When people think of design, they often think about the design of an object; how does the object look? Yet, as a designer, I feel that this definition is way too narrow.
While there are many definitions dealing with the concept of design, I feel that design starts with a very fundamental concept: empathy. Empathy is needed to understand the user, and you need to understand the user in order to design a solution for a problem the user might be experiencing. Empathy is the first, and arguably, most essential element in a method of designing solutions called Design Thinking.
Without empathy your design serves no function. And while the traditional notion of design might place great emphasis on form, in the end form still has to serve function, and function has to serve the user. Therefore, I feel that when designing anything, whether it is a lamp, a piece of clothing or a method to improve patient-nursing staff communication, empathy is essential in designing a good solution to a problem.
Continuing this train of thought, when employing new technologies in healthcare, as well as new technology in general, I sometimes wonder how much designers have really empathized with the target audience of their product. What do the patients want? Why do they want it? Why would the nursing staff be better of with this new product of way of doing things versus the old method? Just introducing new products for the sake of introducing something new isn’t very useful. Maybe some older products can be utilized in a new way?
While new technology is exciting, it might not always be the best solution in a real life use case. For example: some older patients might not want to engage with mobile based applications because they find mobile technology intimidating, or using a fancy new app for nursing staff might interrupt established workflows. Friction caused by implementing new technologies might therefore be smoothed by simply empathizing with the user and its context on many different levels.
A good designer will help reveal the many different elements of a use case, its context and how they connect, as usually there will be many different and complex interactions at play in the situation for which a solution is being sought. Consequently, an independent designer employing the design thinking method, one who doesn’t necessarily work for a company that absolutely wants to push a new product, can be a valuable asset in analyzing problems in any given situation. Therefore, when a healthcare organization, such as a hospital, is experiencing some problems, it might be useful to use a method such as Design Thinking, which places a large emphasis on empathy, to analyze the situation and identify core issues, and then also use empathy to define a viable solution.