The concept of “design thinking” was featured last month in a New York Times article on health. Of course it resonated with us – this is what we do! Designers – whether they are designing buildings, logos, bridges, or bicycles – tend to start by defining a goal and then exploring alternative, not necessarily linear, paths to getting there. Design thinking as a defined approach to design problems has been around since the mid-20th century, and was embraced by entrepreneurs and the business world in the last decade. But how does it apply to health?
Steps in a circle
The components of design thinking are variously defined by different practitioners. Some graphically depict the steps in a circle, like a feedback loop, or a zig-zag line, indicating there is not always a rigid hierarchy of stages to the process. One outline of the method is “define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn.” The Institute of Design at Stanford (the “d-school”) teaches “empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.” Note that “empathize” comes first.
Healthy by design
In the d-school, students work in the field to solve social problems, listening to the stories of interview subjects to uncover their true needs, only then defining the real problem to be solved. They proceed to brainstorming ideas and testing solutions. Stanford professor Bernard Roth suggests this same process can be turned inward, to help people redefine and solve their own self-defeating or unhealthful habits. He’s written a book about it: “The Achievement Habit,” published by HarperBusiness.
The Mayo Clinic has teamed up with design firm IDEO, using design thinking to improve the experiences of patients, doctors, nurses, and staff. More design thinking: IDEO, the Mayo Clinic and other partners are using the internet as a platform for crowd-sourced brainstorming in response to the question, “How might we all maintain wellbeing and thrive as we age?”
Design for life
We’re intrigued by these unfamiliar uses of a familiar process. Back to the world of architecture: we engage in design thinking when we meet with clients to ask how they want to be living or working. Those answers allow us to define the space problem we’re to solve. A homeowner or school director running short on space may need an addition or new building, or they may need a reconfiguring of existing spaces. If you think about it, you may realize you use design thinking in your own life – don’t you?