Design and Health: Systems, Substance and Style

Style, Substance and Getting You Where You Want to Go

Does style matter when it comes to your health?

Consider a visit to your family doctor or dentist. Imagine two scenarios that describe what you find at the office.

Picture one office as having old, worn-out tiles on the floor, the tiled ceiling with fluorescent lights; worn and torn magazines that are many years out of date, and a PC running Windows 98.

Compare that with an office that might be streaming live news feeds on a monitor or TV set, is brightly lit with natural light, simply laid out, and office staff allowing you to fill out your information in the waiting room on an iPad.

In both cases nothing is said about the quality of care or professional competency of the physician, yet if you compare the two by their looks it is quite likely that a person is much more likely to judge the quality of service or care by these first impressions.

Marketers and retailers know this well — the effective ones at least — and spend inordinate amounts of resources in refreshing their stores, developing their brand image, and ensuring that there is some consistent experience that is attractive to customers. If the place is attractive to the eye at first glance, it will elicit a reaction that may last for a very long time and colour everything about how you see that store, organization, group or person.  This thesis about snap decision-making and first impressions has been accessibly summarized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink. In short: first impressions last a long time and are very powerful.

It also means that style is not something that we should necessarily dismiss as ‘just’ the aesthetic part of design. Good design is about form, function and overall fit with the environment the product or service operates within. It’s why Apple products are so distinct for example and why they are often held up as a model for good design. Apple tools play well with each other and often with different products too (although Apple is by no means the model for this — consider the fact that you can only run the Mac OS on an Apple-made computer unless you do something quite drastic) .

Consider Lady Gaga, someone I recently discussed along with mHealth. It is fair to say that she would have nowhere near the fans and following were it only for her singing and songs (whatever you think of them). For her, it is about linking those things to a style that she has created along with a system to support that integration of music, video, fashion, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Her style is what connects a lot of people to her, but it is her substance and the systems around her that make people fans.

What if we thought more about style in our work? Imagine a stylish system for health? It’s not just aesthetic or superficial, it just might be essential. Good design is about linking all of them together.

1 thought on “Design and Health: Systems, Substance and Style”

  1. There you go… Nice pivot from the purely “stylistic” aspects of Lady Gaga’s oeuvre. I would add that remaining up-to-date aesthetically is important because our collective perception of what constitutes up-to-date evolves over time whether we want it to or not. Your hypothetical doctor’s office could be outfitted with brand-spanking-new linoleum tiles in a 1950’s pattern, and have a brand-spanking-new harvest gold refrigerator filled with bottled water for the patients, and the visual cues would all scream “old, seedy, out-of-date.”

    A favorite blogger of mine periodically mines this same vein on the subject of typefaces. How you can easily identify the period a publication is from by the fonts.

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