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Research & Design Strategy

Part 1: Designing for healthcare

February 02, 2017

It is a bit crazy that the design of products and services for the most human of needs, healthcare, has a history of being less than humane.

But you can probably point to an experience with a piece of medical equipment or a healthcare service that left you or a loved one feeling dissatisfied or, even worse, disrespected.

Consumers have come to expect well-designed products and services, increasing their demand for effective and delightful experiences for which they are willing to pay a premium. Design has become recognized and now has a seat at the business table. Reports like the Design Management Institute’s annual Design Value Index (DVI) legitimize the role design plays in business, showing that design-driven companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 211 percent over 10 years.

Design is known for its human-centered approach. Human-centered design begins with what is desirable and balances that with efforts to make solutions feasible and viable. In other words, balancing what is wanted with what works and what it’s worth. But this framework seems shallow when applied to healthcare and medical devices. Healthcare operates within mammoth- scale complexity and outcomes are more than desirable – most people regard living a full life as a necessity.

Enterprises and startups are laser-focused on delivering their own unique value propositions through what they’re best at – what is feasible and viable – the science, business, technology, marketing and operations. It’s what makes them tick and what they’re great at.

Admittedly, savvy business people know that in order to be relevant to their customers they need to deliver value and be differentiated from the competition. But the devil is in the details. Healthcare businesses are often unprepared to connect the dots between what they believe their customer wants and exactly how they will deliver it and meet consumer expectations – both their needs and wants. They’re often inexperienced in the design of human-centered solutions.

In fact, as compared to the consumer products space, human-centered design – the practice of making products and services desirable to users - is still a fairly new idea in the world of healthcare.

What does ‘desirable’ mean in healthcare anyway?

Supporting better patient and clinical outcomes is a purpose, not a desire. Healthcare companies cover this very well. It’s the science that drew many of these professionals into healthcare in the first place.

‘Desirable’ is a whole other dimension. It’s not just getting the desired outcome, it’s achieving that outcome through a seamless, simple and empathetic experience. This means using a deeply human-centered process that requires systems-level thinking.

It’s not just getting the desired outcome, it’s achieving that outcome through a seamless, simple and empathetic experience.

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