Design in Healthcare: The roles and responsibilities of a Graphic Designer in our modern society.

On face value, the role of a Graphic Designer would not seem to go far beyond producing the traditional information pamphlets you see in every doctors reception area. Tri-fold in format, cluttered in content, and squashed into any available space on shelves and tables.

Indeed, on face value, the reality of our role does not really have to go much further. We communicate information. And all of this information is readily available for public and patients alike – in its vast quantity – online and in print format. But is this enough anymore?

To observe these platforms as they stand, but not to instigate change? For there is a developing sense of responsibility we are now beginning to see – one we should work to embrace. A new area of design where approach overrides outcome. The role of a designer is not a new position within a healthcare context. Infact, recent research by the Design Council has proven design to be a worthy tool when reflecting on developments of new products for clinical hygiene, and the interior layouts of healthcare environments. Through patient-led thinking and development, a design process can spark a catalyst for change. But why? Why should a designer’s role be integrated into the NHS in order to establish a comprehensive relationship with the systems and information in place? What can Graphic Design offer to healthcare?

Well, to begin with; as Graphic Designers we are used to answering briefs day-in-day-out. Breaking down each project and rebuilding it again in order to reach suitable, balanced, communicative outcomes for both client and consumer. We’re experienced problem solvers. We’re used to answering complex briefs with succinct and engaging solutions.

Put this skill in tandem with the constantly evolving nature of medical research. Such continuous exploration can prevent healthcare from remaining a static and reliable source of information. As problem solvers, Graphic designers can continually strive to reach new solutions, effectively improve healthcare information and respond to the ever-changing climate of health care and patient treatment schemes through a thorough design process.

Because the design process is thorough. Each project should spend the majority of its time in research and development; especially in relation to a healthcare context. Simply designing patient education material to suit one platform – be this print or web based – may not be enough anymore. It is also about adding that extra element of patient led thinking. To look at an individual in their own context; and to produce design that effectively responds to those areas. Cutting through social and cultural noise to provide the public with accessible and educational informative material.

It may be a slow process for now, but there is opportunity here to expand and develop as designers. To work in a healthcare environment; responding in parallel to the ever-changing body of medical research and progress. Solving new problems, accepting new responsibilities, and continually working to engage new patients with their own healthcare.

Written by Verity Davis,

This article was sourced from my final year research paper “Consider the role of publication design as a platform to develop patient education material for advanced Oral Cancer patients” (Davis, V. 2012) The full version contains the case studies, interviews and literature which inspired the ideas above and can be found in the ECA, Edinburgh University Library.

Illustrated by Amy Harwood 



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