Thinking with Design for Global Health

What has the world of Design got to help the world of Medicine?

The answer is simply “Design Thinking”. A designers ability to take part in empathethic research then respond in a visual way or in a problem saving way is what makes them a designer.

The aim of the conference was two fold, show medical professionals that a designer can help and how they do it. And secondly show Both medical professionals and design professionals how a co design approach can build much better and much more successful projects. Through a series of talks from various characters form the worlds of medicine and design, the RSM built a day that ended with case studies into how it helps, solidifying the theory.

I had two main take aways from this day:

  • Use emapthetic reasearch to build better more human centred concepts
  • There is a very real need for designers to help the medical industry.

The use of empathetic research is a simple one really, use face to face studies and surveys instead of just googling stats in the first port of call. This helps build a more real face to the stats that usually just sound blank and lifeless, therefore giving you a character to use in your demographic research which should now not only exist but should have you building fictional characters as well. Then when this has happened “walk a mile in their shoes” physically life the problem that your trying to fold to the best you can. If , for instance, you can build a well closer to a village but the well takes twice as long to pump is it an effective solution? was the distance the problem in the first place? could it actually just be how they get there?

The need for designers within the medical industry did peak my interest. See i already work within medical marketing design but the dream now is to remove the marketing bit. I love the idea of working on designs that potentially could improve lives and knowing that there is a need for that, and now i know the people. Well I now have a new career goal. (2018). Thinking with design for global health. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].

A better paper?

The problem with paper

Paper is one of the most used materials in design, we draw on it, we paint on it, we present on it, we then print out final outcomes on it, even test prints. But with such a resource crisis should paper be treated differently

The alternative

Having already looked into digital as an alternative I wanted to focus on the paper itself. According to the Confederation of paper industries, we recover 8 million tonnes of paper through recycling and remanufacture techniques meanwhile we produce a new 3.6 million tonnes on top of this. Now, this doesn’t mean we would notice, both papers are pulped and mixed before any printing has gone near it, couple this with the UK law of planting more trees than you cut down, has meant paper manufacture is actually sustainable. Using more recovered papers actually lowers the amount of electricity that we need to produce paper. However, The issue can often be the coating. Paper finishes and coating are big business and as a design is a vital tool in our arsenal when it comes to print design however when we consider the fact that often “Gloss” or “Satin” paper often uses a vinyl substance in its coating then we realise that plastics becomes an issue, but how come its still used? 

Gloss papers have less bulk and opacity and are typically less expensive than dull & matte paper of equal thickness. Gloss coatings reduce ink absorption, which give the sheet an excellent color definition.

Printing Partners. 2016. Paper Types Explained. [ONLINE] Available at:
. [Accessed 3 December 2018].

As a rule of thumb, this is correct, Gloss coating does reduce ink absorption and more printers will actually use less ink when printing on it in order to stop ink running, while Matt paper is the opposite and absorbs lots so needs more ink for it to have consistent ink tones. So although the coating is bad the amount of ink is good.

The learning

In researching this,  find myself taking better consideration of the paper stocks I suggest to clients not just for quality and for the effectiveness but also for the environment. Does an a5 flyer need to be gloss or could it instead be untreated? or even just satin?

The use of untreated paper is still niche but some output look great maybe this is where i want to explore next

Biophilic design


While researching Environmental and designs role to play in it i have discovered “Biophilic design”. 

More of an interior and architecture movement, Biophilic designers use natural and organic materials and assets to generate environments and spaces that help benefit peoples health and well being. Using plants to clean and purify air, using organic shapes to make furniture more comfortable or even using natural scene to relieve stress in patients are all methods that Biophilic design encourages.

Why use it?

This was a genuinely difficult question to answer, see, search through biophillic design there are some amazing spaces but it was difficult to find any quantifiable evidence that it has any benefit to human health and well being. Until i found an infographic, all i could find was white papers from companies selling their services, and by not putting numbers or graphs by their work, meant they couldn’t be held  to corporate responsibility. However i did find some stats.

Karin Horn. 2018. Biophilic Design – What is it & Why Should You Care?. [ONLINE] Available at:
. [Accessed 2 December 2018].

Now, personally there are really two facts here that im actually interested in. Children benefitting from natural light learn 20-26% quicker and the Hospital stay reducing by 8.5%. Both these facts are astounding and certainly need to be encouraged in debate and design research, however with companies trying to be competitive none of them release methodologies only the theory and what some have considered “pseudo science”.  

What now?

Well, Biophillic design does boast some amazing life changing results and can produce amazing looking spaces but can it be trusted? Are what we are seeing just companies jostering for attention or is there something genuinely there to get behind?

Personally I love the idea of Biophillic design, the connection to nature has always had it allure, certainly i will be looking more into adopting natural elements into branding spaces and spatial designs, but im uncertain about the science behind it. With no clear trial data to be shown and only varies companies word about it i feel skeptical about wether it genuinely a health centred, beneficial new area of design or if in realty its more a dream of new age Neo-Art neuveux.

