Design Institute for Health applies creative design to health care challenges

Vera Bespalova

The design concepts behind Starbucks, Apple and Disney World can be used to improve the health care system in the U.S., said the directors of the Design Institute for Health (DIH). 

DIH executive director Stacey Chang and managing director Beto Lopez spoke to students and faculty Tuesday about DIH’s purpose, goals and future work in an event titled “Strange Bedfellows.”

DIH is the result of a collaboration between UT’s College of Fine Arts and Dell Medical School, which is expected to welcome its first class of medical students this summer. DIH is an initiative that focuses on applying a creative design-based approach to tackle the United States’ health care challenges.

The Institute started a year ago and is led by Lopez and Chang, both former designers from internationally recognized firm IDEO.

“It would not be an exaggeration to describe the opportunities in Austin as one of a kind, maybe once in a lifetime, essentially, to build a model for how the rest of the U.S. health system can work,” Chang said. 

Chang said DIH has three major aims: redesigning the system, developing Austin as the center for healthcare entrepreneurship and making people understand the value of design as a whole.

“Design, as in any artistic endeavor, results in really tangible things that have an emotional impact on people,” Chang said.

Chang said the dean of Dell Medical School, Clay Johnston, initially reached out to him because he felt the need for more creative, design-oriented minds to help solve problems with the health care system.

“It’s not just thinking about new ways and new approaches, it’s actually about getting your hands dirty and building new things,” UT alumnus Lopez said.

Lopez said DIH wants to rethink seemingly insignificant moments, such as checking into the hospital. They also want to consider the role care providers play in places where they’re not typically recognized, like the grocery store or bank. He believes the idea that health care only happens at hospitals is outdated.

Tamara Carroll, theatre and dance graduate student, said she attended the event as part of her portfolio program.

“I thought it was really interesting … just thinking about what the problems in the health care system are, and thinking about innovative approaches is applicable, I think, to any management position,”
Carroll said.