Lessons From the 2019 Health x Design Challenge

2019 CHXD Design Challenge

Q: How can we generate fresh ideas, diverse perspectives, and game-changing branding opportunities? And how can we harness these benefits quickly, inexpensively, and collaboratively?

A: By hosting a design challenge.

What is a design challenge? A design challenge poses a big picture problem and puts out a call to the health and design community to submit creative, yet feasible, solutions. Mad*Pow’s Center for Health Experience Design partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch the Health x Design Challenge: Building Health into Everyday Life. This Challenge invited the community to imagine how, in the near future, we might use technology to make health an integral part of our daily routines.

Why should we host a design challenge? Challenges serve as powerful vehicles to fuel open innovation efforts. When done well, they can produce:

  • A multitude of diverse ideas and opportunities to be explored. The 2019 Challenge received interest from more than 200 teams of design professionals, health industry innovators, graduate and undergraduate students, companies, and everyday people with big ideas about how to make our world a healthier place.
  • Opportunities to own challenge IP, or partner and co-create. Challenges can generate hundreds of submissions from talented professionals and students. These concepts offer boundless potential for development, future research, co-creation, and more.
  • New viewpoints and research that can help you frame and think about a problem differently. A wide range of responses from diverse professionals, bright young students, and seasoned experts gives you access to creative ideas and new approaches to tough problems.
  • A more innovative brand position. Launching a design challenge generates buzz, credibility, and goodwill, and positions your organization as a dynamic innovator willing to disrupt the status quo in favor of forward progress.
  • Connections with passionate designers and innovators, with potential to hire or collaborate. Winning submissions receive cash prizes, and perhaps more importantly, recognition, support and opportunities. Your organization gains access to rising stars in design and healthcare.

What have we learned from this year’s challenge? The 2019 challenge was ambitious and broad in scope, and it generated a wide range of submissions with very different approaches to redesigning everyday life for better health. Submissions came from individuals, families, student groups, and clinical teams across the U.S. They included ideas on an array of topics, such as smart household items, programs to improve nutrition, apps to inspire and support lifestyle changes, and innovative housing concepts. The breadth and depth of ideas was truly astonishing. We’re more inspired than ever after finding out how many smart, creative people are busy dreaming up solutions to improve life for everyone.

Our post-challenge analysis leaves us with some key principles to guide us as we seek to innovate at the systems level:

It’s all about the system. Our first and most important step is to understand the system in which we‘re working. This is key to developing appropriate solutions, instead of just making the problem worse.

Multidisciplinary for the win. Assembling a team with complementary skills will lead to much deeper understanding of a problem and the ability to create more innovative solutions. A heterogenous team will benefit from different and valuable perspectives and skillsets.

Think bigger. It takes more than a smartphone app to redesign an environment and achieve system-level change.

Leverage technology appropriately. Technology is key, but we need to understand what it can do and question whether an analog solution would work just as well. Using technology for technology’s sake just adds unnecessary cost and complexity.

Remember the magic of narrative. Using storytelling to communicate ideas makes them easier to understand and remember. Stories allow for more creativity and can produce more emotional responses and support from potential champions.

Equity is a key design principle. When designing a solution, accessibility should be a top priority. Evaluate designs through the lenses of income, mobility, age, and more.

Design for us, not them. Trying to solve other people’s problems can, at times, be misguided. While empathy is necessary for good design, it is not sufficient. It’s important to ask, is this a real problem that needs a solution? Or do we simply lack understanding of “them”?

The winners of the 2019 Health x Design Challenge reflected these principles in their proposals: a technology-enabled approach to communal living, and a top-to-bottom redesign of urban commuting as we know it. Their submissions demonstrated creativity, ingenuity, and human-centered design. The winners have received honor and public appreciation which will serve them well as they build careers in design and innovation. Their ideas have been recognized by an esteemed panel of judges, who can help link them with leaders in the design field. And Mad*Pow’s Center for Health Experience Design and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have gained hundreds of new connections, ideas, and avenues to explore.

Do you have a challenge or opportunity that inspires you? Thinking about launching a design and innovation challenge, but need an experienced partner to help design and manage the challenge? Get in touch – we’d love to help

Contributed by
Amy Heymans
Job Title
Founder and Chief Experience Officer