Mad Pow's Health Experience Design conference brings together the perfect mashup of physicians, health administrators, and insurers on the one hand, with game designers, animation designers, user experience designers and design researchers on the other hand.

At the June convening, there was lots of provocative thinking around ways to make the patient the focus for all health care experiences from a visit at the doctor's office to navigating the often tricky maze of health insurance coverage.  What was particularly interesting were those stories from design researchers, user experience designers, and ethnographers who take time out to visit patients, observe people in their own environments taking medication and learning from them about how challenging a medical procedure might be- from their own eyes, and in their own words.  

A foundational principle in design thinking is that all great innovation starts with empathy for the people engaging with our products, services and experiences.  So what does starting with empathy require?  It requires connection, and connection must come from a visceral level.  Key to doing this well is the art of discernment.  As Jen Adam, Innovation Experience Strategist at the health insurance firm Humana said, "When you observe, you can move towards discernment".  

Observation, truly deep observation, of our clients and colleagues, can be a challenge in hectic days with over packed schedules.  Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, a mindfulness expert has remarked "Look at other people and ask yourself if you are really seeing them or just your thoughts about them.... Without knowing it, we are coloring everything, putting our spin on it all."

Kijana Knight Torres, Design Researcher at the Design Institute for Health at the Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas, shared some compelling ideas about how you can better observe and understand the perspective of those you serve.  Here are 4 of Kijana's tips:

Clear Your Mind Attic

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wove this concept into his Sherlcok Holmes character, reminding us that our brains have a limited capacity for facts- and therefore we should be diligent about keeping the most pertinent ones, and discarding the trivial ones.  Kijana's point here was that before going into an encounter with a person, focus: pause, take inventory of your mind's state, and clear away any irrelevant factoids.  This will allow you to be fully present in your interactions.

Do a Quick Sweep

When you enter a room that a client occupies, scan it and take mental inventory.  Instead of plunging right into a conversation, ask yourself what stands out about the space.  What is repeating? What is missing?  You can practice this when you walk into a conference room for a meeting or when you first step onto a commuter train.

Look for Totems

We all have them- those objects that are deeply iconic to us on a personal level.  It could be your collection of Marvel superhero dolls; or photographs of your vacation.  When you go by someone's desk or office, observe what they hold up as personally meaningful to them.  You can build on this observation to ask questions and see what new dimensions you learn about the person.   Personal and work spaces are people's personal canvas and give us context about them.

Reflect and Imagine

Finally, once the meeting, interview or conversation is over, be sure to hit the pause button.  Stop and reflect on all that you have seen and heard.  Imagine what the implications are; implications lead us to identify assumptions and give us a course of action about how to follow up with next steps.

While these tips are from design researchers in the health care space, they are transferable to any initiative that needs to understand the motivations and needs of people beyond statistical data.  Practicing these behaviors at scale can help you to capture details from your end-user's perspective that will make all the difference in the world for how you sell your product or service.