Using Social Innovation, Design Thinking and Co-Creation Research Methods for Solving Real World Challenges Facing a Top Ranked Children’s Hospital

Presented by: Ann L. Black, Blake Lane

The healthcare industry is experiencing unprecedented change and reinvention. The Affordable Care Act, increasing competition for funds and the democratization of healthcare are just a few of the factors currently influencing the design of products, services and systems in the healthcare industry. Each of these factors produces design challenges that can directly impact the optimal patient experience – the ultimate goal for healthcare providers – and opens a space for designers to begin visualizing opportunities to create better solutions for the healthcare industry. In 1973, Rittel and Webber identified problems addressed by designers – as opposed to natural science problems – as “wicked problems” or problems that are ill-defined. (Rittel and Webber, 1973: 155-169) They defined wicked problems as a “class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.” Some characteristics of wicked problems include no definitive formulation, no stopping rule, and solutions not being true-or-false but rather good-or-bad. Each design problem is essentially unique and is considered a symptom of another problem. These problems (or design challenges) do not have one right answer but an array of possible solutions. If design problems are wicked problems, what is the best way to approach possible solutions in healthcare – especially when dealing with medical professionals who are accustomed to approaching problems that have a definitive answer? In order to connect medical professionals to design thinking methodology, a non-profit organization utilizes Social Innovation, Design Thinking and Co-Creation Methods through a partnership with institutional sponsors to create successful and collaborative design solutions. These research methods are gaining popularity and prominence as successful problem solving approaches where “the person who will eventually be served through the design process is given the position of ‘expert of his/her experience’ and plays a large role in knowledge development, idea generation and concept development.” (Sanders and Stappers, 2008:12) Medical staff and patients partnered with this non-profit organization are embracing these methodologies and internalizing these methodologies in their own labs and practices. This unique, academic-industry innovation center was founded in 2007 by a public university and fortune 500 company. The non-profit has completed 50 projects, involving greater than 500 students from industrial, interior and graphic design disciplines, over 40 faculty and 15 corporations and healthcare providers. Interdisciplinary student teams conduct user centered research and development of products and services for living well across the lifespan with an expertise in the 50+ market place. Successful projects that follow the 15-week academic semester using a Design Thinking Process Model will be shared in this poster session.


  • Adams, M., Maben, J. & Robert, G. (2013). Improving Patient-Centred Care through Experience-based Co-design (EBCD): an Evaluation of the Sustainability and Spread of EBCD in a Cancer Centre. London: King’s College London.
  • Rittel, H. W., & Webber M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences 4, 155-169.
  • Sanders, E. B. N., & Stappers, P. J. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. Co-design, 4(1), 5- 18.
  • Sangiorgi, D. (2011). Transformative services and transformation design. International Journal of Design, 5(2), 29-40.
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