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Healthy strategy

Every two weeks Wolff Olins’ strategists invite original thinkers, makers, and doers to share their observations, predictions, and advice about the changing world around us.

Last week we welcomed Lenny Naar, a designer-come-strategist with a passion for healthcare and plenty of inspiring ideas about the value of design thinking to modern medicine.

Lenny recently set up Prescribed Design, a digital platform for “firm believers in the power of people-centred design to radically transform healthcare”.

He’s also a design strategist at Helix (the Healthcare Innovation Exchange), a partnership between Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art that places designers at the heart of the NHS’s St Mary’s Hospital in London.

Helix provides a space for medical practitioners and designers to meet and solve everyday design-based problems. Lenny’s work there is all about applying design thinking to problems that matter to people.

Here are 5 things we learned from him about healthy strategies for doing just that:  

Design and strategy are friends not foes:

Consultancies are used to splitting strategists and designers into different communities. But when you look at what design thinking actually entails, you start to understand the two groups’ shared commitment to thinking problems through and fixing them in ways that really work for people.

Helix’s combining of designers and strategists into a single team proves that though the two groups have different skill sets, they share certain principles that should bring them together more often than most projects usually permit.

Empower partners to turn thoughts into actions:

There is a difference between getting partners to share their thoughts on a challenge and really making them really part of the problem solving process. Helix uses space to bridge this divide. They operate out of a large, distinctive “box” just outside the entrance to St Mary’s Hospital. This set-up not only signals their presence to the whole organisation, but also creates a destination for individual medical practitioners to start to fix the design-based obstacles they face every day. Rather than emailing an idea or nipping down the corridor, hospital staff must leave one environment and enter another.

Alongside dial-ins, workshops and Slack channels, a mutually convenient and permanent space could be the key to better engaging our partners in the act of solving problems.

Discover scale in the details:

Strategists often observe that the smallest detail can make the biggest impact. But faced with tight budgets and big targets hospitals are under particular pressure to solve complex problems in simple ways. Helix recently designed a text message system to solve the costly problem of patients missing their hospital appointments. Texts of different lengths, saying different things, using different words prompted very different patient responses, with hugely different savings implications for the NHS.

When it comes to making a real impact on the world through our work, attention to the smallest detail can be more powerful than thinking up the biggest idea.

Share your tools:

Every day, strategists use all sorts of problem-solving tools, only a fraction of which wind up in the content we share with our partners. One increasingly important tool is the user journey, a map of steps representing a scenario in which a user might interact with the thing you are designing. Helix recently developed a user journey to help hospitals improve patients’ experiences of hospital care, which can be intimidating and confusing for people battling disease or injury. Rather than using the user journey as another project input, Lenny’s team used it as an output, and shared it with the hospital as a complete and ready to use tool for smarter patient care.

Realising the immediate usefulness of tools like these, and sharing them with our partners sooner, can accelerate our impact and make more of our work more quickly.  

Pace yourself:

In the time that one problem can be quickly solved, others can only be better understood. With this insight in mind, Helix has three approaches to different types of problems. “Dashes” design solutions to relatively simple problems in just a few days. “Sprints” work out how to solve more complex problems in a few weeks. “Projects” uncover central truths about critical problems over a month or so.

Being honest about the complexity of different issues can make teams of problem solvers more efficient with their time and more productive in their work.

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Zami Majuqwana is a Strategist at Wolff Olins London. Follow her @ZamiMagic