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.

Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design

Scholarship: Published Research Award Winner

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer, Associate Professor, University of San Francisco (Editor)

I have taught courses in, and done research on sustainable design for over ten years. Throughout that time I was dedicated to pushing the notion of sustainable design beyond individual products to wider, systems perspectives where designers would be able to make more impactful changes in the future. While creating products from recycled materials or more “eco” options is a start, to make real change designers need to look at how to change consumption behaviors not just on individual levels, but as communities and a global society. This type of research goes beyond thinking about design as “object” to design as “experience” and requires using systems thinking, ethnography, future casting and other methods of critical inquiry. Having previously published in Routledge’s Sustainability Hub, and after serving as a peer-reviewer for the publisher, they approached me to develop a book on the topic for their handbook series on the topic of sustainable design.

The wicked problems we face in the climate crisis require more solutions than any one person can harness. Collaboration, interdisciplinary, and dialog are urgently needed. Part of my research portfolio is not just creating my own work as an individual researcher, but also working as a thought leader who organizes, curates, and facilitates the work of others working in sustainability to advance the field of sustainable design as a whole. This was my goal in deciding to edit and produce a new handbook.

In 2018, I published the Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design, making a significant contribution to the field of sustainable design and design pedagogy. Rather than produce an anthology of previously published work or repeat static ideas on sustainability in design, I took the opportunity to push the field to include this more expansive, systems thinking approach to sustainability. My proposal went through a double blind international peer review. As editor of the book, I took special steps to broaden the topics framing, and outline a new way of considering design for sustainability. My work became somewhat curatorial in developing a group of contributors whose collective strength would be more powerful than individual ideas. I sought authors beyond the design community, and those who represented international and diverse voices, coaching each contributor on how to fit their work into the overall narrative I constructed. I made a conscious effort to have more than half of the book be made of up women and people of color – something not seen in traditional academic design publications. Given that designers need to work beyond their own discipline chapters were also included from other disciplines including Environmental Science, Politics, Philosophy, Engineering, and others. The 36 chapters in the book represent an array of powerful voices and ideas, which collectively seek to address how designers can take critically and proactively take on design for sustainable change.

In addressing issues of design for global impact, behavior change, systems and strategy, ethics and values, the Handbook of Sustainable Design presents a unique and powerful design perspective.  The handbook has been well received in Europe and in the US, with testimonials from prominent researchers in the field. The book is used by students and scholars in universities around the world including Carnegie Mellon University, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), UC Berkeley, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, Oberlin College, Loughborough University UK, Cranfield University UK, University of the Arts London, University of Brighton, University of Oslo, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, TU Delft, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Queensland University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and of course the University of San Francisco.

Because of my role as editor and producer of this book, I have been asked to present and speak about the book and its concepts at conferences and events, attesting to its impact. This included: organizing and moderating Being Human in the Anthropocene: Understanding the Human in our Impact as part of Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit, organizing and producing the Compostmodern event series with AIGA SF, speaking on the panel Social Design in Tumultuous Times: Why and How to Publish About it at the AIGA MAKE Design Educators Conference, presenting Sustainability in the Visual Arts, Design, and Creative Fields at the national AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference.

See also:

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer is a design professor, artist and writer, whose work integrates technology, craft, and design. Her current focus is on sustainability and systems thinking as related to behavior change. Egenhoefer is currently the Chair of the Department of Art + Architecture, Program Director of the Design Program, and an Associate Professor in Design at the University of San Francisco, where she has taught since 2009. Egenhoefer is the editor of the Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design and a contributor to Routledge’s Sustainability Hub Believing in the power of education to move sustainable action forward, she has been a part of ASHEE’s Sustainability Across the Curriculum Program, and presented her work on sustainable design education at the AIGA Design Educators Forum, PALS (Partnership for Academic Leadership), the School of Visual Arts in New York, San Francisco Art Institute, and others.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2019.

Visualizing Mental Models

Joshua Korenblat
Assistant Professor
Graphic Design

State University of New York at New Paltz

Visual communicators can work at the center of ideas by understanding mental models. A mental model is an abstract representation of reality that enables thinking, understanding, and knowledge sharing. In his book Visual Complexity, Mapping Patterns of Information, researcher Manuel Lima identifies two broad historical trends in mental models: earlier tree-based models of knowledge, illustrated in the literal form of trees, shift into today’s more abstract, network-based models of knowledge.

As summarized by Raph Koster in his influential book A Theory of Fun for Game Design, thinking is pattern-matching against experience. Patterns are stored in memory as chunks of information. Most of the time, the brain works with these abstract chunks—a type of autopilot—rather than processing incoming information in detail. Poetry breaks us from the autopilot mode through vivid descriptions and figurative verbal language. Like a poem, a visual mental model can break readers from their autopilot mode by allowing them to examine their assumptions in a material way. These diagrams rely upon an elegant visual alphabet. Mental models appear in user experience research as affinity maps and user journeys. Or they can show systems, a set of interdependent parts, below the threshold of events and action. Ultimately, the most vivid mental models allow the reader to see a belief or story.

After presenting historic mental models, I’ll show a simple design case study for how to make a mental model, adapted from systems theorist Derek Cabrera. I’ll then discuss when to represent the model in an abstract way, and when it might benefit the designer to represent the model in a more illustrative way. Designers who wish to create vivid, shareable artifacts of our world can use mental models as a tool to enhance communication, conversation, and action with their constituents.

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