Admittedly, I’m new to the design field. I’ve been in love with design — be it graphic, architecture, print, etc. — since I was a child. However, for the lastmany years, I studied and worked in the Canadian health sector. Last year, while working with the Healthcare Human Factors (HHF) group in Toronto, I had a great mentor, Cassie McDaniel (@cassiemc), who made me realize something important: designers should be an integral member of any team creating healthcare products. Although I had only a short stint working with the HHF group as a research student, I have gathered some reasons why healthcare needs designers.
1) Designers can understand.
One major issue in healthcare is the lack of understanding of the end user. I remember sitting in a lecture once where an electronic medical record vendor came in to show us its product. I was sitting in the front row, and I was having trouble reading what was projected on the front screen. I asked the vendor representative if they had conducted research prior to and during the creation of the product. He responded by telling me that they did not — but users “loved” the product. I was not impressed. Involving both UX researchers and designers in healthcare product design can help companies understand the complex healthcare environment, along with the cognitive processes involved in decision-making and reasoning of healthcare workers as they interact with their environment.
2) Designers bring a different perspective — and bring about creativity.
It was interesting being a part of a design team composed of people who had never been exposed to the healthcare sector before. Although some people might believe that this would have been a disadvantage, I actually found it refreshing to watch them bring an outsider’s perspective. Most of the time, healthcaretends to move in one straight path. Sometimes, we need someone to bring the industry to another path — which may be more innovative, interesting, and different.
3) Designers take risks.
That outsider’s perspective goes hand-in-hand with taking risks. Healthcaretends to be an industry where risk-taking is looked down upon. People are comfortable with their traditional values and methods. Designers are always thinking outside the box, having ideas that are pie-in-the-sky, and pushing the limits.
If designers are needed in healthcare, then why am I not in it? And why aren’t there more designers in healthcare overall? Personally, I wanted to explore more outside of the health field, considering I’ve been in it for so long. I wanted to try something new and different and exercise another part of my brain in different industries.
However, as for why other designers haven’t found themselves in healthcare, this may be due to the fact that healthcare isn’t very sexy. Many designers that I know usually strive for positions in ad agencies or at startups. Another difficulty is the lack of designers already in the field. For me, I was fortunate enough to learn from other designers at HHF; however, I don’t know any other healthcare facilities that have designers in-house. Whom will the new design grads learn from? Finally, the unfortunate thing is that the healthcare industry is not really a place to take risks; it’s a place that’s afraid of failure. Designers may be too constrained and unable to fully exercise their creative juices.
So how can we solve this problem? In my opinion, designers need more exposure to healthcare, and healthcare needs more exposure to designers. This was witnessed during the Hacking Health hackathon that occurred in Toronto in November 2012, where clinicians and designers got to work collaboratively on product ideas during a short weekend. Slowly, but surely, designers and clinicians are learning more and more about one another – and hopefully, will build a beautiful relationship in the future that will lead to innovative work.