Design Contexts of Designing for Care

In advance of the book’s impending publication in May, I”m cross-posting a series of pieces from, within, and about the book itself. This post is also found in the Design for Care community site.

There are so many contexts in which design practice intersects with healthcare service and the critical problems anticipated in the near term. Design for Care can be viewed as an emerging context, of designing for … healthcare as caring. Another design context could be design (or design research) in healthcare, which would be representative of an insider’s viewpoint.

Other contexts are defined by the predominant themes of our time – Health 2.0, Healthcare IT design, patient experience design, healthcare service design, and the very broad healthcare innovation. While we don’t have precise language for these contexts really, they do have distinguishing meanings that narrow the scope of both research approaches and creative prospects for each type of practice.

I chose a broad context in “design for care” as the more compelling value for design thinking in healthcare is not to improve technology and services, but to develop long-term partnerships with healthcare professionals in all the placements of IT and systems, human interaction, space and place-making, branding and communication. We can co-produce a philosophical perspective that grows design thinking within healthcare as a profession and as activity.

The book and this viewpoint celebrates problematizing more than “solutionizing.” I believe designers learn more from each other across the major sectors we work in (consumer, clinical, institutional, IT) if we understand each other’s problems more than cool solutions to past problems. The longer-term “wicked systemic” problems are where design thinking and organizational innovation will not only excel, but these problem systems facilitate the necessary design competencies to enable the analytical biomedical orientation to actually innovate.

My reluctance to solutionize may bother some designers looking for the carryover of solutions for quick wins. But there are plenty of cases, examples, and design/research methods to build one’s own solutions.

A recent discussion led to the following “alternative definition of design” from design professor MP Ranjan (Indian Institute of Design) who in 1991 wrote Ecology and Design: Lessons from the Bamboo Culture (Oita, Japan), a paper that could have been written this year given its social import and breadth of design concept.

Design: An Alternate definition

When I use the term ‘design’, I do not wish to refer to design as an elitist preoccupation but to design as a developmental activity, a powerful tool for economic and social development. The development of this definition of design represents the current state of art in the area of design as a discipline as we now see it in India and in our perception this interpretation can be used to improve the quality of our lives. Design as a multi-dimensional process and design as a strategy are quite different from the more commonly understood definition that covers the limited roles that designers play in the service of organized industry. Design as a discipline necessarily draws on a vast body of human knowledge that are appropriate to the task at hand to generate the scenarios that could be subjected to rigorous evaluation.

This is the design discipline I’m talking about in the book, a multidimensional approach to systems, services, and interaction that yields a more holistic and end-to-end process in the critical and everyday problems of healthcare.

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