Friday, 26 June 2009

Design at the Health Innovation Expo, London 18-19 June 2009

The other week I attended the Department of Health's Health Innovation Expo. Among a sea of shiny hospital gizmos, five design companies exhibited at the NHS Institute's Design Zone and Workshop space, showcasing what design could do for service innovation and improvement in health.

Here's what the expo's website read:

Today’s designers are expanding their domain by using innovative design methodologies and techniques to redesign public services and address the social challenges imposed on society. We believe that building the knowledge and skills to use this type of design as a strategic stimulus to healthcare innovation will help the NHS tackle some of the challenges around our ageing population, chronic disease, health inequality and rising public expectations, especially in a time where the global economic downturn will aggravates [sic] existing pressures on our health system. At the NHS Institute we’ve worked and learned from this new breed of ‘designers’ translating their techniques to empower the NHS workforce create the high quality and personalised services.

The five design companies which exhibited were: Engine, thinkpublic, We are all, live|work and impact innovation. See some photos from the expo below.

Image from Thinkpublic website

Alongside the showcase, both days held 30 minute workshops by all the design companies so attendees of the expo could interact and experience design methodologies in action.

All the workshops were really different in delivery and lots of fun. There were interactive exercises to get us thinking about challenges and pitching ideas, models that helped explain clearly how design could be applied in a health context, experiencing the design process live and a focus on key design methods such as prototyping.

I got a really positive feeling from the workshop attendees who ranged from commissioners to doctors to trainers in health. The showcase and workshops demonstrated to them how design brings a different perspective (or a different way of seeing) of how health services can be developed, designed and improved. This different perspective is both people-centred and creative ie. services are developed putting the people, not a piece of technology, at the centre of its development. It's also a creative process which can bring loads of new and different ideas and also be fun.

Equally as important is prototyping. Before services go live, design gives a space for testing and developing the service before its launched. I met a few workshop attendees and one of them told me about how he developed a service, only to launch it and find no take up. He mentioned that this was the "hard way" of learning that the people who will use and interact with the service, need to be part of its development. We also talked about prototyping his services, and he was in attendance of all the workshops so I left most of the conversation on, 'what is prototyping' and some examples of its effectiveness up to the designers.

I know some of the design companies have been present at health expo before, but being able to see them at the Health Innovation Expo and hear the feedback they were getting, was incredible.

I think the feedback the designers got at the expo is something to really illuminate here. According to them, the interest and positive feedback, has been unlike anything they have experienced at previous expos. I asked one of the designers what had changed. They mentioned government policy. I also suspect that it is also the ever-growing evidence from projects that highlight the potential for design in new and different areas, such as health.

The expo was great insight into the efforts of both designers and their clients in bringing design into the third largest employer in the world. The designers have such an immense commitment to innovating design practice by applying it to a new and different area such as health. And the collaborators and/or clients, in this case the NHS Institute, really do support the fact that design has something valuable to offer beyond posters, chairs, fashion etc.

I think design and designers are at a timely opportunity to really demonstrate and show how design can offer something valuable, beyond just how things look, to many other disciplines. I believe there will be exciting times ahead, and that we really are working toward breaking down old perceptions of what design is and can be.

For other postings on the Health Innovation Expo see:


julia said...
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julia said...

hi lauren!

we didn't get to speak at the expo but really good to read your article! how is your phd getting on?

i think it's a very interesting time now that the public sector is really waking up to the value of service design. i have recently left Engine and joined the NHS Institute as their first service designer and was impressed to see how much they're starting to fully embrace and embed the service design approach internally from within. we used the expo to continue building a collaborative network of service designers but are also starting to expand our internal expertise and capacity to help the NHS transform and redesign their services. i think there's a big change happening were service designers can now fully move into the public sector realm and not just work from within a design agency - very exciting albeit challenging!

I recently met some designers at HM Revenue, and they apparently created a network for 'civil service designers' - interesting! will let you know when i find out more.