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A Designer’s Journey into Designing for Health and Healthcare with Lorna Ross — DT101 E45

Lorna Ross, the Chief Innovation Officer at VHI Health and Well-Being, discusses her career and work at DARPA, Motorola, MIT Media Lab, the Rhode Island School of Design, Mayo Clinic, and Accenture. You’ll learn about how her stellar design career unfolded, ways to get into designing for health, and system design in healthcare. Show Host: Dawan Stanford.

Show Summary

Lorna grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, where she studied textiles and fashion design, with the intention to have a career in the clothing industry. In the course of continuing her career in fashion, she approached her local bank for a loan and was told the bank didn’t give loans to designers. Realizing that she had few business skills, she returned to school, this time in London, where she entered an industrial design program with a focus on computers and technology. She had her first foray into wearable tech with a project where she designed a glove that was also a phone.

As she was finishing up her degree, Lorna was picked up by a research lab in Palo Alto led by Paul Allen, who eventually became a co-founder of Microsoft. This first job set the benchmark for the quality of the work environments she has looked for during her entire career.

At her first wearable tech conference in the early 1990s, Lorna was introduced to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) via a presentation by Dick Urban. Their work felt like science fiction to her and seemed radical and experimental, and she found it fascinating. At that same conference, Lorna gave a presentation and afterwards, was immediately offered a job at DARPA, which she accepted. Lorna worked with many of the big names in military manufacturing, where she reviewed programs, critiquing them from a user perspective.
After DARPA, she took a break before continuing her design work and her work in wearable tech at Motorola. She moved on to MIT Media Lab a couple of years later. By this time, Lorna had been working in wearables for ten years, and was wanting a new challenge. By chance, she attended a meeting about the healthcare crisis, and a light bulb went off and she knew she wanted to turn her focus and work to healthcare. Her attempts to push for innovation in healthcare led to her being asked to run the design studio at the Mayo Clinic. She has been a driving force of healthcare innovation for more than two decades now.

Learn how Lorna has been at the forefront of creating healthcare design and reforming the healthcare industry, and her predictions on opportunities for designers in healthcare. Find out why she believes that medicine will change before the healthcare system changes, her take on virtual healthcare and the need for immediate healthcare, and her thoughts on the melding of AI and human healthcare.

Listen in to learn:

  • How Lorna landed her first job in design at DARPA
  • Lorna’s view on why user-centric is one of the most important facets of design
  • What Lorna found out about the unpredictability of people’s behaviors
  • How she fell into her job at Motorola and why she left
  • Julian Vincent and his role as Lorna’s mentor at Media Lab
  • How Lorna became the “Florence Nightingale” of healthcare design
  • The future of AI and what role Lorna thinks machines will play in healthcare
  • Why our healthcare system needs to be more meticulous about, and value, documentation in the healthcare system
  • The role of system design in our healthcare system today

Our Guest’s Bio

Lorna Ross has thirty years of professional experience working on strategic design research activity, particularly in innovation lab environments. Over the past two decades, she’s held creative leadership positions in five innovation groups that span a range of industry sectors from technology to healthcare. Her career has thrived at the intersection of design, science, technology, and industry, and she’s an expert in planning, managing, and executing speculative research activity. She’s effective at building and managing creative teams within corporate and institutional cultures, with an in-depth knowledge of experience, service, and systems design methodology. She enjoys international recognition as a subject expert in this arena. Lorna has worked in both industry and academic environments and is proficient in the cultures, language, protocol, and conventions of both.

Show Highlights

[02:21] Lorna talks about her pathway to a career in design.
[06:18] Her journey from fashion design to working with Paul Allen.
[07:58] Lorna tells the story of the first wearable tech conference she attended in the early 90’s.
[09:45] How Lorna secured a job with Dick Urban at DARPA.
[11:39] Her experience working and living with Navy SEALS for six months.
[14:00] How she established credibility in an organization that didn’t see her as important.
[17:07] Lorna’s move to LA after she left DARPA.
[19:55] Her work at Media Lab.
[24:00] Lorna’s experience in a meeting for the Royal Academy for Health and her design “Aha” moment.
[27:58] Her experience teaching in India at the National Design Institute.
[31:13] The offer from Accenture that offered Lorna the chance to return to Dublin.
[33:28] The use of design and opportunities for designers in the healthcare space.
[38:27] Lorna’s predictions about changes in healthcare based on her experiences.
[40:00] Her thoughts on telemedicine, technology, and home-based care in healthcare.
[43:00] The future of AI and what role she thinks machines and digital spaces will play in healthcare.
[46:40] How we might interact with healthcare machines and AI in the future.
[49:53] The value of the Service Design Network, and in talking with other like-minded people working on similar problems.
[50:34] The problem in design of not sharing and exchanging information and insight.
[51:15] Comparing the design community and scientific community with regards to documentation of work and a collective intelligence.
[55:15] System design in healthcare today and what role system design should have in the current healthcare system.


Design Thinking 101
Fluid Hive Design Innovation
Lorna Ross on LinkedIn
Lorna Ross on Twitter
The Service Design Network
Fjord Kitchen Talks: Service Design in Health and Healthcare
SDGC14: Design as an Agent for Change in Complex Systems
Amplify Innovation: Re-designing healthcare
Inspirefest 2016: Making the invisible visible as a designer in healthcare
SDGC18: How technology is reshaping design and rewiring designers
RTÉ Ireland interview with Lorna Ross: Meet the inventors building tools for Ireland’s vulnerable people
Grand Designs: Lorna Ross
Why Design Ireland interview with Lorna Ross: Innovation Leader
Design Thinking Ireland Profile
Inspirefest 2016: Innovation is not about good ideas, but timing
Irish Tech News: Lorna Ross Explains Future Trends in Design and Ways to Design for Positive Change

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