Friday, January 04, 2008

Designing public services: I choose navigation

Having recently been the guest of two National Health Service hospitals for several weeks, my thoughts have turned to a current issue in design and design management. To what extent can explicit design processes and methods help managers, practitioners and users improve public services? An article in the current print issue of the Royal Society of Arts Journal (online version here) argues that trained designers can play a key role in service improvement and innovation, describing a project by consultancy Think Public.

The Labour government's recent emphasis on choice as being apparently what NHS users want does not ring true for me. I mildly appreciated a choice of food while in hospital (low salt, low fat, vegetarian, Halal, kosher...) and that I was able to choose which hospital to go to. But once in there, I did not really want a choice of consultants: I did not know enough to choose between them. What I did want was clearer navigation through the complexity of hospital treatments, procedures, vocabularies. I wanted clearer wayfinding, better information design, improved visualization of processes. 'Choice' between options was not meaningful for me without help navigating through the situations I was facing.

Now - thanks to high levels of emergency care in the NHS - I am recovering and my baby daughter (who arrived five weeks early) is doing extremely well. As a result of her arrival I won't be posting much in the next few months, most likely until my maternity leave ends in June.