The environmental cost of printing

Printing is the corner stone of British design, although tightly competitive with more digital concepts. Printing has several factors that makes it potentially environmentally damaging. Firstly its paper, lumber and deforestation to fuel the paper industries is a well documented problem. Secondly the amount of electricity thats needed to run the printers is colossal, although printers have gotten better with this due to EU standards, the machinery still requires a lot of electricity compared to digital practices. Thirdly, some of the coatings we place on the paper isn’t always recyclable and can often be damaging to the environment due to plastic and solvents being used. Lastly we have a fairly wasteful society with an awful lot of paper printed items not being read and just ending up in the bin.

I myself work in a Medical marketing company, creating any and all marketing materials for several brands. In our effort to gauge the system and to gauge what others are doing, we have often found that many of the professionals we deal with don’t even read some of the materials we send, often taking the sample out and throwing the rest in the bin. When we consider this then can be times 10,000+ times we can see an awful a lot of resources have been lost on a largely inefficient system that many don’t engage with. In addition to this, as i freelance on the side i have found that many of my clients don’t ever consider the environment at all and will always want the printing and printing elements, and even when encouraged will look to price first rather than considering the damage they could be saving.

The are many scources of information that do talk about the damage done by the printing industry, Cartridge world speaks in depth about the issue…

“Paper is major source of waste – in 2008, paper accounted for over 12,500 tonnes of waste in the UK! Carelessly discarded documents, ignored and unnecessary memos, misprints…it’s easy to see where such an astronomical figure comes from.”

“The production of paper also leads to a significant amount of pollution, both atmospheric and water-based. Paper mills frequently release harmful gases such as CO2 and Nitrogen Dioxide into the atmosphere when producing, while water plays a big part in the pulping process. The waste water can find itself in fresh water sources, thus contributing to water pollution.”

“You’re bound to have heard various horror stories regarding the toxicity of printer inks but in truth, printer ink can only cause you harm if you happen to ingest it (which is quite difficult to do by accident!). However, there are chemicals in printer inks that can be harmful to the environmental, in addition to petroleum oil and non-biodegradable plastic casing found in some ink and toner cartridges.

The negative effects of simply chucking away an old ink or toner cartridge are plentiful; the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals in ink can lead to soil and even water pollution when left in landfill, while plastic can take thousands of years to degrade and even then pollute soil.”

When we couple this information with the fact that we often consider the fact that actually materials like flyers have a very low success rate, then arent we just being wasteful and damaging by not considering the environment first?

Seeing and reading the damage the printing industry is coursing does inspire me to do more as a designer. Designers possibly use some of the least environmentally friendly printing methods and stocks compared to commercial printing, if you consider the fact that a normal ream of paper is part recycled paper and part fresh but a roll of paper in a printers can often be pure or at the very least only slightly recycled. In my company we do a lot of printed materials which we know will often be thrown away, with low success rates and lack of digital drive, we can often lose thousands of prints at a single event alone, i dread to think how many sample boxes we send out just get thrown.

Reading into this i want to start investigating more green designing techniques and how i can change my own design mentality to start putting the environment first.

The Resource Crisis (The beginning)

While researching for practice one, i came across an issue that although somewhat documented is not as widely reported as elements as global warming even though it is linked and is potentially damned globally, The resource crisis.

As a human race we are quickly running out of resources, between using more than what we need, being inefficient with materials or even being wasteful we are using more materials than that are sustainable and what is available.

“In 2018, we’ll use up the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to support human civilization. At current rates, two Earths will be needed to keep up with demand by 2030. The resulting degradation is visible in deforestation, collapsed fisheries, drought, and greenhouse-gas emissions, causing massive dislocation, economic damage, and species extinctions across the planet.”

Going by this quote from a recent article, we are already using far too many materials as is, and soon we will be using twice as much as what is sustainable, with a growing population and ,at the moment, no second planet to move too, we are on the verge of not just causing global warming but depleting the globe of all natural resources as well.

Since the beginning of mankind we have been using natural resources, all animals do. From tools to clothes, houses to machines, all deplete some form of natural resource. The crisis in this is the abundance of materials we use now. We use far more resources than what the earth can provide and restock, currently. This forms a deficit of materials, this deficit has now reached 2 times what the earth can restock, meaning we are fast running out of resources that are available.

Several organisations are in operation to monitor this issue and others like it however chiefly the UN monitor this and another international body called the Global Footprint Network (GFN) also monitors the crisis.

“To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day for each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year:

(Planet’s Biocapacity Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day”

The above is how the GFN monitors and calculates at what point each year we exceed what the earth can provide and restock in a year. As a yearly average this is increasingly and we now sit on a almost 2X deficit in 2018 alone, and this is only set to increase.

I feel as a designer it is my duty to seek out more environmentally friendly processes and practices. The big issues will mainly be the printing process, use of paper and potentially damaging paper and card stocks, but also how can, as a designer, we push our clients to become more environmentally friendly and to use these methods to meet their business needs while satisfying the environments needs.

The balance between effective and efficient design with environmentally friendly and resource efficient methods needs to be struck but how, as an industry, can we do this.