Dec 19, 2006, 6:45 AM, Posted by Theresa Kanter
I'm a person who appreciates good design, and have often wondered how products are designed. When I'm using a poorly designed product, I ask myself if the developers thought about the user at all. Last week I saw the opposite side of the design process coin when I attended a workshop held by the Center for Future Health (CFH) at the University of Rochester. The purpose of the workshop was to design a device for heart patients, or consumers, that could help them monitor their health. In the room were consumers, clinicians and the engineers who would actually design the device. The participants were able to learn from each other and develop creative concepts that may result in a breakthrough product. This was the first time I've sat in on a design session, but I thought the process was amazing!
CFH used a "fish bowl" format to conduct the meeting. I had heard about this before, but had never seen it in action. In the center of the room was a round table with rectangular tables arranged in concentric circles around it. The focus of the discussion was at the round table in the center. At the start of the day, the consumers sat around the table with the facilitator. There were a few empty chairs in this inner circle. The facilitator asks the questions, and the people sitting in the inner circle can answer. No one else in the room can talk, unless they join one of the empty chairs in the inner circle. After the consumers had a chance to talk about their personal and health needs, the health professionals sat in the circle and talked about what they needed to provide the best medical care.
Why is this so cool? Because the conversation can be very focused, and stay on point to answer the big question. In this case, the question was: what kind of product would be best for patients/consumers? The health professionals and engineers joined the circle to ask clarifying questions, and occasionally to offer technical expertise, but the focus was on the needs of the patients. I think the fish bowl format is also a great way to moderate discussion among expert groups. The consumers are experts about their needs as heart patients. The health professionals are experts at providing care. The engineers know all about machine monitoring and gadgets. In this format, they each group had its chance to talk, and to listen. Sometimes in meetings people forget to listen, but in the fish bowl format, it was the job of those sitting outside the center circle to listen.
After a morning of "fish bowl" discussion, the engineers started talking. The engineers divided into two groups and started brainstorming ideas. It was remarkable to hear what they were coming up with. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the conclusion of the workshop, but I know that the consumers, health professionals, and engineers came to consensus on developing a product. The working title of this product is PhyPod, and it responds to the needs of consumers and health professionals