AIGA Chicago Design For Good Spotlight Interview: Ophelia Chiu

AIGA Chicago Design For Good
Spotlight Interview: Ophelia Chiu

Yeneat Ophelia Chiu, M.H.A, is the Design Strategy and Innovation Head at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City. Her current work focuses on employing design thinking to tackle initiatives across the innovation spectrum and exploration of technology and digital patient experiences.

Chiu, who will moderate the Design x Healthcare Panel at IIT Institute of Design BarnRaise on Tuesday October 13, sat down with the Design for Good team to discuss healthcare’s biggest challenges—and how design often holds the solutions.

(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)


Let’s get right to it. What is one of the biggest challenges in bringing design and design thinking to the healthcare space?

OC: Getting people on the healthcare provider side to really understand design. There’s still a level of misunderstanding of what design is and the value it can provide. Design is often thought of in simplistic ways—that it’s about graphics or logos. That’s changing, but it’s a very slow change.


How are you working to meet that challenge within your organization?

OC: About eight years ago, we formed a design innovation group within our Strategy and Innovation Department to focus on bringing different perspectives to the organization. We were designing the Brooklyn Infusion Center during this time and used it as an opportunity to utilize a human-centered approach. Partnering with designers and design researchers taught us about approaching problems from a holistic perspective and we brought the organizational knowledge and inside perspective necessary to implement those solutions. Since then, there has been a growing recognition of the value and immense impact that designers could bring.


So, why in-house versus engaging an external consultancy?

OC: The reality is that healthcare organizations, like ourselves, are really complex. There’s a lot of jargon, and it’s a big learning curve just to understand how we get work done, processes around the work that we’re doing, and how healthcare is delivered. With an internal team, we’re able to work deeper within the organization, directly with stakeholders, to support projects through implementation, which does not always happen with a consultancy. At the end of the day, we’re a service organization, and there isn’t always an obvious hand-off.


What types of roles are there in the design innovation group?

OC: We started out with one designer, and have slowly grown over time. Now we’re a team of five designers with mix of backgrounds: service design, an interaction/UX designer, a design researcher, and a design strategist. We added team members based on both need driven by specific projects and future vision of the role/place where the Design Innovation Group could have impact organizationally. Also, since we’re a small team, we always look for folks with a deeper expertise in one area, who is also comfortable working across the design process.


What are some of the challenges you faced when building the design innovation group?

OC: As with any kind of change, it happens slowly. There also needs to be a process and structure for change. There’s buy-in from the leadership, but there aren’t necessarily dedicated project teams at the mid-level that can handle the hand-off. Staff are focused on the everyday clinical operations—the people right in front of them—and it’s often hard for them to prioritize the bigger picture. MSKCC is also a nonprofit organization and it can be difficult to advocate for such resources as they compete poorly with clinical needs.


What kind of projects come through the Strategy and Innovation Group?

OC: We released the MyMSK app last spring, which is an extension of the existing patient portal. This was a project we really advocated for. It was shepherded through by the design innovation group in partnership with IT group.


Can you give us an overview of what the design process looked like when creating the MyMSK app?

OC: We asked ourselves, “how might we be able to leverage mobile for patients?” First, we worked on trying to identify what the needs were organizationally, then went through the process of getting buy in from senior leadership. We first validated the vision/concept with patients in paper prototypes. Their needs and experiences shaped and refined the feature set, and validated that patients would indeed use an app. Then we launched into a design process with a digital strategy and design consultancy, to design the app and gained further patient feedback and insights along the way.


So what’s next for you? Any big plans?

OC: We’re in the process of designing new facilities: an outpatient surgical center will be opening in early 2016, and we have several other outpatient facilities slated to open in the next few years. The design innovation group has been involved in the initial concepting of those spaces in partnership with ambulatory care administrators and facilities.

Special thanks to interviewer Debbie Labedz.


By AIGA Chicago
Published October 9, 2015
AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.