Making the Case for Purpose Driven Design at HXR 2017

There are moments that stop everyone in their tracks. Even during two days of busy presentations around the importance of design in the conception and effectiveness of health care interactions.

Critical to that is never forgetting the real purpose of design, a point repeated again and again.

Then Amy Cueva, founder and chief experience officer at design agency Mad*Pow, highlighted her keynote at the fourth annual Health Experience Refactored conference with an intensely personal revelation of her “new” introduction to the sometimes cruel reality of human-driven design. Outlining how when she began as a designer, it was “at first about making things look beautiful, then it became making sure they worked well for the people using them.”

That led her to purpose- and human-centered design based on understanding motivations and behavior, not just emotions. And it became “crystal clear a few months ago when my father called, telling me my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.”

“Only when you face the health system day to day can you then understand the impact of the health system,” she said. “Combing the internet for information, while coming to grips with the fact you need to let her go.”

And there, as she quietly walked off the stage, was Amy’s mother on the giant video screen because she couldn’t make it to the conference room. Explaining she was a nurse, adding, “I was put on this earth for what I could do for others.”

But, “I think I kind of fell through the cracks…my chiropractor discovered my brain tumor, not the other (doctors).”

She drove home to 450 people captivated in their seats that they needed to focus on what is important to patients, the heart of the health care system.

“One doctor heard my husband say if a CAT scan came out well, we would get ice cream,” she said.

It didn’t.

But that doctor gave her the outcome, paused, and said, “What can I get for you.”

“Nothing,” he was told.

“No, you wanted ice cream” and he went and got some. “That neurologist saw me as a person, and it was the kindest thing he could have done.”

Earlier Cueva had made the point that “it’s hard to understand what it’s like to be lost in a system until you’re lost in it.”

Design can’t improve the health care experience “without a sense of purpose involving everyone – family, doctors, to designers.”

“Being a bad ass designer requires more than visual expertise,” Cueva said. “Modern innovations are not just shiny new technologies, creating pathways through the ecosystem.”

She cited the work done collaboratively at the Center for Health Experience Design to create an app for students recovering from addiction; helping to identify what void in their lives led to addiction.

She pointed out that Cigna and Samsung had collaborated on a health app pre-loaded on Samsung smart phones, and “when the companies reoriented around purpose, new opportunities arose.”


By: Karl Swanson, Amy Cueva

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