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Design is the strategy
Tero Väänänen, Head of Design at NHS Digital, explains why user-centred design is strategic.
9 December 2020
In his book Good strategy/Bad strategy, Professor Richard Rumelt describes good strategy as having “coherence, coordinating actions, policies, and resources so as to accomplish an important end.”
He goes on to describe how many organisations don’t have this, but instead have “multiple goals and initiatives that symbolise progress”.
To achieve real progress you need a strategy and to achieve this, ruthlessly prioritising your activities is key. The best way to do this is to focus on your users, their needs and figure out how we can help them achieve their goals.
At NHS Digital, when we discuss our approach to user-centred design, we often refer to the 'double diamond' model created by the UK Design Council. This model starts by asking what the right problem is to be solved and then continues by helping you to solve it the right way. (See above).
This is exactly where a good strategy starts from; by understanding what the problem is to be solved and what the future looks like when we have solved it.
What follows is an iterative process which allows us to explore the different opportunities, validate our decisions quickly and inexpensively, discard choices that will not work and keep those that do.
These six principles are valid whether you are designing a product, a service or a strategy.
This model is useful in identifying how mature design is in an organisation, but different teams and departments may not all be at the same level. At NHS Digital, some departments and teams are definitely on the third step — ‘Design as process’.
They have an established multidisciplinary team with a user-centred design process and they conduct regular and frequent user research to evaluate the design iteratively. Some of these teams are even working closely with our commissioners to define the future roadmap and strategy based on our service design thinking and service catalogue.
However, other parts of the organisation are still on the first two steps of the ladder. We are spending time with these departments to understand their barriers to adopting a user-centred design process and demonstrating how design can help them to create a believable and solid strategy going forward.
So, here’s the thing ... whether you’re a programme director, policymaker or service owner tasked with delivering 'a thing', you can’t go wrong by working closely with a multidisciplinary user-centred design team. They will help you to identify your users’ needs and ensure you follow an iterative process — navigating through the forest of right and wrong assumptions. This is about delivering the right thing to get the adoption, realising the benefits you have set in your business case and creating value for the service user and thus to the service provider itself.
Mike Bracken’s ‘the strategy is delivery’ mantra is more important than ever before, as we seek to fail fast and then rapidly iterate to fix issues on services. But as Richard Rumelt put it in his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: “The master strategist is a designer.”
The strategy is delivery, but user-centred design is the strategy to deliver the right things.
How NHS Digital is designing the end-to-end service from the user's point of view.