Using designerly ways to think about care

Policy changes, ageing society, rising costs and digitisation… these are just a few of the challenges the healthcare sector faces today. As the complexity of the system and services increases, regular problem-solving methods don’t fit anymore. When Vilans, a knowledge centre for long-term care, realised this, they wanted to introduce Design Thinking to their organisation, and asked us at STBY to help them with this.

A different way of thinking

How can you teach business-minded thinkers to think in a ‘designerly’ way? This was the main challenge we faced in this project, as Design Thinking is not just a trick you can learn, and it’s not just about the popular set of Design Thinking tools available. It’s about thinking in a different way and developing new skills – in a sense it’s more like learning a craft. Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused, and action oriented. At Vilans, most employees have been trained to work systematically, following a linear process. We aimed to introduce a new way of thinking, a new process, and new tools.


Learning, trying, doing

We introduced Design Thinking knowledge and skills in different ways: a bit of theory, a lot of practice, and some trying out and coaching. During the training, knowledge and skills developed gradually; theory and exercises at the beginning provided background knowledge and a chance to try it out. As we coached them in some of their projects, we helped them in Design Thinking by doing it together. Now, we are helping them to develop their own toolkit, with their own Design Thinking tools so they can really do it on their own.

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Redesigning briefs

Vilans’ development as an organisation began with the awareness of the limitations of their current approach. Employees gradually familiarised themselves with the Design Thinking approach, and were willing to learn and experiment. For some people it was easier to adopt than for others; the uncertainty involved in creative open-ended processes can be difficult for some people to get acclimated with. It was also a shift away from how employees are used to collaborating with clients; at Vilans, projects often start from well-defined briefs such as, ‘Develop a questionnaire to…’. With this training, Vilans had the opportunity to readjust their strategy, redefining the questions of their clients and reformulating them into a broader design brief. More open-ended design briefs will help them to use their newly acquired Design Thinking skills and tools to more effectively go after their clients’ problems.