Understanding Design

Why Does Design Matter?

Design and Global Health: Two Complementary Approaches

The global health community develops solutions by continuing to learn through research and/or implementation science. It then uses findings from this research and/or implementation science to develop and refine interventions that address global health challenges. The double diamond model shows the complementary nature of the design and global health processes.

Double diamond Design process graphic

Design Provides a New Perspective

The design process provides global health practitioners with new perspectives on health challenges. It facilitates understanding of health outputs and methods used, while enabling a rapid translation of insights into prototypes and solutions that can be tested and refined. The design process ensures that programs not only incorporate findings from traditional research approaches, but also adapt them to local contexts.Similar to design research, clinical research involves the rigorous testing of solutions in appropriate settings, but this process is characterized by a different (often longer) timeframe, and incorporates more stringent requirements appropriate for development of drugs, vaccines, etc. However, for interventions that pose a lower risk, randomized controlled trials may be either unnecessary or inappropriate. As designers and global health practitioners continue to work together, they will identify the contexts where design research can either support clinical studies or provide a research platform.

A man holds a black and white photograph and points to it

Image courtesy of Sonder Design

Design Serves Different Purposes

The design process can be applied differently in global health programs depending on the challenges, timelines, and resources available. We have identified three different roles to consider when using design for your global health program:

Design as Spark Icon: finger tipping dominos with a spark emerging
Design as Spark

Apply design methods to spark new ideas, thinking, concepts or to deliver specific outputs as part of a larger program.

Design as Ingredient Icon: shapes being stirred into a cooking pot
Design as Ingredient

Design is used in combination with other approaches across the program cycle.

InteracDesign as an End-to-End Process Icon: 3 signposts, all are filled in
Design as an End-to-End Process

The program is scoped to match the design process through its entire cycle, from informing the program design at the start, to implementing solutions at the end.

Design Helps Prioritize Resources

The design process can surface key questions that inform global health programming in the various phases. These questions can help programs incorporate the needs and expectations of those for whom the program is designed for, ultimately increasing the likelihood of impact. The table below highlights some key questions that global health program managers must attempt to answer. Doing so, will align the process with a human-centered design way of working. When considering these questions, it is  important to recognize that there are different engagement models for using design in global health. Some organizations, like UNICEF have used collaborations with external design consultants and partners to bootstrap the development of an internal design capability. Other organizationslike Medic Mobile , have hired and embedded individual designers in their project teams as part of a multi-disciplinary approach.

Matrix showing key questions to ask yourself at the different phases of a global health program