by Thomas Brandenburg
Our work is understanding people, services, interactions, and experiences, but the underlying idea is that we are striving to make things better for people and I’ve found that telling stories helps connect people to the why we are doing what we are doing.
What issue related to service design thought leadership is most interesting to you?
At Mayo Clinic we have amazing access to the practice and to patients which gives us a huge opportunity to run experiments to test new ideas. Over the past few years I have started to get interested in really understanding experiment design and measuring the impact on the overall system. From a design perspective our experiments can be simple and quick, such as making a paper prototype and having providers use this with their patients for a week while we observe. Other experiments can be higher resolution, for example we did one experiment where we recruited over 100 specialists to be “on-call” and show real-time availability through a prototype. Other providers could then use this prototype and see who had micro-availability when their expertise was needed by another provider.
As we continue to do more and more experiments, we are starting to understand what works and when, but it is also interesting taking both of the above examples to look at experimentation from a systems design perspective. Of course we want to measure the immediate impact of an experiment, but we also need an understanding that if we change one part of the process, we can influence a complex system in an unexpected way, which may be visible, but often is not. From a service design perspective I want to push this more to see the connections while running experiments and recognize their impact when it is not readily apparent.
What skill(s) should a budding service designer have in his or her back pocket?
The ability to tell a story and create empathy.
In service design we need to communicate; with stakeholders, end-users, team members, executives, and so on. Each of these groups needs a designer to connect them to the work and I think the best designers not only do this objectively, but they do it in a way that creates empathy. Our work is understanding people, services, interactions, and experiences, but the underlying idea is that we are striving to make things better for people and I’ve found that telling stories helps connect people to the why we are doing what we are doing.
One example I’ve had recently was connecting with patients outside of Mayo Clinic. Through conversation, we learned that what they said to their doctor was different then their future plan. This story became the cornerstone of the project as it was told in a way that uncovered the information but with empathy for the women, meaning they were doing the best they could in a non-optimal system. Mayo leadership, who we were working with, started to refer to this as “the coffee house story” as it became the driver for the new design.
What reading material (articles, books, blogs, etc) would you recommend reading?
I try and stay connected to what is going on in the world and keep up-to-date in the health care industry. The New York Times is my go to source to keep current as well as some weekly periodicals. From a health care perspective I am currently reading Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book titled ‘An American Sickness.’
Staying up-to-date with world events benefits me as a designer because you see how everything is connected; whether it’s politics, technology, the environment, or the economy, and bringing these connections to my work helps me see a bigger landscape and how the work fits in.
How would you describe your work style?
My background before working at Mayo Clinic was in design research so I tend to gravitate towards creating frameworks to anchor the work. I also like to collaborate with teams but definitely do some of my best thinking “pushing pixels” around to take a deep dive. I also try to keep a team actionable and on-scope which is probably a hold-over from my consulting past. I think in many industries, and health care is one of them, that it is easy to be intimidated by the complexity of the system which can paralyze a team.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best advice I have been given is to ‘just start’ which aligns with my work style. In design school we were told to create 3D prototypes early because there is only so much drawing or sketching that can represent an idea. In service design it is similar, there are limitations to conversations, co-creation workshops, or journey maps and it is best to try something out with end users to test a hypothesis.
Bonus question, “What is your best ninja skill?”
Interviewing. In an hour I can make you laugh, cry, and realize things about yourself you never knew and eventually you will tell me your deepest secrets. Currently I only use this for good, never evil.