So, what is human-centered design?

So often we at CFI are asked about how we work, what exactly is human-centered design, how do we use desing-thinking, etc...

Recently, a nice blog was written after an interview with Dana Ragouzeous, one of the designer/researchers at the Center for Innovation. I asked if we could share it on our blog, and Kristi (the author) enthusiastically approved. I hope you enjoy this little insight to how we work. Originally posted @

Collaboratively Designing for Health: An Interview with Dana Ragouzeos, Center for Innovation, Mayo Clinic

Patient-centered. Active. Human-centered. Evidence-based. Experience-based. What do they all these design principles have in common? People. More specifically, users of a tool or environment who should hold center stage in the design process.


For some, such an argument is core to their work. For others, it is tempting to consider these ‘design trends’ to be just that – faddish and newcomers to the design and construction world. But as healthcare systems face spiraling costs and rapidly growing patient populations, they will continue to focus on how the built environment to not only enhance the speed and efficiency of clinical processes, but also generate wellbeing for all those that participate within it.

At the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation (CFI), experience, evidence, users and activity come together in their embedded design teams and processes. Embedded in the Mayo Clinic, but existing autonomously from all other departments, the Center for Innovation occupies a unique space of its own, collaboratively completing more than 100 projects focused around three primary goals: Redesigning Practice, Community Health Transformation, and Care-at-a-Distance. To date, its projects with its Mayo partners include innovations in healthcare delivery via digital communication platforms; community health care; patient safety in hospital intensive care units; redesigning exam rooms, electronic medical records, medical devices; and more.

We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dana Ragouzeos, a designer with CFI, on the eve of their annual Transform conference,  which gathers together some of the finest, most innovative minds in healthcare to explore the contours of how healthcare can be. Here are some of the insights she kindly shared with us:

First, Dana explained to us that user focused/centered or human centered design, “…is about putting yourself, the designer, second, leaving yourself open to be surprised, to be taught. Yes, we come to the table with years of training and experience, with preconceived notions, with some really great ideas. And in some cases those ideas find their way into the final design, but only once they’ve been fully vetted through the needs of the people who will ultimately interact with and rely on what it is you are creating. Design training, at its best, cultivates empathy, and in user-centered design that empathy is our most valuable tool.”

She reminded us “…there are parts of the patient experience that have not changed for decades or that have changed in surprising ways. There are reasons for everything, and there is a lot of history with many stakeholders attached to it.” In patient-centered design especially, “…we have to constantly remind ourselves to not just address the needs of the patient, but their hopes, dreams, desires, and goals. It is easy to lose sight of that in medicine where it is crucial to identify and address the needs of the patient in the most timely and accurate manner.”

Then, of course, there is the role of the care team. Dana continues, “ …no one has all the answers in medicine, and no one person has all of the answers designing for medicine. An intelligent team to rely on, that will listen and contribute, is critical. Successful communication and teamwork are difficult and have to be practiced, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.” A holistic, collaborative design process, such as the collaborative design process Neenan engages in with its clients, and the process used by CFI at the Mayo Clinic, requires the needs of all stakeholders to be identified and integrated into the design team.

Finally, as Dana points out, “The most sustainable healthcare solutions are those that recognize and address the integration of people, information, and systems in a nimble way.” Having partners in the design process who are open to experimentation and take a systems-wide view of the project is critical. Change in healthcare moves slowly as it works through tensions of standardization and flexibility in both physical and process design. It is, therefore, critical for all those involved to have a vision that transcends short-term, specific goals. For a building to stand the test of time, it must be able to evolve with the needs of all those who inhabit it. It must strive to imagine present and future needs at the same time.