together, sharing ideas and problems, digging around to find a solution. It is invention through flow (rather than by committee). When makers get together to work on a project they also brainstorm and share insights and ideas and resources. Then they go back to the drawing board until they get stuck. The ideas move from person to person, flowing around challenges (lack of resources, lack of skills) much like water flows around rocks in a stream.

Sometimes the flow moves from the person with the idea to someone with the expertise. A lot of the time, it isn’t that simple, and it flows back and forth. Having the idea is itself a kind of expertise. If we want real innovation in healthcare, we need more perspectives, more voices, more sources of imagination and creativity, skillsets that perhaps have not been traditionally valued in healthcare settings. And we have to listen, try to understand what the ideas are, where they are coming from.

With the We Make Health Fest, we’re hoping those different perspectives, voices, views, will meet, and discover each other. And then, maybe, just maybe, some of them will start something new.

“The call to care suggests a possible primary design position. … We might start from the assumption that, as designers, we do not know (yet) how the values of care are being lived and acted upon. We must interpret without (yet) being expert.” Jones PH. Design for care: innovating healthcare experience. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, (c)2013, p.xviii. https://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/design-for-care/

Maybe none of us are experts. Maybe all of us are experts. Maybe the kinds of expertise that will change healthcare the ways that are most needed are kinds of expertise we don’t even know how to recognize yet. But this is how we start finding out.


This was the last post before the big event on Saturday! Come to the We Make Health Fest on August 16th, 2014 in Palmer Commons at the University of Michigan or follow hashtag #makehealth on Twitter! Please follow @MakeHealthUM and @healthbyus on Twitter and please sign up for our mailing list so that you can join and contribute!

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