An Update: Welcome Center Design Challenge

We are approaching week 3 for the Innovation Hub’s design sprint for the Welcome Center. To read more about this, read the following post: Design Sprint Challenge. During these past weeks, we have been in the empathy (Stage 1) stage that have consisted of research, interviews, and observations of the current welcome areas of the hospital. We have also started embarking to define the problem or reframe the challenge (Stage 2).

For the empathy step of design thinking, the other innovators-in-residence and I have interacted and conversed with many patients, families, and hospital staff members to see through the lens of Sibley patients and guests. (Collectively, members of the design team have reached out to almost 100 individuals). From this process, I found out how difficult it is to truly gain empathy and take a patient-centered approach as well as how easy it is to skip and run off with ideas and solutions. After all, it is exciting and fun to envision what a world class welcome center can be and which technologies and services can be incorporated into this space. However, it is essential to understand and define the latent needs and challenges of the Sibley community first. Jumping to solutions without addressing the true challenges does not solve anything and can lead to a reactive journey of band-aids and pothole repairs. 

For one of my first interviews, I approached a middle-aged man (I’ll call him Mr. G) who had been in the waiting room for several hours while his mother had surgery. He expressed that he wished he had a charging station for his laptop and cell phone. He had wanted to do some work while waiting, but his batteries were low. We also discussed his wishes for the cafeteria to be open 24/7 and having a secure place to place his belongings.  Together, we started envisioning the new welcome center. At this time, I started daydreaming about personal lockers for family members and 24/7 food services with the ability to order on Sibley iPads with a look similar to that of the Toronto airport.

As I continued on with this empathy stage, I realized that Mr. G’s articulated needs only touch the surface of his challenges as a Sibley guest and a caregiver. I missed an opportunity to dig deeper with him because of how easy it is to imagine the outcome first. By not exploring further, I inserted my own experiences, reasons, and narratives into what should have been his story as a Sibley caregiver. In short, I should have asked why the charging station was important to him. Was it because he needed to work on his laptop as a diversion from his anxiety he had been experiencing, or does it symbolize his dual role as a caregiver to his mother and breadwinner for his family (i.e. he needs to work)? What role does the cafeteria needing to be open 24/7 represent? Is it simply fulfilling a basic human need of eating or is it more the idea of convenience and reducing the burden of caregivers in some ways?

Talking to Sibley volunteers and the Director of Volunteer Services, Marianne Monek, who interact with almost all the patients at Sibley, I find that our conversations about their experiences as volunteers often center around Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Patients and families have a physiological need for food and water; however, there is also a need for love, companionship, and guidance especially during difficult times. Sibley volunteers have fulfilled many needs over the past years. Some of the needs they have fulfilled include providing guidance of where to find home health services for a parent and companionship in accompanying a family member who needs to sign a death certificate. These needs are very different from what I had thought about early on in this empathy stage. While my personal locker and Sibley iPads with food services would have touched upon some needs, they would not have addressed the real issues of comfort and companionship.

While we approach this week analyzing all our interviews and observations to figure out the true latent needs and challenges in the context of designing the welcome center, I find that this this journey of empathy has been very enlightening. It is easy to say that we need to empathize, but it is truly hard to do so. Like many other things, it is a skill that needs discipline and practice.