By Patricia Mirasol

Design creates value across the different life stages. Experts talked about how healthcare can be humanized with design and technology at the recent Business of Design Week (BODW) event.

“If you pull out your smartphone and type in the word ‘designer’ on any SMS application, you get an image that looks like a yellow French person from the 1940s holding a paintbrush. Designers do more than that,” said Rama Gheerawo, director of The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design of the Royal College of Art (RCA). “Design is a process. We have frameworks, strategies, and processes that help design deploy itself creatively into human life.” 

In his talk, Mr. Gheerawo presented four design considerations in the context of healthcare, the first of which is being human. Humans move to hospital wards – spaces that are radically different from the homes they grow old in – as they age. He explained that at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, they rethought the care home to make it a place people would want to stay in, as opposed to a space given at the end of one’s life. This rethinking included changing the existing color palette, typically the color of body fluids, into a cheerful one. An additional example brought up was the replacement of white plates with blue ones in another care home so the elderly could see the white food that was being served. (The aforementioned care home initially thought that the residents had given up on life because they weren’t eating.)

“You shouldn’t design anything you wouldn’t use yourself,” he added. 

A second consideration is bringing humanity into technology. A web service called SloMo was created at the King’s College in London as a digital intervention for those with psychosis. Mr. Gheerawo said that they later realized the service was also useful for everyone who has ever experienced stress and needs to slow down for a moment.

The other considerations involve making every conversation better and putting people first. Mr. Gheerawo advised working with some of the 7.6 billion inhabitants of earth that have health concerns instead of relying on marketing stereotypes when designing solutions.

“Healthcare will shift from the hospital to the home, and design can play a role in enabling that,” he told the BODW audience. “We need to work with big data numbers, but we also need to have a deep understanding [of that data]. Numbers give you big data. People give you deep data.”

Larry Keeley, an innovation scientist and author of the Ten Types of Innovation, also conveyed the importance of thinking about the human first. In a world where remote diagnostics, artificial intelligence, and the real-time processing of sensors are a reality, he proposed paying attention to the following: how overall population health is functioning; how global health norms are shifting; and which innovations are making the difference in diagnostics and treatments.

He proposed figuring out how healthcare can be made affordable too. “If you don’t find new ways to pay for this and make it affordable and seamless – specifically to change people’s behaviors, rather than only investing in costly care when they have difficulties – it will sink [into] most thoughtful governments in the ways in which they’re addressing things,” added Mr. Keeley. 

Students of design should consider the issues that drive a longer and healthier life, and produce things that make the biggest difference. As health moves steadily into smarter homes, Mr. Keeley said that human needs must be met by design efforts that incorporate how human beings live.