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Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL

Northwestern University design professor Greg Holderfield leads a "people first" during the "Healthcare 2.0 and Design Thinking in Healthcare" panel held during the Kellogg School of Management's recent "Transformations in Healthcare" conference in Evanston.

Insight by design: creative solutions for healthcare

by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
Nov 27, 2012


Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL

Panelists (from left to right) Maggie Breslin, Dr. Joshua Riff, Evren Eryurek and Larry Keeley tackle "Healthcare 2.0 and Design Thinking in Healthcare" during the Kellogg School of Management's "Transformations in Healthcare" conference.


Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL

Larry Keeley speaks on innovation through integration during the "Healthcare 2.0 and Design Thinking in Healthcare" panel.


Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL

Holderfield's energy and antics captivate the crowd during the "Healthcare 2.0 and Design Thinking in Healthcare" panel.

Healthcare by design puts “people first,” according to Greg Holderfield,  the director of Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute and co-director of its MMM (Master’s in Manufacturing and Management) program.

“It is a skill set that starts with you. Observing. Listening. Participating,” Holderfield said during a recent presentation.

Holderfield organized and moderated a panel entitled “Healthcare 2.0 and Design Thinking in Healthcare” as part of the Kellogg School of Management’s recent “Transformations in Healthcare” conference in Evanston. The panel brought together Maggie Breslin (designer at Smaller Sanities Design & Research), Evren Eryurek  (CTO of GE Healthcare IT & Peformance Solutions), Larry Keeley (founder and partner at Doblin) and Dr. Joshua Riff (VP of Clinical Retail Strategy at WellPoint) in a discussion about the role of innovative design in the future of health care. 

The panel was aimed at tackling issues such as the evolution and future of design thinking, the driving forces of future health-care innovation and ways in which the industry can balance good design with personalized quality care experience.

But a diverse audience of industry insiders, medical professionals and civilian business students, alike, demanded that a more essential question be answered first: what does design thinking even mean?
“Design thinking is a human-centered proposition—people first,” Holderfield said during the presentation.

“When we talk about design at Northwestern, we’re not just talking about objects or products. We’re talking about services, strategies, experiences,” Holderfield explained afterwards.

He described the movement’s philosophy as a process by which patient experience informs industry movement, stressing its basis on empathy, rather than sympathy.

“As you go through this journey, you’re really looking for opportunities to grab insights,” he said. “It’s a gawking challenge, but it’s one that we do that’s critically important.”

And while each speaker came armed with anecdotes from their experiences working within the design end of the healthcare world, each added a unique thread to the context of the design thinking narrative.
Breslin, for example, drove home the importance of teamwork and communication between professionals in different disciplines.

Eryurek praised the potential of patient-centric design to ease nerves and improve treatment experience.  Keeley and Riff preached the gospel of integration, with Riff focusing on the intersections of retail and healthcare and Keeley promoting the use of solutions combining a wealth of design considerations— from aesthetic appeal and tech savvy to human compassion— to solve problems within the health-care industry.

But while the talks were compelling, Holderfield — much like his panel of innovators — didn’t rely on a single-pronged approach to audience engagement.

Instead he, quite literally, took matters into his own hands.

“Hands in the air? Let’s shake ‘em,” shouted Holderfield, his campaign to loosen up his audience before introducing the speakers, the crowd meeting his request halfway with a well-intentioned mismatch of raised hands and confused faces.

“You’re shaking off your past,” he continued. “You’re going into a different world— a design-centric mindset, because design thinking is beyond toolkits, it’s beyond process. It is a mindset… of optimism.”
“Alright,” he then told the reinvigorated crowd. “You’re ready to go? Let’s do it.”

This contagious energy was further proof that his goal of redefining the rules of engaging consumers and colleagues creatively had succeeded.

Just ask Priya Raval.

“One of the strongest things I got out of it was to integrate… other processes and systems that are already well-established into a new sphere,” said Raval, a student in the Engineering, Design and Innovation program jointly run by the McCormick School of Engineering and Segal.

Despite this moment of inspiration, though, Raval said she was still “skeptical” about design thinking.
“I love the concept of design engineering… but I’m trying to figure out how it can be adopted in a larger corporate environment where the companies are large and already set in their ways,” Raval said. “It’s still something I’m trying to figure out.”

If the panelists’ fervor for deciphering difficult dilemmas is any indication, then Raval’s challenge might just be the industry’s next step to revolutionizing thoughtful design.