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Designing for Healthcare vs Sick Care + The Emergency Design Collective — DT101 E52

Nick Dawson is the co-organizer of the Emergency Design Collective. In today’s episode, we talk about healthcare innovation labs, how to think about opportunities in healthcare, healthcare versus sick care, and launching the EDC to support the COVID-19 response. Show Host: Dawan Stanford

Show Summary

Nick Dawson grew up with a father who worked in healthcare and hospitals. As he entered college, he was convinced that he absolutely didn’t want to work in the same field. But the technology used in the local hospital intrigued and interested him enough to accept an internship in the IT department there. While immersed in how hospitals work, Nick discovered his interest in complex systems and their challenges. His internship turned into a lifelong career that led him into design and innovation for healthcare.

While working as a healthcare performance improvement consultant for a large healthcare conglomerate, Nick needed to travel frequently by air. During his business travel, he witnessed a failing airline’s poor treatment of its employees; this was the nascence of his interest in the idea of re-designing healthcare’s patient and staff experiences. He realized that experience is something people and organizations must always create with intention and thought, and something that must be centered on those who are living and working in the experience.

Experience design, healthcare and the ability to wrestle with complexity drives his work. Examples include designing the Johns Hopkins Sibley Innovation Hub, and his recent co-founding of the Emergency Design Collective, which focuses on re-thinking how we approach healthcare, helping businesses and organizations design their work spaces to support the health and wellbeing of their employees, and on creating a “public health design” core curriculum.

Listen in to learn more about:

  • The challenges of designing for innovation in hospital environments
  • Designing the Johns Hopkins Sibley Innovation Hub
  • The unique collaborative aspects of clinical hospital teams
  • Creating a flexible work environment and power dynamic in teams
  • The “product” of healthcare
  • How everything in our life is connected to, and has an influence on, our health
  • The social determinants of health
  • The Emergency Design Collective and its work
  • Ways to rethink how we work and function in order to design for good health

Our Guest’s Bio

Nick Dawson has been at the forefront of bringing design innovation to healthcare. He started and led the design innovation program at Johns Hopkins before joining Kaiser Permanente to lead innovation nationally. Nick chaired the Medicine X program in the Stanford school of Medicine until 2019 and worked with the Obama White House to bring patient-centered design to policy making and healthcare priorities. In April 2020, Nick left KP to co-found the Emergency Design Collective — a group of doctors, designers and public health experts using design to respond to urgent public health crises.

Show Highlights

[03:00] Nick’s start in healthcare and design.
[04:19] Nick discovers his interest in complex systems problems.
[04:28] How a hospital is like a miniature city.
[05:23] Nick’s witnessing of an airline’s financial failure leads to a revelation about experience.
[09:00] Learning from and listening to patients about what they need and want from their healthcare.
[10:57] Why it can be challenging to innovate in healthcare.
[11:29] Why healthcare is a risk-averse industry.
[12:05] Nick’s focus on re-centering the work from the hospital to the communities, patients, and staff it serves.
[12:51] Advice for overcoming people’s resistance to change.
[13:31] The dilemma of how to help people embrace change and innovation instead of resisting it.
[15:00] How hospital staff reacted to the launching of the Johns Hopkins Sibley Innovation Hub.
[17:15] Nick talks about building the Sibley Innovation Hub team and working to create a welcoming space.
[18:27] The unique characteristics of teams and teamwork in the clinical hospital environment versus the management side of healthcare.
[19:39] How Nick disseminated power among his team members.
[21:59] Nick’s thoughts on the “product” of healthcare.
[22:50] The concept of a social needs emergency room existing upstream of clinical emergency rooms.
[23:05] The interconnectedness of every part of our life with our health.
[23:20] The social determinants of health.
[24:18] What it means to design “upstream” of healthcare.
[27:23] Some opportunities for people who want to act and serve not just in response to the current COVID-19 crisis, but also in the future as systems begin to change.
[28:07] The Emergency Design Collective and the “new normal.”
[28:27] Nick’s thought on education and how it might change.
[29:15] What might happen if every corporation started to think of itself as an H corp and prioritizing health?
[29:30] How the current global pandemic is potentially re-shaping the way we think about health.
[31:15] Ways the EDC supports purposeful business and space design with a focus on good health and wellbeing.
[33:40] Resources Nick recommends on design, innovation, and healthcare.


Nick on LinkedIn
Nick on Twitter
Emergency Design Collective
Personal Website
Innovation as a requirement for success in healthcare
An Everyone Included Design Story
TEDMED Interview with Nick from 2014
Ward Infinity
Book Recommendation: The Experience Economy, by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore
Book Recommendation: The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, and Jake McKee
Book Recommendation: Org Design for Design Orgs, by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner
Book Recommendation: 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization, by Vijay Kumar

Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Adding System Awareness to System Design to Your Innovation Stack with Julie Guinn — DT101 E43

Designing Health Systems + Creating Effective Design Workshops with Sean Molloy — DT101 E44

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

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