May 19, 2022 1:14 am

Can design be good for health? Yes, and here are several examples

The contribution of the design ecosystem to the health crisis It constitutes perhaps one of the least visible pieces of the pandemic. The projects and solutions that the community of designers has contributed in recent times are the result of processes that were accelerated by the virus and that, day by day, have more chances of remaining valid. The urgency to solve global health problems It doesn’t just come down to successful vaccination campaigns. There are also other aspects – emotional, psychological – to consider in order to improve the patient’s experience and their quality of life during the course of treatment.

Design and Health is the book that compiles design actions in governments, companies, universities and the third sector of countries such as Argentina, Australia, the United States, Spain and Mozambique, among others. Its author is Mariana Salgado, an Argentine industrial designer who has lived in Helsinki (Finland) for 22 years. During 2020, Salgado interviewed 25 leaders from different disciplines with the aim of making their contributions to the healthcare field visible and mapping out the challenges facing design in this context.

The urgency to solve global health problems is not only reduced to successful vaccination campaigns. There are also other aspects – emotional, psychological – to consider in order to improve the patient’s experience and their quality of life during the course of treatment.

From Boti, the city’s automatic response chatbot from Buenos Aires, to a Catalan communication system that promotes the well-being of patients and accompanies them during the preview of a study in unfriendly waiting areas. In addition, a sensory cart to promote artistic activities in a hospital in Melbourne, Australia, and a system of infographics published in the USA Today newspaper.

Salgado works in the design of public policies oriented to migratory problems in the Finnish Ministry of the Interior and leads the Podcast Design and Diaspora, in which he rescues experiences of his discipline linked to social action. “Showing specific cases is the way of saying that as designers we can do more than infographics and signage. We can also explain the design of services, the area in which I work. We designers speak in idioms, we say words in English and we take certain things for granted, we have a thousand fillers. In this book we explain everything”, he advances.

The compilation crosses landscapes and borders to land in global and local territories at the same time. Each case is a separate universe, an anchor to the uses and customs of each reality. The construction of the story highlights collaborative and replicable formats, ordered by areas: Women and motherhood; Chronic diseases; Epidemiology; Sanitary system; and patient welfare. The book functions as a toolbox with approaches, methodologies, and perspectives developed before, during, for, and by the pandemic. That surely, in the future, they can be transformed into a post-pandemic model, a collection of strategies that bet on connection and solidarity. In fact, the online version of the book is free, and is published with common creativity licenses ( from the Goteo platform, an open network of crowfunding that allows financing social innovation projects.

When just a few weeks ago the results delivery system collapsed during the start of the first wave of COVID, everyone was talking about it. El Boti, the chatbot that interacts with the residents of the city via WhatsApp, gave thousands of users the thumbs up, eager to know if they were positive or not.

The digital conversation platform that emerged on Whatsapp in 2019 adapted to the demand and resumed its function: that of generating a dialogue channel that allows speeding up procedures of all kinds, providing citizen services and even telling jokes. Designing the way machines communicate is the job of Emiliano Cosenza, user interface content writer, consultant, and teacher. For the author of Design and Health, “the tone and trust, care and personality of the chatbot are some of the reasons for the success of this service.” From the UX company BeBot (user experience, in English, user experience in Spanish), Cosenza edits the content and “tries to keep the bot calm in a very dynamic context. The objective is to decompress the already saturated health system, the great risk of Argentina. And help contain as much as possible and provide official information in times of uncertainty. It is important that everything is checked”, says Cosenza in the interview. Among the keys to developing a chatbot linked to Covid-19, the editor suggests determining a specific personality, establishing a clear purpose with respect to the community to which it is going to be directed and not overwhelming: “Focus the message well and guide the user little by little. That is design”, he concludes. The success of Boti, which has been operating since 1150500147, is one of the pillars of the Department of Innovation and Digital Transformation of the Buenos Aires government, which places July 2021 as the peak month of conversations, with more than 5,200,000 exchanges.

