Making the Case for Design

Chicago City Hall Elevator ButtonI had a great meeting with George Aye, co-founder of Greater Good Studio today. I met him waiting in line together to get our passes to an Open Gov Chicago Meet-Up where he was presenting. His presentation at the meet-up began my research binge on design.

I’ve been guilty of using the term design to mean a well-thought out plan. The term “design” has been co-opted by a lot of agencies that win a lot of creative awards without necessarily solving many public health problems.

I learned from George that design doesn’t always equate with how things look. It really is about people and how they think and how they perceive the world. It’s about discovering what comes natural to people and how they comprehend the world around them.

Health campaigns create an output of deliverables and data but most start out “guns-a-blazing” as George perfectly stated to me. We need deliverables and we need to be accountable for good data, but we often start researching for our campaigns without design in mind.

“Form married with content” is what John Maeda presents in his TEDMED talk on “How can design principles lead to more discovery and better treatment?” He states that “design is defined by the desire of the users.” Brilliant. (Watch his video below.)

More often than not, we design campaigns based on secondary or desk research. The type of research where you sit in front of a computer and gather research online.

Primary research requires one to actually go out and discover things from the source. It’s tough and expensive, but we “make do” and “cross our fingers” and hope for the best outcome from our secondary research. That’s called gambling. As you know, probability has many outcomes. We can get lucky and succeed, but there’s also a good chance that we can become unlucky and fail.

Design requires knowing your public, not by studying what other people think they want, but discovering what the public needs.

I’m not going to do George’s great TED talk below any justice by summarizing it. Suffice it to say, I’ve added his insights on how to go forward building better public health tools.

Design starts with knowing your public and getting to know your public starts with talking with them.


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