Design Thinking X Medical Education: Empowering Empathy for Patient-Centered Care

An interdisciplinary collaboration to develop a series of interactive Design Thinking (DT) learning modules for medical learners

Hannah Park
Assistant Professor
School of Architecture and Design
University of Kansas

Blake Lesselroth, School of Community Medicine, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa
Maria Jose Cardona Giraldo, School of Architecture and Design, University of Kansas
Denise Chiao, School of Architecture and Design, University of Kansas
Kaitlyn M Jerome, School of Architecture and Design, University of Kansas
Arturo Erasmo Pinilla Perez, School of Architecture and Design, University of Kansas
Shant Thomas, School of Architecture and Design, University of Kansas
Jane Jarshaw, School of Community Medicine, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa

Empathy is a crucial trait for medical learners working towards their medical education competencies in (1) Patient Care; (2) Communication; and (3) Systems-Based Practice. Although medical schools typically teach about empathy during the preclinical years, research has shown that empathy erodes during the clinical years as a function of stress, fatigue, and a “hidden curriculum” that can foster emotional compartmentalization. Responding with an evidence-based and patient-centered plan that addresses the social determinants of health, future medical curricula must teach learners how to co-create solutions with their patients that address the needs and concerns of society at large.

In Spring 2020, a group of designers, a physician, and a medical student from two public universities chartered an interdisciplinary collaboration, Design Thinking X Medical Education, to develop a series of interactive Design Thinking (DT) learning modules for medical learners. DT is a methodology for creative problem-finding and solving that emphasizes empathy and a people-centered approach. The team hypothesizes DT can empower clinicians’ empathy and systems thinking ability to support the ethnically and socioeconomically diverse patient populations.

Through empathy-building intervention via DT, the project aims to enable the medical learners to (1) recognize their biases; (2) apply practicable skills to understand patients’ perspectives; and (3) use the feedback to deliver context-sensitive care. The final design deliverables of the project include teaching materials, evaluation forms, and instruction guides. By sharing the process and outcomes of the project, the presentation will showcase a range of DT strategies to prepare medical learners for supporting vulnerable populations. Furthermore, we will also discuss how DT education can attract non-design disciplines such as medicine.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.2: 109th CAA Annual Conference on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.

Designing for the Visually Impaired

Affordable accessibility design.

Min Choi
Adjunct Professor
San Diego State University
San Diego City College

Low vision is a part of the natural aging process, and we all have the potential to face it at some point in our lives. Though there are many exceptional high-tech devices to help people with visually impaired and blind, there has not been enough attention given to applying accessible design when creating affordable everyday products to benefit them.  The statistic shows that in the U.S., only around 30%1 of people with a visual disabilities are fully employed, and cannot afford to buy assistive technologies that may be awesome for them, but costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

To address this issue, I am researching how people with low vision could experience high-contrast colors and basic shapes with tactility at a reasonable price. In-person, human-centered design approach guided me to build a deep empathy towards my audience and explore design process and solutions that would help celebrate their disabilities.

A home product line incorporates high-color contrasts and tactility using universal symbols for people with visual impairment. It is an experiment to help them to be independent and empower their everyday activities those of us with good vision often take for granted—including eating, getting ready for bed, and getting dressed in style.

At its heart, we must identity what the audiences’ needs are—and the only way to create design solutions is to connect with those who will benefit the most. Design with purpose and function is beneficial for everyone—especially those with disabilities.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.2: CAA 2020 Conference Chicago on February 14, 2020.

A Peace of Mind: Design Research for Pervasive Healthcare

User Interface and User Experience in Industry Design education.

Hyuna Park
Assistant Professor
University of Kansas

Although User Interface and User Experience (UIUX) design has generally been taught as part of visual communication (VisCom) design education, its principles including human-centered approach and systems thinking can also complement the other design disciplines’ curricula such as industrial design (ID). A design department in a Midwestern state university has recognized an unexpected tendency; an increasing number of the department’s ID graduates becomes UIUX designers. In support of this non-traditional ID career path, the department initiated to integrate UIUX design into one of its required ID courses.

As a pilot project of this initiative, a group of ID students participated in a UIUX design project, Peace of Mind, which aims to provide pervasive healthcare products for people with disabilities. Pervasive healthcare refers to the remote healthcare monitoring and management system that removes locational and time restraints. The students had to understand their users’ lifestyles as well as the existing technologies to deliver the healthcare service successfully. This multifaceted project focused on design research methods including A/B test, convergence map, daily journey map, empathy map, prescriptive value web, and semantic differences, to gain a deeper understanding of the stakeholders’ needs.

Through this design project, the ID students designed various pervasive healthcare products including a smart lap desk for helping stroke survivors’ rehabilitation and a smart ring for a diabetic lifestyle in conjunction with a continuous glucose monitoring system. The students presented the project outcomes to the administrators of community engagement and telemedicine programs at the university’s medical center. By sharing the process and outcomes of Peace of Mind project, the presentation will address the critical attributes for successful UIUX design introduction to ID students. Furthermore, we will also discuss the benefits of integrating UIUX design into the ID curriculum and the challenges the educators may be faced.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.2: CAA 2020 Conference Chicago on February 14, 2020.

