Design: A disciplined approach to business experimentation

As the U.S. healthcare industry rapidly evolves, transformative health systems have begun to apply the principles of design thinking to better meet changing consumer and community demands.

Design thinking disciplines use the tools and techniques of design to understand people's needs and aspirations, and then quickly and iteratively pursue solutions that best address those needs.

Interaction design is the field of design focused on designing great digital interactions, like making a website or application interface simple, accessible and efficient. Good interaction design is the reason your iPhone seemed so intuitive the first time you used it and why it adapts to your personal utilization. Conversely, poor interaction design results in a frustrating consumer experience and workplace errors.

Experience design is a form of design that transcends one physical object to create a compelling, immersive experience. For example, getting an MRI in one of GE's Adventure Series spaces turns a potentially frightening experience into an intriguing one for younger patients, all while lessening the need for anesthesia and reducing scan times.

There's also business design, which applies the techniques of design to the exploration of new potential business models. Most of the market-shifting disruptions we've witnessed in the past 20 years, from Amazon to Netflix, haven't just been about technology or experience. They're disruptive because of their business model design, bringing us today's widespread prominence of subscriptions, memberships and brand loyalty.

Design thinking is built through these generalizable approaches, and others, that can be used to understand what is valuable to the healthcare populations across the nation and efficiently create solutions that best deliver on that value. The core tenets of design help to maximize the chances of delivering value:

  • Understand: Deeply understand the needs and motivations of the people for whom you design by employing the techniques and best practices of social sciences research.
  • Ideate: Generate many options, using techniques of psychology that maximize the brain's creativity (or even the creativity of groups, or that of AI).
  • Prototype: Realize ideas as quickly and cheaply as possible so that the unanticipated can be discovered while it's still inexpensive to course-correct.
  • Test: Get prototypes in front of real users in real settings to control for your own biases and confirm key assumptions.
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate: Because as Microsoft Outlook Director of Design Peter Skillman said, "enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius." Every time.

The tenets of design thinking keep us relentlessly focused on people. People are wonderfully diverse, people behave in unexpected ways, and people change. It doesn't take too much time in a board room or cubicle to get out of touch or out of date, or just as damaging, believe you can conform the people to your business plan instead of the other way around. Design techniques keep us grounded in the needs and realities of the people we serve, which is why the term design thinking is often used interchangeably with the term human-centered design.

Additionally, the tools of design are the tools of de-risking new business initiatives. Each methodology emerged from a particular type of work — design thinking from tackling complex business challenges, Lean Startup from launching new businesses, and Agile from developing modern software applications — so each developed its own nomenclature and specific techniques. But unless anyone is being particularly dogmatic about semantics or process, the three are highly compatible and even intentionally overlapping.

Finally, design is a team sport. All the forms of design described here are incredibly interdisciplinary and require constant collaboration with colleagues across an organization.

Intentionally designed collaboration and innovation can realize the future of people-centered healthcare. Ascension is working to build up an interdisciplinary, human-centered design team within the organization and bring design thinking methodology to our work creating digital-enabled healthcare services — a transformative project for Ascension and the healthcare industry.

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