Being user-centered and working from design principles does not need to wait until everything is set up, built, funded, and ready to go. Huge companies like UnitedHealth, Nike, and Fifth Third Bank were smart to start and ‘just do it’ (my apologies, couldn’t help it) versus waiting until things were set up and ready to roll.

Ryan Shafer served UnitedHealth as its Human-Centered Design Director from 2014-2017. His self-styled charge was to “Work to envision, design, and deliver the future of healthcare experiences across multiple channels, digital, physical, and retail that improves the quality of life, health outcomes, and drives business results.” UnitedHealth is a $242bln organization. Yet, when Ryan took on the role, UH was new to design thinking.

During a 2018 talk at the Digital Agency Network’s design thinking conference in Austin, Ryan said that UnitedHealth started where they knew to start: with members. He said, “We put members first. We spend a lot of time in homes, and we spend a lot of time getting first-hand perspectives from doctors, advocates, and families.”

What was so distinctive about this approach wasn’t the approach; it was that UH would take it on. To wit, UnitedHealth was a B2B company in business model and culture for so long, so the attention on members was a very big deal for the organization. Ryan commented that though UH executives had seen gobs of patient and member research, few of them have done the research themselves and ever gone and talked to people in an intentional manner to support user-centered design thinking.

UnitedHealth’s intent was to include members in what was being designed for them. Moreover, design team members took on the world of being a member to see what it was like. For example, the team jumped on the web and went through all the touchpoints it takes for someone to file a claim. You can imagine that studying the claim process map is one experience, while actually trying to do it oneself ‘on the court’ is a completely different experience. Ryan asserted that getting things to the level that people understand, reality – versus what was designed and/or intended – makes a world of difference.

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