Inputs made by the FabLab of the University of Nariño (Colombia), with 3D printersKindness

The Charlotte valve impression, a component used in the respirators of patients with Covid-19, was developed in the FabLab (digital manufacturing workshop) of the University of Nariño, the Colombian municipality of the department of Antioquia. The director of the Master’s Degree in Design for Social Innovation, Carlos Córdoba Cely, highlighted the needs and processes to determine recyclable and biocompatible polymers. Thus, they developed valves with antibacterial PLAactive, an innovative filament provided by the Red Makers, an international association of thousands of volunteers who develop designs for homemade protection materials, hand in hand with those printed on 3D machines. These initial valves were able to meet the demand of hard-to-reach health centers. “Interdisciplinary and network work is key. In our case, we work with electronic engineers, architects, health professionals”, highlights the industrial designer. And he adds that the developments of the university laboratory are available with open licenses. “This type of democratic production and on a more human scale teaches us that there is a transition towards a new way of manufacturing and greater creative autonomy. In the future, this situation also leaves us with an approach to health as a matter of collective good. With new production models that break with inherited structures”, says Córdoba Cely.

Signage with encouraging messages for radiotherapy patients in a hospital in Lérida, Spain
Signage with encouraging messages for radiotherapy patients in a hospital in Lérida, SpainKindness

How to deal with problems that go beyond health in medical centers was the axis of the project that focused on the feelings of loneliness, overwhelm and anguish experienced by patients during the radiotherapy process at the Aranu Hospital in Vilanova de Lleida (Lérida, Spain). ).

Lara Costafreda, Catalan clothing designer, and illustrator at the La Panera Art Center in Lleida (Catalonia) investigated what happened during hospital stays. “Design can help detect and solve problems that go beyond what is strictly clinical,” he points out. To design the strategy, doctors, patients, relatives, technicians and students were summoned. The lack of psychological support during the processes was the trigger for the strategy. “Patients resorted to Google a lot after consultations, an action that generated misinformation and increased stress,” recalls Costafreda. Among the creative solutions, they developed a website with frequently asked questions, information panel systems and reformulated the dark and gloomy spaces of the waiting rooms into bright and colorful sectors. The key: the messages that accompany patients throughout the journey, from the moment they enter until the end of the radiotherapy sessions. “You are not alone” or “Don’t worry, they will help you get into the treatment machine” (the procedure requires pinpoint precision), are some of the phrases that improved the quality of life of patients.

Signage with encouraging messages in the radiotherapy sector of the Aranu Hospital in Vilanova de Lleida (Lérida, Spain)
Signage with encouraging messages in the radiotherapy sector of the Aranu Hospital in Vilanova de Lleida (Lérida, Spain)Kindness
design and health
design and health

Colombian designers Juan Sanin and Melisa Duque designed a sensory cart that facilitates artistic activities in the psychiatric ward of the Bendigo hospital, 150 kilometers from Melbourne, and optimizes the work of occupational therapists, while reducing medication, isolation and Restrictive patient interventions in cases of violent episodes. Sanin works on the open design of the model, so that anyone interested can download the plans from the internet, buy the materials and build the structure. “More than measuring the success of a project, we have to open ourselves to understand that things are unpredictable and that everything is relative. It is a matter of tolerance and coexistence with difference,” says Sanin, a member of the Emerging Technologies Research Lab, which focuses on the quality of life of older adults. It investigates how smart technologies are appropriated by a group of adults between 73 and 93 years old together with a team of ethnographers and in collaboration with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT).

design and health
design and health

The Spanish infographic Javier Zarracina He is graphic director of USA Today, the newspaper of the United States with national reach. The tools that contribute to processing the information and sizing up the situation of the pandemic accompany the journalistic news. Maps, graphs, statistics and diagrams. Visualizations and comparisons. A universe of factors that intersect and that graphic tools facilitate understanding. From graphics to explain symptoms or clarify health guidelines to step-by-step instructions on how to act in the event of close contact. “Visual journalists use the same checking procedure as graphic journalists, the only thing that changes is the way we present the information. Our task is based on presenting scientific and truthful data and, at the same time, denying rumors and falsehoods. Chen there is an epidemic, truthful information is a public health good, must be taken with a lot of responsibility”, explains Zarracina. And he anticipates that USA Today is investigating the scope of augmented reality to add to communication strategies.

Interviews from the book can also be heard. The tones, voices, laughter and reflections of the 25 protagonists are available at Spotify from the QR code that appears in each chapter and are part of the Podcast Design and Diaspora.

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