You have to see what the customer sees, feel what the customer feels, know their truth to get it right.

I spent some of this morning in the inspiring company of Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council .  (If you’re going to be Chief Design Officer anywhere it can’t get better than that job can it ?) We were sharing a panel at a local government digital summit, compered by the wonderful Spencer Kelly and giving our experiences of driving digital change. 

Mat talked persuasively about the key difference good design makes.  Like so much else the secret is to make it relevant and attuned to the customer rather than merely to the needs of the organisation. 

One example he gave was of a colleague using head mounted cameras to help with the redesign of emergency admissions in hospitals.  What do you see when you’re lying down and being treated ? A dull and fusty looking ceiling.  What could you be seeing ?  All kinds of calming, or informative signage which could help your state of mind and your well being.

As Mat pointed out, violence in accident and emergency departments has been a focus of international concern and costs millions.   Even the most normal person can be wound up by delays in crowded departments, particularly if they’re accompanying a friend or family member in distress, or they are in pain themselves.  Mat’s design work for the NHS includes testing better signage in A+E about the process (who you see and when) and an indication of whether the department is busier than usual, quiet or just normal.

I must admit the sense of this particularly came home to me just last week when I had an appointment for a normal check up at a clinic in Edgware that I hadn’t been to before.  The signage at the hospital when I arrived gave labyrinthine directions to a car park somewhere on the hospital estate.  I’d arrived 30 minutes early as I had driven and as I don’t go that far north that much anymore I’d allowed plenty of time.  This was just as well.  Call me dumb but I managed to park in the single remaining space in 3 car parks in a row on the hospital grounds before I, each time, noticed that there was a very small sign indicating that the spaces that happened to be free were exclusively for staff or consultants.  The fourth car park, which was for visitors and patients was of course full (with 4 cars waiting).  I finally gave up and parked on the street (which was fine because this is Edgware not central London and they let you park in Edgware).  I only just made my appointment on time however, and I was much less calm than when I’d arrived at the hospital 30 minutes before hand.  Which in turn as Mat pointed out, made it harder for me to listen to what I was being asked to do, and admittedly less smilely with the staff.   Look, I can’t complain, everything was fine for me, but I really got the point from Mat’s presentation this morning that a small tweak to the design of the communications would have just cleared this difficulty (which clearly effects dozens of people every day judging by the cars circling the hospital estate).

Better design would have solved this, better signage, or even a warning in the letter that parking isn’t to be expected on the grounds.  It isn’t just about my mood – which remained cheery throughout.  There are lots of worse examples than mine of problems caused by bad design stressing people out unnecessarily.  Staff dealing with stressed patients are more prone to morale issues understandably and absenteeism.  All of this costs money which simple good design, based on consumer truth would solve. 

I feel more inspired than ever to walk in the consumer’s shoes through every part of the strategy we design to deliver brand objectives.  You must of course listen out for the consumer’s truth, not just your own.

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