Welcome to the Design Thinking podcast! I’m Dawan Stanford, your host. Jess Roberts joins me today for a conversation about the designer’s role in healthcare, problem-finding with healthcare experts, the importance of the design studio in his work, and design thinking in public health. Jess leads the Culture of Health By Design initiative of the Minnesota Design Center at the University of Minnesota. He also holds faculty appointments at the University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing and School of Public Health.

After receiving a master’s in architecture, Jess found that the practice was incredibly technical and had very little to do with his education in the field. He also found that he had very little space to practice problem solving, because what he did was just responding to decisions that had already been made. He realized how much more useful what the did would be if it occurred at the beginning of the decision-making process than at the end.

Jess realized that he didn’t want to be an architecture at all, but wanted to put his valuable training to good use. He stumbled across design thinking, which put a language to what he had been doing. After landing an appointment that involved human-centered design, Jess found himself surrounded by naturally skeptical epidemiologists. Tune into the episode to learn about how this worked out for him!


In this compelling conversation, you’ll learn about the importance of using design at the right stage of the process. Jess will also explore one of the greatest fallacies of innovation: that great ideas just suddenly pop up. We’ll talk about the process of design (and why it is a process rather than a toolkit), what he’s most excited about working on right now, and much more.

Learn More About Today’s Guest

Jess Roberts on LinkedIn

In This Episode

[01:44] — Jess kicks things off by talking about his journey into his design practice, and explaining his struggles with architecture.

[06:38] — About two months into Jess’ appointment at his position, the only person who knew what human-centered design is left.

[08:36] — We hear more about how Jess made what he does more relevant to his audience in this position.

[15:48] — You should always start with what is known, Jess points out, and explains that design opens the question of “what could be?”

[18:29] — Jess digs more into his experience of learning to think about design as more than just building.

[22:09] — We hear about having moved into an interconnected, virtual realm of mass customization. Jess also talks about the importance of figuring out what people want or need, and three key insights into parents.

[30:28] — At the end of the short engagement that Jess has been describing, the project was terminated.

[31:30] — Dawan takes a minute to talk about the outcome and unpack some of what Jess has been saying.


[32:09] — What was it about the new evidence that allowed for a shift and reframing of what needed to happen?

[34:51] — Jess points out that too often, design is used to sell or convince stakeholders that an approach or product is necessary.

[36:25] — Dawan chats about the problem space and the solution space. Jess then talks about one of the greatest fallacies of innovation.

[41:08] — We hear about the three key spaces that people operate in within Jess’ line of work.

[46:14] — Jess talks about the process of design.

[50:46] — Dawan brings up the topic of the role of the designer, and how that role adapts itself to the context.

[55:06] — We hear more about Jess’ thoughts on sharing the role of designer with the community.

[58:01] — In the work that Jess is currently doing in public health, what is he most excited about?

[60:22] — Where can listeners learn more? Are there any resources that Jess would recommend?

[63:44] — Jess shares some closing words of wisdom for listeners.

Links and Resources

Questions, thoughts, comments? email hidden; JavaScript is required (Dawan Stanford)

Email Jess: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Jess Roberts on LinkedIn

Minnesota Design Center

Design Thinking 101 Episode 6: Problem Spaces, Understanding How People Think, and Practical Empathy (with Indi Young)

Rethinking Design Thinking on Huffington Post by Thomas Fisher and Jess Roberts

A Design Thinking Framework for Healthcare Management and Innovation by Jess Roberts, et al.

Biggest Threat to Health? Solving the Wrong Problems on Huffington Post by Thomas Fisher and Jess Roberts