Henry Hong-Yiu Cheung: "From Artifact to Transformation"

The example Cheung used was a challenge from the Red Cross - how to get more blood donors? Part of the initial client briefing for the Red Cross was educational (teach a man to fish) in that it encouraged the client to reexamine or reframe their perception of the challenge. This shifted their thinking from "our competition is not other blood agencies, our competition is every other experience that prospective donors might consider when thinking how they can help others."

With that realization, the "experience" of giving blood becomes all important, and not just for donors but also for people working in the donor clinics. Cheung's team recognized that employee and volunteer morale was hurt when they had to work in makeshift donor clinics in church basements and school gyms. Likewise, donors had a poor experience because the ambience of the clinics seemed unprofessional, if not unhygiene.

The design solution was to create a portable work environment (nylon walls and enclosures) that could be setup and torn down quickly but offered a professional atmosphere appreciated by both workers and donors.

Cheung also talked about designing a new process to improve shift changes for hospital nurses. Once again, by reframing the criteria for defining success, better outcomes were achieved. The old system only looked at efficiency so nurses simply met at the nurses station and traded notes about each patient there. Cheung's system discovered that there is a positive impact on patients when they feel they are welcome to collaborate with their doctors and nurses in order to get better. So nurses moved their shift change discussions from the nurses station to the patient`s bedside so they could be included.

These new processes - the improved blood donor experience and the change to nurses shift changes - are artifacts. They are the singular results of the design work. Cheung`s Systems at Scale, however, is about the lasting impact on the health providers from working with the design team. They have learned how to think like designers and can extrapolate future improvements or processes from their new design template.

For some designers, this paradigm shift may come as a blow. It means they have to move from being a hero with singular glorious solutions to teachers who set (or simply suggest) directions. Instead of giving their clients a fish, they are empowering their clients to do more themselves. Anyone working in social media or open source development will understand immediately what`s going on. For would-be design prima donnas, however, it`s humbling to let go of ego. Welcome to the club.

Henry Cheung had a number of prescriptions on how to scale design for the future. Just to hit the highlights, he pointed to these considerations:

  • stakeholder dynamics - where are clients and market going?
  • macro-micro context
  • features thinking to benefits thinking
  • longevity of direction - how long will client stay the course?
  • empower collaborators - how much can you magnify impact by sharing?
More in this category: « A Canadian call for innovation war