Cards for Health Design to Build Empathy & Understanding




Post written by Joyce Lee, M.D. MPH


Designers understand the value of cards for facilitating and inspiring the design process. For example, there are the IDEO Method Cards to inspire design, the Mental Notes cards for web design, the Design Heuristics cardsfor sharing successful design strategies, and the Health Axioms cards for changing health habits.

Through our design work, I have been appreciating more and more the importance and utility of physical cards. They are tactile artifacts that have helped me focus, sort, and organize my ideas. But even more importantly they are incredibly useful artifacts that have helped me interact in meaningful ways with other humans.

I wanted to share two different card prototypes for design that have been created through our work at the intersection between health and design.


Cards for Humanity

Empathy Cards

Cards for Humanity were developed through our collaboration with the@T1DExchange and the @C3N Project to design a learning health system for type 1 diabetes. These cards were made for our 2nd Design Meeting and were the incredible work of @JustinAtSeek, @badshoe, @sixuntilme, and@TownMarissa.

Check them out at and here are some examples below.

cards for humanity


“Cards For Humanity was created by a small-but-mighty group of patients, caregivers, and clinicians who believe that empathy is the most important problem-solving force in the world, and wanted to apply it to the challenges of health care.

This is free, open, and we want you to make it yours. Download the cards and print them yourself; cut them out and start handing them out like a crazed blackjack dealer with a penchant for odd conversation. We even left blanks so you could write in your own.

When you try these, and go whole-hog. Don’t let people off the hook: walk out the whole exercise, and be sure and talk about the feeling of it afterwards…that’s where true empathy sets in.

Mostly, we hope these empathy exercises bring you closer, and compel you to solve together.”

Check out this blogpost by Kerri to learn about how we used the cards at thedesign meeting. The cards are downloadable here!


Diabetes Conversation Cards

Cards for Clinical Care

Cards-for-Humanity-Blog-PostLast summer, as part of our activities for, we sent some designers (Sam Oliver, Nick Reid, and Xiaoying He) to the Mott diabetes clinic to spend time with patients. As Xiaoying describes:

“When we were trying to work with the patients to identify problems and potentially design solutions for the clinic, we found that it was too time consuming to start from scratch with every patient. And it was also hard to explain what our team was doing in a short amount of time.

We realized that we could create a more intuitive and user-friendly method to approach this participatory design process. The solution came up as a card-sorting game designed for patients to sort out the most troublesome problems for them.”

The Diabetes Conversation Cards were therefore created.

Diabetes Cards

One day I decided to print them out and bring them to clinic. (It’s just like I’ve been saying; clinic is a design thinking problem every 15 minutes!). After entering the room, I gave my patients the stack of cards, and then asked then to pick their top 3 desired topics of conversation for the visit.

The cards were an incredibly effective tool to break the ice, start the conversation, and have a meaningful exchange with my patients.


They were even effective with the typically silent teenage boy! I also brought extra blank cards and a sharpie to make the process participatory and got fantastic new ideas from my patients (see below)!


Joyce Cards


You can download the cards here.



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