Living on a farm is like having a free gym membership. And while I don’t mind doing the physical labor–even the shit-shoveling part is tolerable with my trusty respirator on–I’ve sustained persistent shoulder and back injuries that are slowing me down, and I now attend a physical therapy facility twice a week.
This has given me the opportunity to observe the design of a type of facility I’d never been in before. And it’s pretty good: The space is spacious, cheerful, well-sunlit without admitting glare, and overall resembles a tidy gym without the smell and the bro vibe.
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My wife has accompanied an elderly neighbor to two different local hospitals. Even in these rural parts, she reports, the hospitals are designed like resorts: Sunlit central atria, clean modern furniture, expensive-looking surfaces (marble and wood, possibly simulated) that are spotless without appearing antiseptic or institutional.
These things don’t happen by accident; they happen because the healthcare industry is now paying a lot more attention to design than they were twenty years ago. It makes sense, then, that some design schools should start offering healthcare-specific programs. Startlingly, none do–except the University of Texas at Austin, which has just created a Master of Arts in Design in Health program, the first of its kind in the nation.
The one-year degree program focusing on the application of human-centered design in health is offered jointly through the School of Design and Creative Technologies in the College of Fine Arts and Dell Medical School‘s Design Institute for Health. Applications are now open until May 2020. The program will start August 2020.
“The Design in Health Master’s degree was uniquely constructed so that Dell Med students and innovative professionals could work collaboratively to solve real-world problems that impact the health and health care of millions of Americans every day,” said Doreen Lorenzo, assistant dean of the School of Design and Creative Technologies. “Learners explore the many facets of design to creatively design solutions that revolutionize the way people get and stay healthy.”
I am encouraged to learn that they’re not focusing purely on the design of healthcare facilities which, while important, are not where the end user spends all of their time interacting with the system. In other words:
As Dell Med charts a revolutionary path to health—one that shifts the focus beyond clinical care to include all the ways people get and stay healthy within their communities—it presents the unique opportunity to reshape the U.S. health system through human-centered design. The Design Institute for Health is leading the charge by addressing critically important health factors across the spectrum of conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, and taking a systems design approach to encouraging collaborations across sectors that were not designed to work together.
That last bit is perhaps the most encouraging. I think our average non-American reader would be shocked at what we go through here just to pursue basic health insurance needs. I started to type out one of my personal examples, but it became too depressing and is detracting from the positive point of this entry, which is the new program.
The Master of Arts in Design in Health aims to educate students in these four areas:
– Design research methods to better understand the needs of people who are seeking health, receiving care and delivering care.
– Ideation and creation skills to generate new approaches for better care systems.
– How to prototype, test and iterate solutions based on measuring impact and results that matter to patients.
– Techniques to craft compelling and persuasive experiences, stories and systems that can be used widely distribute innovations across systems of health.
Knowing what I know now, if I had to do my career over again, I might’ve pursued this particular Masters rather than spending over a decade designing plastic things that undoubtedly wound up in the ocean. The design opportunities in health are not only manifold, but have a much more clear impact on the wellbeing of society. I hope that this program becomes a success, and one that’s emulated.
You can learn more about the 10-month program here.