CFI Strategist Lorna Ross: Designing for “extreme and extraordinary preferences”

Lorna Ross’s design career has been an interesting journey spanning more than 25 years, with stops in the world of fashion, wearable technology and, most recently, health care. Currently serving as Director of Design at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation, Ross was a featured speaker at Dublin’s Inspirefest 2016, an international festival of technology, science and the arts. Drawing on her broad professional experience, Ross shared several key observations about the challenges of working in design and the role of design in health care.

Patients and health care professionals have ‘extreme and extraordinary’ preferences and needs. Learned through her work with Department of Defense clients, Ross noted that this maxim is essential to understand when working in health care.

Persistence is important. If you are not a scientist or a medical professional, you have to start out building up a reputation by working at the edges of the health care industry in order to gain access as a designer.

The built environment reflects rituals that are reinforced every day. One of Ross’s first impressions of Mayo Clinic was the degree to which the organization and the space it occupies is “hallowed” and highly ritualized.

Watch the patients who are not doing what you want them to do. According to Ross, these examples of “deviant behavior” are invaluable opportunities to see the system exposed and identify its efficiencies or inefficiencies.

Make the invisible, visible. One of the reasons designers are valued at Mayo, said Ross, is for their ability to help make the elements in a system visual or tangible. This process helps people make decisions more objectively.

Not all tech tools are created equal. Ross described an example of a tech tool that created efficiencies in one area, while driving up costs and complexity in another. Designers should be mindful that good tech tools reduce burden, improve efficiency and reduce complexity for both patients and providers.

We must hold ourselves accountable. Ross closed her talk by reminding the audience that design and technology are really about “amplifying the voice of the end-user.” Given that change and disruption often accompany innovation, designers should not forget the needs of “the innocent bystanders” who will be impacted most.

Watch Lorna Ross at Inspirefest 2016: Making the invisible visible as a designer in healthcare