Designing a Conversation

Blogger: Joel Worthington, Strategic Innovation Designer | Chicago, IL, USA
March 25, 2015

Recently, HDR accepted a challenge to design a 420-square-foot space for the American Medical Association within MATTER, called the AMA Interaction Studio. Our vision for the space: to design a platform for health tech entrepreneurs, physicians, and other key health influencers to collaborate to envision and shape the future of healthcare.

This vision could manifest in many different ways, and we’re dedicated to a process that includes prototyping and evolving the space over time. Our first pass will tackle the following:

  • Improving today’s healthcare setting by focusing on the physician exam room. An environment ripe for progression toward more patient-centric, collaborative care ideals, it is familiar to physicians, but mysterious to health tech entrepreneurs.
  • Envisioning how to improve and influence health for patients where it happens: before and after the physician office visit. Health and healthcare are often separate. Health occurs almost exclusively outside the four walls of any healthcare institution, and physicians need help connecting to patients to communicate with and educate them.

Here’s why designing with this narrative in mind matters: today’s health tech entrepreneur typically develops a product or service idea without an audience for testing (let alone selling and investing). Specifically, many health tech entrepreneurs lack feedback from physicians and care providers, an audience that will ultimately be highly affected by these ideas. Many entrepreneurs spend hours in physician office waiting rooms hoping for a 10-minute meeting, only to be denied that opportunity when the physician is occupied by a difficult case, patient backlog, mounting digital paperwork, or any number of daily challenges.

On the flip side of the equation, physicians and other healthcare professionals, especially those primarily focused on care delivery, have countless pain points—data overload, loss of autonomy, and diminishing time spent with patients, to name just a few. This creates an unfortunate, perpetuating cycle: doctors are too distracted by the very pain points entrepreneurs need their feedback about to help address.

In my conversations with physicians and entrepreneurs, it is has become clear that this space, above all else, should be a collaboration hub—a conversation starter that draws physicians and other key community and health influencers into the space to interact with the entrepreneurs who need their feedback and insights.


There is a clear benefit for entrepreneurs, but there needs to be a draw for the physicians to get involved. What if we were able to create a space that connected physicians to the people who could help them get back to doing what they love: caring for and developing relationships with patients?

During a SYNAPSE workshop hosted by our strategic innovation group, we focused on what this space could be. One workshop participant reflected that, “We came together to talk about space, but we have been talking a lot about how to create an EXPERIENCE.” Since then, that point has been reiterated constantly: it’s about the people users will meet in the space and the conversations they will have.

As designers, we must be humble in our approach—this space itself will not solve the problems of the healthcare industry, let alone those of individual physicians and health tech entrepreneurs. Rather, it can enable and foster the necessary dialogue that can connect user needs to solutions.

We are eager to build the physical space, but, more importantly, we are excited to build an ongoing dialogue with users, influencers, and collaborators about how to better connect robust yet disparate nodes to create a more intuitive and adaptable healthcare system.


Images courtesy of HDR