Design as an Agent for Change in Complex Systems

“In complex systems the cause and effect are not easily understood.


If something is broken, try to learn what is really the problem behind it rather than just fix it.”

Talk by Lorna Ross, Director of Service Design* at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation recorded for Service Design Network.

Ross addresses the contradiction and tension of being in a service industry while at the same time dealing with people coming to it in circumstances less than optimal and connecting with people who really do not want to connect with them.

What the experience feels like:

“there is a lot of brutality in healthcare… medicine is very effective but it is also very scary.

often the experience of the treatment is worse than the experience of the disease.

sustaining the humanity in medicine is increasingly challenging...

how can people trust a system that seems to value their experience so little?”

This drives a need to help “protect endangered emotions” to give those customers a voice. As people we tend to normalize situations — good and bad ones. faced with a disease, we use it as a copying mechanism.

When designing services it is really important to understand that “humans function by habit, not decision.”

In healthcare there is an expectation that innovation is about adding things (convergence); subtraction encounters much resistance.

Ross and team found that: “people collaborate in spite of the tools they are given to use, not because of them.” Designing for the tools often means losing the human potential.


* Service design is a research-based specialization of traditional product design with roots in ethnography, and systems thinking. It is effective in determining the most optimum touch points for customers to access a service, and how these access points, in aggregate, become the experience. 


Mayo Clinic Rolled out a Center for Social Media in 2010

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