1. I learned about the mission
I have to start by saying, that the whole Laerdal Medical company stands for such a great mission. The company’s mission is to save as many lives as possible each year , and this mission is shining through in each step of the design process. I am certain this makes the perfect recipe. I am proud that I got the honor to take part of this process for almost a whole year. The company has a lot of award-winning and innovative work behind itself and a lot lying ahead of them.
The statement “saving lives”- resonates incredibly, but they also prove it. They do save many lives with their amazingly designed and well thought-through products.
The mission to work with saving as many lives as possible shines through in each step of the design process.
I was fortunate to work with Laerdal Medicals non-profit sector called Laerdal Global Health, and this non-profit department of Laerdal works mostly with developing products for midwives in low-resource settings. Here I will not specify a lot about any specific projects that I worked on, since they are complex. They would take a lot of time explaining. What I think is more interesting is the unique design process and the research they implement at LGH (short for Laerdal Global Health) and how this made me grow as a designer.
So, to continue… the product development
The success of the cutting edge medical solutions is a lot thanks to the design process, that is implemented throughout the whole company. Each department and team follow a thorough and tested design model. Having design thinking so well-integrated is very unique for being an in-house company. At each stage of the design thinking process, every team follows the design thinking at each stage of development.
Working inside many feedback loops.
I learned a lot as a designer that it is less a classic “gut feeling” that matters, it is more how to validate your thinking that matters. Because it is easier to believe that you are right, than to believe that you are wrong. Adopting the mindset that you can be wrong is difficult, but I think this is well implemented at Laerdal. To constantly validate to gain an evidence-based solutions is very important in this field. That is why there are constant feedback loops. Many workshops are being done with from top -experts in the medical field. They also conduct extensive testing of products and other workshops to gain insights with users.
2. Takeaways — designing for the healthcare sector
It was extremely cool to get to be a part of a network of so many experts and important people in the medical field. These were doctors, midwifes, nurses and many researchers, leaders from government, and NGO-leaders. Also to learn that these people on these high positions are very humble and professional. The medical field and non-profit field is indeed a very special place to work as a designer. You really feel that you are making an impact and that you are working for something good. There are no hierarchies or egos, and you can even as an intern walk up to anyone to their desk to ask for advice and support.
In the healthcare field, you cannot “just throw” a product out there.
As a long-term intern designer at Laerdal, you really get to see and participate in all stages of the design process, from early phase user- and market analysis, ideation and concept development, detailed design and specification, and final product testing and validation.
I realized how important implementation is in the healthcare field. You cannot just throw a product in there. You need tons of testing, expert advice, academic research, and often service design staging, and holistic and systemic thinking to be able to do the implementation.
3. No bad Monday mornings (Yes — Monday meetings were fun)
One of my favorite things of the week, was to start with a local Stavanger brewed coffee and participate in “Monday meeting”, where everyone, even the offices abroad, would connect and talk about their work the past week. At Laerdal Global Health, the Monday mornings aren’t that bad. (Except those Mondays with all the rain pouring down outside the window.) Stavanger is one of the rainiest cities in the world — but that’s another story. Norwegians, in general, are very efficient in how they work. The working hours are very beneficial. Many people leave early to pick up their kids. They go on hikes on weekends. For me, this is an extremely good life quality, and it reflects that work-life balance is taken care of.
Since I was working in the medical field, I learned how to read heavy research articles and really know how to use that information. This is a very unique feeling. I have been reflecting if we as designers do not always care about being thoroughly evidence-based. Often times, we say that we do not have enough resources, time, or the client doesn’t want to pay for user testing — but in the medical field everything is very much thought through, cared about and validated. Of course, this makes processes slow, but they are necessary.
4. Red, red soil in Tanzania — let’s talk about cross-cultural communication
Within the early phases of my internship, I got to go to the most insightful trip of my life. I was exploring Tanzania and make field studies at several rural hospitals.
The basis of what it means to be human is very similar across all country borders.
What I learned, is that concept of a user in a rural, red soil setting in Tanzania, that you might believe to be very far from yourself — is actually closer to yourself than you think. The only difference is the starting point. Sometimes the context does not allow for your user to deliver at their fullest capacity. The restraints for the user hinders a solution being implemented. This is what the designer working in these types of contexts needs to consider. The basis of what it means to be human is similar across all country borders. We all have the same needs and we all have aspirations — and these are true basic psychological needs. There is also a lot we can learn from those who manage to do so much with so little resources at hand.
5. About finding strength in your weakest moments
In a way, I thought I would be tougher than I actually was. As a design student, I am used to shadowing and observing different kinds of settings. I have done this at various times, within various industries. Suddenly I found myself in hospital settings that was so vastly different from mine. This is very challenging. With nothing that you can relate to or a few things you understand, you need to distance yourself, reflect – and become stronger. Then, you can be able to design something better with your insights. I learned a lot. Especially how to interact with people in new ways and trying to communicate with local cultural expressions.
With nothing that you can relate to or a few things you understand, you need to distance yourself, reflect, and become stronger.
Gaining insights from users
One example is when we were asking hospital staff about their routines, or what they had done in the past days. The concept of time and past tense seemed so abstract for Tanzanians — and maybe it was also the language barrier. We were trying to makes sense of it and started speaking and learning from other fellows at the spot, they told us the concept of time is expressed differently in Tanzania. I then we tried by asking them to tell “stories” of yesterday or “dreams” of the future — and this worked! We had amazing conversations just by just changing our way of expressing in a way that was more similar to theirs.
I wonder how many people really think about those who make sure you were born in a safe way?
That Laerdal Global Health really takes time and effort to connect with midwives globally, and carrying the important work of connecting them together and making their work status safe and valued. The reality will sadly tell another story, that is why it is such an important mission. I wonder how many people really think about who makes the important job to make sure you are being born in a safe way? I am for sure sending thoughts to the for me unknown midwife, that attended with my mother at birth!
– Thank you, LGH!
To summarise once again, one month has passed since I ended my internship at Laerdal Global Health, in Stavanger, Norway. First of all, I am so grateful that I have had this opportunity. This (almost a) year, has given me so many new learnings, perspectives, insights, challenges, and trial — and — error iterations in building design solutions. I still have a lot more to learn. I do think I learned a lot about designing with empathy, and it is very important to value empathy. This is something I will take with me always.
Ps. Reach out if you have similar or other experiences or challenges with interacting with users cross-culturally. Would love to discuss more! www.fridastenlund.com
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