How do we approach designing a solution for an unmet need in type two diabetes care? In the short time that we’ve shared together thus far, we’ve discussed at length the principles of human-centered design. To a large extent, we’ve adopted human-centered design as a framework upon which to guide ourselves in the coming year. In order to be diligent about our use of design thinking, we’ve also debated the risks that might be involved in said methodology.
One article that formed the basis for a lively discussion was a 2010 piece in Fast Company by Bruce Nussbaum entitled “Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?” The article dives into the failures that some Western designers have encountered in attempting to solve problems in Eastern cultures and developing markets. The main sources of these failures are a lack of understanding of the culture for which they are designing, as well as a failure to effectively engage users within the community. These, we think, stem from overconfidence in the process without internalizing the philosophy behind the tactics.
When human-centered design is poorly implemented, it is at best ignored by the local users, and at worst offensive to local communities as patronizing or paternalistic. Nussbaum uses the high profile One Laptop Per Child program as an example of the latter case, though I suspect the former case is significantly more common and a greater risk to our own design work. Although the focus of our efforts is not at the international scale, per se, the pitfalls identified by Nussbaum remain as we address a disease that disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic communities.
So how do we design a solution that patients will love, providers will recommend, and payers will finance, while still avoiding these traps? We’re inspired by a recent conversation we shared with Dr. Joyce Lee, whose organization, healthdesignby.us, hosts design workshops and hackathons for patients as a means through which to surface hidden patient insights into improving the state of their care. The past couple weeks support using this approach as we have discovered that diabetes is a complex social problem that is as much a disease of the family and community, as it is the individual. As such, a successful solution will likely be one that rises up from the minds of members within the community, as opposed to a top-down solution that is prescribed from a far.
While we’re several months away from performing this in the Ideation stage of our design process, for now we’re seeking to improve our understanding of the daily struggles of patients with type two diabetes through a two week long simulation. For this, we’ve each received unique patient profiles from MedStar Health’s Institute for Diabetes. The rationale behind our simulation is to walk a mile in our target users’ shoes before setting out to improve their daily interactions with the condition. While not possible for every design challenge, we believe this simulation is essential to our design process and will aim to publicly share our experiences over the coming weeks for those interested. Stay tuned!