Posts Tagged ‘Design Thinking’

Embrace

Photo Credit: EmbraceGlobal.org

I have never considered myself a DIY, use my hands to fix stuff sort of guy. I have always assumed that inclination was part of a different personality type. I am more naturally drawn to ideas, language, music, abstract science concepts and other things you can’t hammer a nail into. But in coming home this week from an interesting event called #wemakehealth I was forced to challenge some of my assumptions. #wemakehealth is an example of the “maker movement” a growing group of people from professions as diverse as medicine, business, design, and technology united by a common purpose, to make everyone into a maker.

So, what is a maker?

I understand it to be anyone who decides that she will not wait for a solution to handed down, but will get her hands dirty and build one now. And that is physically build it.  One speaker referred to it as “democratizing engineering”; an example would be the people who helped develop a warming blanket (known as Embrace) for premature babies in developing countries; this simple device is saving multiple lives where incubators are not available. The idea for this blanket emerged from a graduate school class assignment . . .

So what assumptions does this movement challenge?

That most of us can only be consumers of something someone else has made.

That if you’re not naturally “crafty”, building things is not really for you.

That you need tremendous background in design and engineering to build something from scratch with your hands.

I think we can agree that most things are more interesting to do than to watch. Yet, we somehow accept that other people who are more talented, educated etc must do all our building for us. This doesn’t mean that we suddenly have to try building complex computers. In fact, many incredibly useful objects are quite simple in their design (that warming blanket). I feel like the perfect messenger for this message precisely because I didn’t grow up trying to fix things and build stuff. And yet, in medicine, I was strongly drawn to surgery. There is something undeniably fulfilling about physically fixing a problem and being able to look upon your work. When I was given the chance to close incisions on the babies we were operating on in Kenya, I would look over my work the next day on rounds and if the wound was “clean, dry and intact” it was a tremendous source of pride. I often side with those who argue that we are born creative but have creativity educated out of us, and conclude falsely that it is the reserve of a select few. Now, I also wonder whether if there is something fundamentally human about building, making physical creations. The creation may be a meal, a painting, a creative blood pressure monitor, but it’s something. Perhaps, we were not made only to consume or roam the halls of the abstract, however enticing. Making is also key to progress in healthcare where so many structures, devices, procedures and processes remain opaque. Can we make something better ourselves? Can we stop waiting? Incidentally, #wearenotwaiting is the hashtag for the NightScout project, comprising a group of parents who came up with a creative way to remotely monitor their diabetic childrens’ blood glucose levels on cellphones . . .

So, to explore these ideas further, I am starting a brief blog series on making. I’ll bring in voices from the maker movement as well as practical ways to explore your own potential as a maker. If can I do this, trust me, anyone can!

Doorknob

Door knobs can be annoying. They’re not all the same. It’s not always clear whether you should push or pull and nothing makes you look like an idiot faster than struggling with a door. There are people who spend their days determined to spare you this anguish and they are called designers. In the past week, I have been reintroduced to the possibilities of design to solve all kind of problems including the ones that seem most intractable. I am especially interested in how design can improve how we deliver health.

So how did this start?

A couple of years ago, I took part in the HULT Prize, a global student competition in which teams from around the world are challenged to come up with a social entrepreneurship solution to a pressing world problem. In our year, it was the growing problem on non-communicable diseases in urban slums. We reached the finals with an idea that combined microinsurance, theatre, and mobile technology to dynamically manage diabetes and hypertension. To come up with this solution, we used something called design thinking. Design usually conjures up the idea of decoration and aesthetics, but in reality the best design goes beyond making things pretty to actually improving how things work, something the heathcare system badly needs. Some of the principles of design thinking include observation, defining the problem, which is often not easy, then free-form brainstorming, prototyping and then testing the idea and starting the process again. The process is not linear or analytical but rather cognizant of the fact that complex problems cannot be solved with only one line of thinking but rather multiple iterations.

Design-thinking-stanfor´d

Design Thinking

And so it was refreshing to come across the work of Dr. Joyce Lee at the University of Michigan who is a doctor with a strong interest in design and how it can transform healthcare delivery. Her work started with a simple observation, that her son’s school had an allergy action plan that was badly designed. She worked creatively with her son (who has severe food allergies) to create a simple, yet compelling YouTube video on how to respond to ingested food allergens that was so effective, it was adapted by the school and spread over the Internet.

One of the most powerful methods of design thinking is the process of observation, really taking the time to notice how things and people work around you. We miss so much. Interestingly, I used to give similar advice to my actors, to go out and really watch people (in a non-creepy way, preferably). It’s the tiny nuances that can make the biggest difference in presenting characters on stage. Take the simple act of convincing an audience that you are drinking a hot cup of coffee. The obvious part would be to gingerly pick up the cup and sip carefully showing that the coffee is indeed hot.  But if you watch someone carefully with a hot drink, there is one other detail, the tiniest of squints as the steam from the cup arrives at the eyes. The audience may not consciously register this detail, but the illusion is complete and effective. That kind of detail comes from observation. The actor needs it; so does the designer; so does the doctor.

My first goal in learning about health and design is to “see” better. How do things really work in everyday life? When challenged to think about what I really see, Bertolt Brecht came to mind. The famous German Theatre practitioner built his Theatre on the premise that we should always question the status quo, but that we could only do that if we had a way to reexamine what we have gotten used to, a process he called “making the familiar strange.” His motivations were primarily political but his principle is compelling. How much around us is really set in stone? What do we presume to be fixed and unchangeable? Do we ask “why” enough? So, yes, I’d like to see more. To help prompt this process, I will be reading the book Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products for Tomorrow’s Customers by Jan Chipchase. Feel free to join me . . . let’s see what we’ve been missing.

Hidden In Plain Sight