When (Design and Health) Worlds Collide

Design and health have very different professional cultures. So, working together can be challenging.


Challenges 1… from User-centred Healthcare Design on Vimeo.

Challenges 2… from User-centred Healthcare Design on Vimeo.

Design and health have different conceptions regarding risk. Designers tend to embrace risk in proposing radical solutions and through prototyping potential solutions where it is useful to fail quickly, fail again, and fail better (hopefully) to develop designs. Healthcare services, however,  must be absolutely reliable and the health profession is, understandably, averse to risks that could impact on patient health and wellbeing. This can make it difficult to prototype anything beyond ‘safe’ touchpoints like posters, flyers, etc.

Healthcare places strong reliance on clinical evidence, with the randomised control trial being the dominant evaluation mechanism. This leads to a culture unwilling to embrace uncertainty and try something new. How can service improvement and innovations be justified and evaluated? How can research evidence be integrated into design processes?

Many healthcare institutions (including the UK’s NHS) are hierarchical, with a strong ‘top-down’ and ‘command and control’ mindset. The challenge is how to encourage ‘patient-up’ and flatter, inclusive hierarchies through co-design.

The existing health profession typically places the clinician as the expert, places them in a position of power. But there are other sources of expertise and the clinician’s expertise, in some cases, may be misinformed or wrong. Embracing other sources of expertise (through co-design) and presenting alternative service solutions could then challenge professionals’ knowledge and their role in the current service.

Health professionals may be working with other service improvement consultants and approaches (in addition to service design) at the same time, leading to a change process overload.


Strategies… from User-centred Healthcare Design on Vimeo.

Where prototyping is difficult – use role-play, scenario enactment, forum theatre.

Work in ‘labs’: simulations, visualisations and prototypes allow you to explore thing that would be impossible to explore clinically.

Learn and understand the health context.

Take the biggest risk at the last moment.