Price of Values

The purpose of this study is to inform advertisers, designers and consumers of our individual values, collective values and ethical standards.

Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna
Graduate student
Vermont College of Fine Arts

When stopped to consider the culture of the 21st century: Each morning, we hear a half dozen ads on the radio before our feet touch the floor. Staggering out of bed, we pass brand logos on our clothing and in our bathrooms. By the end of the day, hundreds – perhaps thousands of marketing messages would have targeted us, and yet so little is understood about how marketing affects our lives, our society, our world and most importantly, our personal values.

This research paper takes a hard look at the dangerous side effects of advertising – especially for women. The paper reviews how us women, who are biologically more vulnerable to alcohol than men, and who often suffer from depression and eating disorders, are more likely to seek connection to alcohol, food, and cigarettes, partly as a response to disconnection in our human relationships. The paper proposes that this disconnection is a sense of emptiness, and people who feel empty make great consumers. The text ponders on how this emptiness makes us turn to products, especially potentially addictive products, to fill us up, to make us feel whole.

Additionally, the paper deliberates the importance of responsible and empathetic design to make real, world changing, culture defining, values shaping difference. It discusses how every one of us designers in the advertising industry have an important role to play, and since the advertising industry played a part in building and setting in motion the wagon of consumerism and capitalism that is now diving us to the edge of the cliff, we should help solve these worldwide problems in a responsible and engaging way.

To demonstrate the observations, research, and opinions discussed in the paper, posters were designed in pop-art style because pop-art is not only drawn form mass media and popular culture, but is also “coolly” ambivalent. Whether that suggests an acceptance of the popular world or a shocked withdrawal is viewer interpretation – all with a sprinkle of parody.

The purpose of this study is to inform advertisers, designers and consumers that our individual values, collective values and ethical standards define us both as individuals and as people.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.3: Merrimack College on March 30, 2019.

10 Case Studies in Eco-Activist Design

Kelly Salchow MacArthur
Associate Professor
Michigan State University

Activism through design is especially timely, as the effects of climate change are becoming alarmingly obvious. Victor Papanek wrote in The Green Imperative, “Design must be the bridge between human needs, culture and ecology.”1 Armed with the powerful tools of visual communication, great responsibility rests on the shoulders of designers when conceptualizing and producing work—and presents an exciting opportunity to share one’s beliefs, and incite change within a broad community.

As a design educator and practitioner, I pursue creative research that aspires to catalyze empathy and positive action towards addressing climate change. Case studies will demonstrate various communication design strategies—humanistic appeals to reconnect with nature, statistics meant to instigate response, calls to action, aesthetic presentation of biophilia, concrete poetry, and community mapping for an ecological organization.

While such work has proven to be personally, conscientiously, and professionally enriching, the main ambition has been to relate to society in unexpected ways and affect change. As Eric Benson and Yvette Perullo write in Design to Renourish, “Designers as citizens have an obligation to be respectful to all fellow human beings and to the planet we share.”2 Through this body of work, I hope to contribute to (and sway) the ongoing dialog of environmental urgency that is often met with inaction.

  1. Papanek, Victor. The Green Imperative. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995. pg. 29.
  2. Benson, E. & Perullo, Y. Design to Renourish. Boca Raton, Florida: Taylor & Francis Group, 2017. pg. 115.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.2: CAA 2019 Conference New York on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

What Can Machine Learning Contribute to Empathy in Design? How to Build a Journey Map Using Big Data and Text Sentiment Analysis

Sarah Pagliaccio
Principal, User Experience Designer
Black Pepper

What can machine learning contribute to empathy in design? How to build a journey map using big data and text sentiment analysis.

Art and design are meant to reflect the world around us, show empathy for those we design for, and reflect the emotional state of our customers and target users. But how are we meant to empathize with situations that are unfamiliar or out of context? What happens when we over-empathize and project our own emotional states on our customers’ experiences? That’s where machine learning comes in. With enough input, we can use machine learning tools, specifically text sentiment analysis, to provide an objective score of our users’ emotional experiences. By feeding transcripts of customer interviews into a computer, we can remove our own subjectivity from our analysis and form a holistic picture of others’ needs and wants.

These sentiment scores can turn words into pictures, emotions into graphs, expanding our understanding of design goals and tasks.

Using Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a case study, we will talk through the emotional journey, i.e., the customer journey map, of major characters in the play using text sentiment analysis. A discussion of how these techniques can be applied to consumer application and website design will follow.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.1: DePaul University on October 27, 2018.

