Catalyze Innovation that Advances Health

Design Thinking

Girl and stickies board

Design is often referred to as a plan to get from the current state to the desired state. Design Thinking encompasses the cognitive processes and tools that allow us to accomplish this in an effective manner.  How can design thinking lead to innovation in healthcare?

The MedStar Institute for Innovation has produced a web-based course with videos from leading experts from the field of Design Thinking. The videos explain in detail what design thinking is, how to conduct design research and prototype, and how to apply these skills to challenges in health care.  The course was produced by Doug Solomon (Senior Fellow at MI2), Mik Pietrzak (Senior Fellow  at MI2), and Brittany Singhas-Weinberg.

MedStar has developed this course in design thinking for health professionals. The course is available to all MedStar Associates by contacting us here. If you are a nonprofit interested in using this course, please submit your request here.

 The first step in designing a user-centered solution is to empathize. Defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, empathy is a useful tool for innovators who seek to create a solution that is both novel and relevant to the end user. The Health for America (HFA) at MedStar Health Fellowship, the first of its kind,engages four young professionals in distinctive learning experiences centered on health, design, entrepreneurship and leadership. It challenges them to create an innovative solution for chronic disease care. HFA blog posts tagged with design showcase the importance of design thinking to the fellows’ learning and experience, as well as the health solution they deliver during the 11-month program.

Each year the fellowship starts with an exploration phase that deeply immerses the fellows in understanding the assigned chronic health problem. A key activity of the exploration phase is simulation. Grounded in the principles of design thinking, HFA simulation activities are tailored to build the fellows’ empathy for the patients and/or survivors with whom they will design their solution. For the 2016 to 2017 program, the HFA fellows were challenged to create a novel solution that improves stroke care. The creative simulation experiences they developed are described in a report which we hope will inspire other healthcare professionals to create and conduct their own simulation exercises as a means to further encourage patient-centered care and innovation.

  • Design and Thinking
    A fun 2.5 minute video by Muris Media to give you a sense of Design Thinking
  • What is Design Thinking?
    An overview of the Stanford/IDEO concept of Design Thinking

The Process of Design Thinking with David Webster, Partner, IDEO

Putting it all together -- David Webster of IDEO describes the overall Design Thinking process. He is joined by Steve Kinsey, Director of MedStar Inventor Services and our Course Guide Brittany Weinberg to discuss how inventors can leverage the IDEO Design Thinking process to catalyze innovation in the healthcare environment. IDEO is a leading design and innovation consulting company.

This session reflects on the parallels between the IDEO process and our work at MedStar.  However, some key differences exist.  For example, at MedStar our designers are our frontline people and often have the “empathy” (user understanding) needed to begin the design.   The discussion helps identify some differences and clarifies how to apply Design Thinking in healthcare.


Thinking with Barry Katz, Fellow, IDEO

Success in design is rarely achieved without understanding what made others succeed (or fail) in the past.  The rich history of design thinking and its impact on the industrial age provide abundant examples. Barry Katz, a renown expert of Design Thinking and author on the subject, explains how Design Thinking as we know it today was developed over a century ago when designers were innovating approaches to the new age of mass production. Barry, who works with IDEO, California College of the Arts, and Stanford University, provides insight into the definition of Design Thinking, the drivers for the emergence of design thinking and lessons learned from history.


Brainstorming with Doug Solomon, IDEO Fellow and Senior Fellow at MI2

Doug Solomon pulls us into the world of brainstorming - an important way that design thinkers generate ideas – lots of ideas. 

Brainstorming, when structured properly, can be applied as a tool generating ideas addressing a design problem. Though not a panacea, it is a supplemental tool to quickly create numerous ideas for consideration. Doug Solomon explores individual and team brainstorming – providing an understanding of the advantages of different techniques. A special focus on methods used at IDEO will guide innovator through this process.



Design Research with Lucie Richter, IDEO alumna and Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts

“Did anyone ask the people who would be using this?” A question we seem to frequently ask ourselves. One of the most important parts of the Design Process is the early informative research that is (or should be) accomplished before product or service design begins. This process informs the fundamental “empathy” for the projected users of the intended product. Great products and devices reflect a true understanding of the users.

Lucie Richter was a key member of the IDEO team designing medication delivery systems for insulin dependent diabetics and also patients with severe arthritis for the pharmaceutical industry.  Her expert insights will enhance your ability to gain important information for the design process through keen observation and interview techniques. Her vignettes of real cases bring key points to light.


Design for Behavior Change with David Featherstonhaugh

Can design thinking make a difference to our patients? David Featherstonhaugh provides key insights for the application of design thinking to behavior change including:

  • How to even start thinking about designing for behavior change?
  • How behavior change and design thinking relate?
  • How to effectively measure behavior change?


Rapid and Nimble Prototyping With Andre Yousefi, Co-founder, Lime Lab

Andre Yousefi shares how:

  • Prototyping is informed by design research and brainstorming.
  • Rough prototypes made from rudimentary materials have multiple advantages.
  • 3D printing from CAD programs has transformed rapid prototyping and is likely to be even more of a factor in the future.

Although this session is focused on physical prototyping, we will learn that prototyping can also be used for many other nonphysical things, such as concepts, software, movies, processes, and problem-solving in general.


Prototyping – Beyond the Physical with Kara Harrington

Prototyping is a key element of the innovation process. It allows us to see and sometimes feel something tangible and helps us communicate ideas. Prototyping is not only for physical objects, but also for project ideas, services, software, and other nonphysical products – such as the “story board” before filming a movie. Kara Harrington discusses the application of prototyping techniques focusing on non-physical concepts. 



Resources on Design Thinking