A Better Way to Health Care Reform: Is There a Designer in the House?

A “dream team” of designers could improve America’s ailing system by focusing on health care as a series of meaningful, user-centered experiences.

health care town hall

As I watch the debate over health care reform, I’ve begun to see clearly how designers can create a solution that wouldn’t be such a bitter pill for so many and would help quiet the level of disagreement currently being experienced by so many.


Here’s how my plan would work.

A top-tier design “dream-team,” comprised of members from our industry’s leading firms would be brought in by the administration to fully leverage their ability to understand the range of complex issues and transform them into meaningful, relevant “experiences.” Market segments would be profiled and personas constructed of not only patients, but health care providers, insurers, and other industry participants. While these personas would initially review demographic market compositions, they would go deeper, identifying pleasure and pain points of various health care experiences. Day-in-the-life and week-in-the-life scenarios would help us uncover previously overlooked elements of the problem.


The current emotional uproar has revealed that the debate over health care is about much more than mere economics alone. To be certain, much of the positioning relates to financial exposure. But when you listen to the town hall meetings, you hear the debate is supercharged with emotion. Understanding those emotional needs of the various stakeholder constituencies is what will make it possible for designers to design positive experiences from process, financial, and emotional perspectives.


By employing a full designer’s toolkit of methodologies, designers would understand and analyze our health care system and arrive at insightful solutions that go beyond logistics and economics.

Channels of delivery and engagement of health care services would also be examined. This should include the traditional doctor’s offices, urgent care facilities, emergency rooms, and hospitals, and then push further to include emerging centers of wellness, including homes, workplaces, gyms, grocery stores, and restaurants. For, truly, these are the frontlines of health care where the decisions we make everyday can have a meaningful impact on our individual and collective well-being. In this way, we would help establish the U.S. as a thought leader and contributor to global wellness.


Then, a comparative competitive analysis would dive deep into both the economic and experiential efficacy of health care systems around the world. What cautionary tales can help steer us clear from making things worse? What positive lessons can be learned?


Clearly, we’re already too far into the process to start from to the beginning–at least for this round of reform. But there is still time to instill a sense of order that can be agreed upon by all groups. We’d start by identifying the groups themselves and key triggers for all based upon emotional persona type: The Doubters, The Caregivers, The Fearful Fighters, The Blindly Optimistics, The Realists, and so forth. From there, emotionally relevant stories and experiences would be crafted to communicate and connect with the each group. Design, in the form of communication design or storytelling, will target the transformation of a bad situation into a range of positive experiences for all.

It’s true, bringing in design to try to fix things now is a little like trying to treat a patient who hasn’t visited the doctor until after he has pneumonia. However, design, like the best health care systems, can offer effective solutions both at the early preventative stage, as well as in the intensive care ward. With a top-tier, bipartisan design team supporting the White House, all interests of each stakeholder group can be addressed, problems solved, and great advancements realized.

[Photo of Town Hall Meeting by Bart Everson; Man Relaxing by Ed Yourdon]


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Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design.


Since founding RKS nearly 30 years ago, Sawhney has earned a variety
of top honors in the design industry, and assembled a client list that
includes HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss, among
many others. In the process, RKS has helped generate more than 150
patents on behalf of their clients.

In 2004 Sawhney was named chairperson of the Industrial Design
Excellence Award program, where he created the IDSA/BusinessWeek
Catalyst award for products that generate measurable business results.
Most recently, he was named Executive Director of Catalyst to direct
its evolution into a program to develop case studies illustrating
design’s power to effect positive change.

Sawhney also invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design
strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study. He is
a regularly featured lecturer at Harvard Business School, USC’s
Marshall School of Business, and UCLA’s Anderson School of Business,
where he teaches this business-driven design tool.


In addition to RKS, Sawhney has played an integral part in the
founding of several other businesses, including Intrigo, an innovative
computer accessory company; On2 Better Health, a health products
company; and RKS Guitars, best known for its reinvention of the
electric guitar.


About the author

As the founder and CEO of RKS Design, Ravi Sawhney has spent more than thirty years at the forefront of product and technology innovation, and has grown his industrial design consultancy into a global leader in the fields of strategy, innovation and design. While leading RKS, Sawhney has helped generate more than 150 patents and over 90 design awards on behalf of his diverse list of international clients, and his work has been featured on the cover of Business Week’s best product design issue