Experiments in Building Empathy and Revealing Bias

Rebecca Mushtare
Associate Professor Of Web Design & Multimedia
State University Of New York At Oswego

When left to our own devices, we unconsciously design for the audience we know best—ourselves. Although some traditional-aged college students have had travel opportunities or exposure to diverse cultures and communities, most still have limited life experience, which magnifies this tendency.  If inclusivity is an ethic we want our students to adopt as professionals,  we need to do more than read and talk about empathy and bias in the classroom. These values need to be embedded in our curriculum including how we frame assignments, the way we talk about design during critique, and our evaluation systems.

Overhauling an entire curriculum, or even a course, and starting from scratch is likely not an option for most faculty. Additionally, teaching empathy and implicit bias can be overwhelming for faculty who have not been trained,  and therefore do not have the language to confidently speak on the subject. What we can do, though, is make incremental changes in our classrooms that focus on raising awareness of assumptions we make and how our choices impact our audiences. Small changes can have real impact.

In this session, I will share the successes, failures and limitations of four years of experimentation and tinkering in the courses I teach combined with my own journey to become more aware of my blindspots and biases.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0: SUNY New Paltz on September 9, 2017.

Thinking Like a Forest / Ecological Empathy

Jason Dilworth
Associate Professor
Visual Arts + New Media
SUNY at Fredonia

Since 2013 our organization has worked to respond and understand the forest as an idea generator for the designer. Through a process of exploration, reflection,and action we investigate through objects and questions. We seek to understand how complex forests systems work and sometimes fail. Through our investigations we find connections to the communities and work to build global partnerships while also creating a better understanding of our local bioregions, specifically the forests that live around us.

The presentation will introduce our research into the material and design culture of historic New York utopian communities and how their ideas contributed to, or countered, the ideological thinking that forever altered the region’s ecology and economies. Additionally we will also present our work and research on the reforestation efforts happening in East Iceland and explain the role that design is playing in building community and government support for the effort.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0: SUNY New Paltz on September 9, 2017.

Racism Untaught

John O’Neill
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
University of Minnesota Duluth

My presentation will speak to the legacy of how the graphic design industry throughout history has reflected racism in mass communication, shaping the attitudes and behaviors of the general public.

Teaching graphic design students the racial impact of design is as important as instructing them in software or conceptual and visual form-making skills. Racial components are often overshadowed within socially conscious design, for example higher sustainability standards to decrease waste and pollution. If students learn how racism is experienced within mass media, they will gain greater sensitivity how their graphic work could perpetuate racial stereotypes.

My presentation will showcase how a higher sensitivity to racism provides a greater context for the way different cultures and communities around the globe can perceive the same visual messages differently. Students will also gain an in-depth sense of empathy and critical thinking, which can be applied to other aspects of their design skills, most notability through their use of UI/UX design principles as they design interfaces. Students need to have the same sensitivity to societal and cultural norms when designing content for the 21st century, no matter if it is print or digital media.

With the use of web 2.0 and social media, graphic designers can have worldwide audiences for their projects larger than what could have been possible before. Communities around the globe are becoming more diverse, which requires graphic designers to have the skills to recognize racism in all of its forms. By doing so, they will avoid provoking overt and subtle racism in the work they produce.

Graphic designers are no longer limited to promoting social causes in their work to evoke social change. Instead, they can be agents of social change by intentionally preventing racial stereotypes in mass media.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.1: San Jose State on Saturday, Sept 30, 2017.

How Hard Is It To Navigate A Rectangle? Harder Than You Think

Neil Ward
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Drake University

Wayfinding and signage are important pieces of a buildings structure and interior space, especially on college/university campuses. They provide a visual blueprint that informs students, administrators, faculty, and public visitors where they are and attempts to direct them to classrooms, galleries, labs, performance spaces, and offices. When the signage is missing, incomplete, or inconsistent, all who enter the space are left confused and quite possibly frustrated as they wander around. A missing/poor wayfinding system can intensify these feelings when an individual is mobility challenged and unable to use the stairs. Especially when the building in question is rectangular in shape.

This is a particular problem senior level graphic design students encountered during a Research and Application class in the Fall semester of 2016. Using photo ethnography, observational research, and visual anthropology, students learned and observed how and why visitors entered, moved through, and exited the Fine Arts Building (A building that is rectangular in shape). Based on their findings, students designed a wayfinding system for the building that heavily considered those who are mobility challenged.

An individual (we will call her Jane) from the Office of Student Disabilities, who is mobility challenged, volunteered to test the wayfinding systems. During the user test, dialogue ensued between both parties about what was missing, what could be done better, and what to think about for future iterations. Upon debriefing, students passionately discussed their systems and the building as a whole through Jane’s point of view. Experiencing movement through the building with Jane they unanimously decided the current systems are unacceptable for a campus deemed accessible. Furthermore, they were inspired by Jane’s encouragement and the notion of how their wayfinding could continually and positively impact a large audience.

“How hard is it to navigate a rectangle? Harder than you think” will feature project visuals, the unexpected drive to design for social good, and the issue of accessibility to inspire empathy through wayfinding.


This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.1: Kean University on Saturday, Oct 22, 2016.