Autonomous Inventors

Robert van Vliet –


The average age in the Netherlands is constantly rising. Because of this ageing in the population more people are bound to external care and more will be so in the near future. We are lucky to have an excellent care-system where we all pay for and make use of together. But due to the composition of our population (less working people, more elderly) this system will become very expensive if not too expensive to maintain in the near future. This asks for new approaches within healthcare to create cheaper solutions that facilitate the needs of the people in a better fashion. As designers we have a perfect opportunity to make an impact in this field by designing new products, service systems that tackle these emerging challenges from various perspectives. My role in this will be to invent new systems that facilitate remote care enabling patients to do part of their treatment at home while lowering the burden on care facilitators and practitioners.

CBS [7]

Trends in healthcare

Within healthcare much of the innovation is reached through technology push. This often results in incremental improvements (resolution, speed and flexibility) to a product, which in healthcare industry is generally accepted as it can mean the difference between a healthy and a dead patient. The following TED movie shows some examples of what new technologies are emerging and how designers are translating these technologies into useable concepts and products.

We’re moving to this integration of biomedicine, information technology, wireless and mobile now — an era of digital medicine. Even my stethoscope is now digital. And of course, there’s an app for that. [3]

Another trend that can be observed is a personalization and decentralization within healthcare. The EPD is an attempt to create a better informatics system within the Dutch healthcare system aiming at more personalized care. Same counts for the fact people nowadays can pick their own hospital and sometimes even their own care provider and these factors are used to promote products like health-insurances and medications. In the near future more of these kinds of systems will emerge (Philips Motiva [6]) so care providers will be able to provide care that is tailored to the individual.

Role designer

I think the role of a designer in society is to be a researcher for new opportunities to create value for people through products and services you design. To be able to do this I think it is important designers immerse themselves in the context they aim to design for. A way to do this is presented in the literature by Verganti as participating in the design discourse, interacting with interpreters that represent important parts of your design context.

By stepping back from a user performing a specific action and taking a broader perspective on the context in which that person lives, every company may discover that it is not alone. Every company is surrounded by several interpreters. These interpreters have two characteristics. First, as noted, they share the same question. In other words, they conduct research on how people (the same people who are also our users) could give meaning to things. Second, they are also seducers, in that the technologies they develop, the products and services they design, the artwork they create will help shape sociocultural models and influence people’s meanings, aspirations, and desires.[1]

I think in the future designers will be able to move around more freely within networks like the design discourse to approach different stakeholders and allow different perspectives into a project. This switching of perspectives is related to the theory on design thinking in the paper by Kees Dorst in which he talks about reframing as a method to reposition oneself with respect to a context of use or problem.

‘Framing’ is the term commonly used for the creation of a novel standpoint from which a problematic situation can be tackled—this includes perceiving the situation in a certain way, adopting certain concepts to describe the situation, patterns of reasoning and problem solving that are associated with that way of seeing, leading to the possibility to act within the situation.[2]

I see myself as a true inventor, looking for opportunities in unexpected places and doing proposals for change to your audience. Designers are people that are sent back from the future (Kees de Man).

Next to these interactive processes I believe it is important designers spent a fair amount of their time away from the context and stakeholders to allow for deep thinking and revalidation of knowledge to take place. These periods of time are necessary to synthesize the input gained from the design discourse or any other source of information. This is something many thinkers in history have practiced successfully, but in my opinion spending time alone has become undervalued. The following TED movie is about the strength of introverts who have a natural urge for spending time alone:

Solitude is a key to creativity. Darwin took long walks in the woods and turned down dinner invitations, Dr. Seuss wrote alone, and was afraid of meeting the kids who read his books for fear they would be disappointed at how quiet he was. Steve Wozniak claimed he never would have become such an expert if he left the house. Of course, collaboration is good (witness Woz and Steve Jobs), but there is a transcendent power of solitude. [4]


I want to change the way people think of and experience healthcare. This doesn’t mean my first aim is to make people healthier, but I want to give them the feeling they are in control of choices that are made within a rehabilitation or treatment process. Simultaneously I want to provide practitioners with better tools to gather relevant data on their patients so they will be able to do more accurate and faster diagnosis and move towards tailoring care on the spot. My way of doing this is by translating emerging and existing technologies into meaningful concept proposals for various stakeholders or interpreters in a medical design discourse.

