Health researchers are asked with increasing regularity to bridge the gap between producing knowledge and translating new or existing knowledge into active interventions. This requires a deliberate process and involves bringing together users, communities, technologies, and domain expertise in unique ways. While research teams are skilled at analyzing the world around them, they find it extremely challenging to create end-user focused digital or physical interventions.

Our Response

We built a Human-Centered Design Consultation Service at MICHR that helps research teams strategize and execute the creation of user-centered interventions. This service actively focuses on engaging the product or service’s target audience, clarifying project goals, analyzing insights, and co-creation. It is geared towards study teams at all points along the research process, from proposal development to study implementation.

Outcomes and Impact

Over 20 teams at the University of Michigan have used the Human-Centered Design Consultation Service. Past partnerships have produced:

  • Easy-to-use digital products for health interventions
  • Patient- and community-centered health services
  • Services and systems that promote connection and collaboration
  • Grant proposals featuring human-centered design methodology

The service has allowed MICHR to develop key partnerships with major players in the space and is now a key offerring in MICHR’s portolio.

My Role

I led the team that advocated for, researched, designed, marketed, and operationalized the service.

“You helped at every stage of the process, from grant writing to questionnaire design to analysis. You helped ensure all stages of the project were centered on the "end-user's perspective." You also were an incredible educator, and provided important resources to learn HCD skills.” — OB/GYN researcher, Michigan Medicine OB/Gyn Clinic

Service Offerings

Our goal was to be the user-centered innovation resource at the University of Michigan.

1. Design Consultation

The service helps research teams (1) gain a greater understanding of HCD and how it can help with their project, (2) create a plan for the intervention development process and (3) incorporate HCD methods and terminology into their funding proposal. Typically, we achieve this through the following three interactions:

  1. Initiation Meeting: Our first meeting is focused on understanding the goals for the project and the context behind it. We also use this interaction to educate research teams about HCD and gauge if it would be a good fit for the project.
  2. Planning: Based on the project goals, we create a plan for how the project could be carried out, including stages and resources. Occasionally, we will meet with a small group of pilot end-users to inform our work. The research team then incorporates this plan into their grant write-up.
  3. Proposal Writing: Once incorporated, the research team sends us a semi-finalized version of their grant. We then refine that, where needed and return it back to them.
An example design framework developd through a consultation.
“You were able to listen to our goals for the project and incorporate them into a logical design framework. Taking the nebulous to an actual plan is a huge help — without your expertise we would have waffled about this for much longer as we would second guess our decisions.” — Leader, WIRED-L team

2. Design Partnership

In addition to one-off design consultations, we embed in research teams to help them (1) gain deep levels of empathy with their end users, (2) co-design community-centerd solutions, (3) iterate on solutions based on user input, (4) deploy and (5) scale. Typically, we achieve this through the following engagements:

  • Establishing a Participatory Design Team
  • Creating an Experiment Canvas
  • Leading Design and Prototyping Sprints
  • Coordinating User Testing & Feedback Cycles
  • Choosing the vendor and design handoffs
  • Coordinating and running Scaling Strategy Sprints
A “Design Sprint” co-creation session example
“You helped in the moment and for the longer term by teach our team how to do this type of work which has infiltrated how we conduct our research. For example, the journey mapping tool is one we are now using in our qualitative research project to understand the needs of caregivers and care receivers.” — Managing Director, Biosocial Methods Collaborative, ISR

3. Design Education

In collaboration with MICHR’s Education Program, Interdisciplinary Research initiative, as well as the Participant Recruitment program, this service offers educational programming aimed at spreading design and innovation tools throughout the university community. These tools are aimed at exposing teams to the innovation vocabulary and increasing their ability to engage with design in their work.

An example workshop agenda
“This presentation was fabulous, with lots of tools that I can use now and in the future. Thanks for the workshop slides and all of the resources!" — Clinical Research Coordinator, Internal Medicine, University of Michiagn Health System

Example Projects

WIRED-L, A Hypertension Management Wearables (mHealth) Solution

Digital Product Design

The MICHR Design & Innovation team partnered with scientists, healthcare providers, and community members to design a just-in-time adaptive mobile health intervention (JITAI) to increase physical activity in hypertention patients.

Read process and design publication

Prenatal Care Service Design

Service Design

We helped a multi-disciplinary team use Human Centered Design to improve prenatal care services offered to low-income, Black pregnant patients in Detroit and surrounding areas.

Read related publication

COVID Caregiving Experience Design

Service Design

We helped improve the COVID patient experience at Michigan Medicine by uncovering pain points in the journey and creating practical interventions for hospital and post-hospital care. We then packaged this experience in the form of a toolkit for any hospital or health system to adapt and use.

Read case study

How we established and scaled the service

Discovery phase

1. Qualitative Research

In order to understand the role that HCD might play in helping researchers build community-centered products and services, we invested in embedding human-centered designers in four diverse research projects for a short period of time. We then asked the research teams at multiple points in this journey to reflect on the impact the designers had on their projects. This qualitative feedback gave a great starting point for our next stage of discovery.

2. Quantitative Feedback

We ran multiple surveys with the university community with a view tto validate the scope and scale of the needs that we had heard through our qualitiative research. We followed this up by creating a “landing page” describing a potential service and tracking how many teams actually signed up to receive this service.

These discovery activities helped us understand deeply the needs of teams on campus as well as gave us the opportunity to prototype some of the programming.

Establishing Partnerships

We developed strong partnerships with other teams within the research and patient care enterprise. We work closely with MICHR’s Community Engagement Program to thoughtfully engage community partners in projects. We also partner with the Office of Patient Experience at Michigan Medicine for studies that want to bring patients and families into the research and design process. Additionally, we form a ramp to MICHR’s Informatics program when it comes to creating digital products.

Because of the nature of this work, the HCD consultation service is uniquely positioned to identify upstream, research that might be best suited for broad scale dissemination, including commercialization and technology transfer. With that in mind, we have developed a close relationship with Michigan’s Fast Forward Medical Innovation (FFMI) as well as our Office of Technology Transfer, whereby we offer study teams a pathway to transition smoothly from concept development to broad scale adoption. Conversely, research teams that are not ready to receive FFMI support are connected to us for early stage design.

Finally, we have an ongoing partnership with the School of Information (SI) that enables us to get a steady stream of design students that can work on research teams under our mentorship.

Communication and Marketing

We incorporated a multi-phased approach to reach the study teams that might be interested in using our service. For overall awareness, we shared our service with the research community through a service page on MICHR’s website. We guided people to the page through featured stories on various research newsletters.

Along with a degree of general awareness, we wanted to make sure to catch new clients right at the point where they need a consultation. So, we created HCD workshops, such as the role of Human-Centered Design in the research recruitment process. Recurring events can be sent to the research community over time, which keeps our service as top-of-mind for when a need arises.

Feedback and Iteration

For pre-award projects, we send out a survey roughly one month after the consultation to gauge progress of the proposal, if our consultation helped, and in what ways.

For post-award projects, we send our a survey roughly six months after start date gauging how the study has progressed and what impact, if any, our services have provided.

We use this input to continuously calibrate our offerrings.

Other Case Studies