By Amy Heymans, Founder and Chief Experience Officer, Mad*Pow

As the 10th annual Health Experience Design (HXD) conference approaches, we’re reflecting on what makes this event unique, and how it’s sparked real change in the health ecosystem. HXD is a two-day event that attracts more than 500 health visionaries -- people from health, design, technology, business, and government – to create solutions to the challenges of today’s health system. Its mix of inspiring presentations, workshops, and discussions is unlike any other conference, in part because it’s diverse, engaging, and interactive.  

HXD asks attendees to engage in a new way, considering issues from different perspectives. Even though this kind of engagement might make people uncomfortable, it’s why HXD attendees return year after year.

How HXD Got Started and Became What It Is Today

The first HXD welcomed 250 attendees to Boston for two days of panel discussions and presentations. While the gathering was small at the start, it was immediately clear that this conference was going to be different than others. Our event had a mission: bring a diverse group of people together to figure out how to make health and healthcare better. Attendees left that first conference inspired to take action, and upping that level of inspiration has been our goal every year since.

Over the last decade, we’ve explored complex issues, problems, and ideas. We’ve had compelling speakers like Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who spoke about the opioid crisis, and Sara Holoubek of Luminary Labs, who discussed how to balance innovation and ethics. We’ve had unique presenters like Mad*Pow’s own Dustin DiTommaso, who leads the industry in behavior change theory, participatory design, design thinking, and agile behavior-based personas for better designs. HXD was the first conference that challenged its attendees to take on topics like health literacy, human-centered design and the patient experience, social determinants of health, and the intersection of health and finance, to name a few. As we look ahead to the 2020 event, HXD continues to press on these enduring issues, while also exploring new innovations.

How Our Attendees Make HXD a Success

HXD attendees make real connections with others, and many have told me that coming back each year feels like a reunion. I hear amazing stories of lifelong friendships, new business alliances, and even exciting job opportunities that came about as a result of HXD.

Best of all, HXD attendees are there to be engaged and inspired. They are ready to participate; so, we’ve created an atmosphere where they can do something with all that motivation. Our focus on participatory design gives everyone an opportunity to be heard – especially those who often go unheard and may feel undervalued. At HXD, a clinician can make a meaningful connection with a designer, and a healthcare policy advocate can trade ideas with a technologist, no one is left out.

Part of creating this environment is drawing people out and getting them to engage in unusual ways to break the ice. We’ve used puppets, yoga, meditation, and more to engage HXD attendees – way before those things were cool. This is especially helpful, as our audience itself is diverse in nearly every way you can imagine – occupation, age, gender, race, religion, nationality, and life experience. Bringing these folks together and asking them to share their perspectives and consider other’s experiences is no small thing. But in the end, convincing the academic medical researcher to be open to the perspective of the cutting-edge designer often inspires groundbreaking ideas.

How HXD’s Impact Reaches Beyond the Two-Day Conference

One example of HXD’s real-world change is the Design Challenge launched by Mad*Pow, Health 2.0 Advocates, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at HXD 2019. Entrants had 6 months to develop real solutions that improve health, not just by focusing on health and medicine, but also by taking a new look at the fundamentals of everyday life. The contest challenged creative thinkers to envision how design and technology could reshape how we eat, sleep, move from place to place, socialize, and entertain ourselves so that everyone can lead healthier lives by default. Mad*Pow received 25 highly detailed, thoughtful entries, and winners were announced in October 2019. [Find more information about the winning entries.] These real solutions could lead to better health for all, and it all started with HXD.

How HXD Will Shape the Next Decade

When HXD 2020 reconvenes on April 14 and 15 at The Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, MA, we’ll be there, excited to see what the second decade brings and how our attendees will create a healthier world. For the first time, we’re inviting participating organizations to be a champion of real-world change by launching a custom design project that will incorporate the expertise of other HXD attendees. We believe HXD can be the spark that ignites a health revolution, and we want everyone to be a part of it.

Amy believes that design can help improve the human condition. It was with that mission and vision that she founded Mad*Pow in 2000 with Will Powley, and together they've created an award-winning agency that takes a purpose driven approach, partnering with clients to deliver social impact and financial return.

Amy plays an essential role in Mad*Pow’s visualization of a changed healthcare system in the United States. Her work with organizations like Dartmouth Hitchcock, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and CVS has helped them improve the customer experience, leverage design to drive change, and facilitate human-centric innovation. As the chief instigator behind Mad*Pow’s Healthcare Experience Design Conference, HxD, and the managing director of the Center for Health Experience Design Amy has successfully connected and networked disparate parts of a challenging and siloed system.