Designers in Healthcare – Agents of Change

  • 2021

  • Social Impact

Commissioned By:

Satyan Chari

Designed In:


For the last year, designers and design researchers from the QUT Design Lab been agents of change in healthcare. In partnership with consumers, clinicians and leaderships teams across Queensland Health, we have worked to disrupt the system and co-create positive, design-led change, to improve the experience of hospitals for all.

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Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 1: Co-Designing the future of care, in Rockhampton, with clinicians and consumers
Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 2: Maniquin With Boobs
Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 3: Child-Friendly PPE Prototype, with lights highlighting eyes and emotion
Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 4: Identifying barriers to change, and then using play Money to vote for winning ideas
Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 5. HEAL Symposium, 13 May 2021 - 120+ clinicians talking and thinking change by design in healthcare
Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 6: Visual Sketchnote, by Simon Kneebone - documenting the Symposium on 13 May
Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 7: Visual Sketchnote, by Simon Kneebone - documenting the Symposium on 13 May
Image: Designers in Healthcare - Agents of Change 8: Sharing fears, myths and hopes about future of healthcare, in West Moreton
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  • Increases in costs, rates of chronic diseases, and an ageing population is placing Australia's high quality healthcare system under pressure. In response, the sector is increasingly turning to designers - design thinking and design-led innovation as a tool to trigger and facilitate change. Clinical Excellence Queensland commissioned QUT Design Lab to put designers - design thinking, design doing, design Visioning and design futuring -into hospitals across the state, working collaboratively with consumers, clinicians and strategic leadership teams. The brief was to add a design lens to support 20 existing locally-led initiatives, across 7 Queensland Hospitals and Healthcare Services.

  • All our projects applied a participatory design approach, human-centered methods, research prototyping and co-design methods to enable the Design + Health collaboration. Our collaboration emphasised 'designing with, not for', recognising that health services users (consumers and staff) are the experts. Our design solutions are involved: (1) design sprints and research prototyping informed the design of prototypes of child-friendly PPEs. (2) multiple participatory co-design workshops, journey mapping new models of telehealth, the future of healthcare, and how spatial design supported (or not) staff and consumers in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, as well as playful wayfinding through themed murals.

  • Our Designers in Healthcare project has had significant social impacts transforming how consumers, clinicians and strategic leadership teams across Queensland Health approach problems. With a focus on 'design doing' and rapid cycles of prototyping, testing and solution iteration, clinical teams have unlocked new ways of thinking, doing, improving and co-creating. From PPE and manikin prototypes to playful wayfinding and new models of telehealth, the success of this partnership has deeply integrated design disciplines and expertise into healthcare - positioning designers as agents of transformative change.

  • What distinguishes our Designers in Healthcare project is the diversity of design disciplines, methods and approaches, combined with the reach of the projects across Queensland - from telehealth in Cairns, to creating connections between dispersed hospital sites at West Moreton. Our human-centred approach to collaboratively redesigning healthcare is grounded in design thinking, design doing, and design visioning. In addition to "design thinking", our distinctive approach extended that to "design doing" (co-creating and enacting design-led change initiatives), and "design visioning" (future-focussed scenario-based speculative design). Designers from experiential design disciplines, of interaction design, systems design and visual communication, delivered projects centred on virtual care. Designers from the spatial design disciplines, of architecture and interior architecture, proposed design solutions for hospital wayfinding and placemaking, reminding us all that how a space is used evolves over time. Designers from the industrial and fashion design disciplines delivered research prototypes: a child-friendly PPE design, a low cost interactive female CPR Manikin (with breasts) for community training, and a pain-assessment device to support rapport building in paediatric care ER. These research prototypes were use as tools for end-user and partner engagement, and to support the design thinking process of healthcare innovation for quality improvement.