I’m very much inspired by the vision, mission and strategy Philips Healthcare Design uses to present itself. I think they have a good view on what the future in healthcare is going to bring and what demands will grow with this. I only believe the actual implementation and results of their plan aren’t always so good.

Philips Healthcare aims to simplify healthcare by focusing on the people in the care cycle – patients and care providers. Through combining human insights and clinical expertise, they aim to improve patient outcomes while lowering the burden on the healthcare system. Philips delivers advanced solutions for health professionals, to meet the needs of patients, and to give consumers access to affordable healthcare in hospital or at home.[5]


As designers we have the opportunity to influence the lives of people through the objects and services they interact with. The healthcare sector provides a design context that can be designed for in different ways. Verganti in his book calls to implement design driven innovation by designing for the meaning people give to a product in a specific context.

People buy and use products for deep reasons, often not manifest, that include both functional utility and intangible psychological satisfaction. Consumers, managers, and engineers buy food, consultant services, and software for cultural and emotional as well as practical reasons. This is perfectly natural. We are humans, and when we use products, however utilitarian, we search for personal fulfillment—for meaning. [1]

A tool for this is the design discourse in which one can participate to share information and learn from relevant stakeholders. I think that within the context of healthcare the design discourse can be a very important tool to find the wishes of the stakeholders you are designing for, but design driven innovation in general is not always applicable. As explained earlier many of the work in the healthcare field is based in incremental innovations on technologies, still these small steps can make a huge difference for a patients on the operating table. I think it is key for designers to be able to find a balance between what new meaning can be introduced in a situation and what values can be improved by making smaller (incremental) changes. It is hard to change the ways people work and think within healthcare (especially in a more clinical setting), as risk or uncertainty is something that is rather avoided. Radical changes therefore in most cases need a more time before being accepted here than in other markets. So radical innovations of meaning in healthcare can be important, but are not always the preferred way to go. With respect to Verganti’s design driven innovation I think the most significant innovations of meaning will be so called technology epiphanies where a radical change in technology allows for new meaning to be given to products.

When a breakthrough technology emerges, it embeds many potential meanings. Some are immediate, usually promoted by those who have initially guided technological development. Other meanings are quiescent, but sooner or later they become manifest.[1]

I see myself as a technology interpreter. Getting information from business in the form of directions to design for and using an existing frame presented by society to research for new value and insights that are meaningful for both business and society. This process can be in a constant iterative flow, maintaining a design discourse around a subject. The technologies themselves are communicated through other technology interpreters that I develop a close relationship with. These interpreters don’t necessarily have to work in the healthcare industry, but their technologies can add unique value to the designs I’m creating.

Value proposition

I want to create proposals for products and service systems aiming at improving the way information is shared between patients, care providers and other users. The patient will profit from this by receiving better care, tailored to his needs. The care provider will be enabled to service more patients at lower costs while providing a higher quality of care.


From our education we built a strong affinity with intelligent technology and how this can be applied to transform a social or societal context. Through design we can elevate existing and new technologies by envisioning new contexts of use and coherent products, services and systems.

We are good communicators that are used to working in multi-disciplinary teams which makes us excellent candidates for participating in a design discourse around any subject.

We learned to independently create and maintain a design process revolving around a design context. This means we are able to take decisions on how to proceed with the development of a concept by probing and observing the context of use.

We have strong making skills, which enables us to create experiential prototypes quickly and effectively to share our embodied vision with interpreters in the design discourse or stakeholders in general. This can create opportunities for them to join in the design process and add their piece of the puzzle to the design.

Within a business the main value we as designers can offer is to break away from existing ways of thinking and doing proposals for how to do so. This provides the business with new value propositions that can enable them to differentiate from their competition or provide key insights into the context they are designing for.

Although there is great variety within the world of design, the designing disciplines can be seen to lean on five main activities in meeting their abductive challenges: formulating, representing, moving, evaluating and managing. These are the ‘carriers’, as it were, of design thinking. [2]



[1] Verganti, R. 2009, Design-driven innovation: changing the rules of competition by radically innovating what things mean. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, USA

[2] Dorst, K. 2010, Interpreting design thinking, DTRS8





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