Doctor as Designer
Joyce Lee, MD, MPH





My identity as "Doctor as Designer" started as a question on the title slide of my 2013 talk at the Cusp Design Conference. I am trained as a pediatrician, diabetes specialist, and researcher, but I am fascinated by the world of design and how it moves light years ahead of the healthcare setting. In this talk, I asked "Who can call themselves a designer?" not as an attempt to minimize the role of designer, but to pose the questions: what does it mean to design, and who is involved in the process?

In my efforts to integrate design with healthcare, I co-founded a collaborative innovation network called HealthDesignBy.Us, which supports the vision of patients and caregivers as experts, makers, and collaborators in the creation of health tools, technologies, and systems (see my TEDx Detroit and Edge talks). We support the integration of the Maker Movement into healthcare to aid in this mission and to facilitate local and large-scale collaboration among patients, healthcare providers, technology experts, designers, and tinkerers. Watch these amazing talks from one of our #makehealth events to learn more about making.

I blog about the intersection of design and healthcare under the Doctor as Designer moniker here, and I have shared my thoughts about the the need for design in healthcare at a variety of academic and innovation conferences and I was an advisor to a report on the Human-Centered Health System, presented at the World Innovation Summit for Health.










Medicine at Michigan

Medicine at Michigan

The Ideas Issue, UM School of Public Health

The Ideas Issue, UM School of Public Health



Blogposts and Social Media



Design Resources

Are you interested in learning more about design? Here is a curated list of resources that I think are useful, which I am constantly curating: 

1. Start with two must-read books: The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, who is considered the father of human-centered design, and Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products for Tomorrow's Customers by Jan Chipchase, a well-known designer who specializes in emerging markets. They will help you learn to see the world with new eyes.  

2. Read some articles about design thinking: 

  • Rethinking Design Thinking by Don Norman

    “Designers resist the temptation to jump immediately to a solution to the stated problem. Instead, they first spend time determining what the basic, fundamental (root) issue is that needs to be addressed. They don't try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal. This process is called "Design Thinking."“

  • Design Thinking 101 by Sarah Gibbons

    “Why should we introduce a new way to think about product development? There are numerous reasons to engage in design thinking, enough to merit a standalone article, but in summary, design thinking achieves all these advantages at the same time: It is a user-centered process that starts with user data, creates design artifacts that address real and not imaginary user needs, and then tests those artifacts with real users; It leverages collective expertise and establishes a shared language and buy-in amongst your team; It encourages innovation by exploring multiple avenues for the same problem.” Jakob Nielsen says “a wonderful interface solving the wrong problem will fail." Design thinking unfetters creative energies and focuses them on the right problem. 

  • Why bad technology dominates our lives by Don Norman

    “We must change our mind-set from being technology-centric to become people-centric. Instead of starting with the technology and attempting to make it easy to understand and use, let us take human capabilities, and use the technology to expand our abilities. We need to return to one of the core properties of human-centered design: solve the fundamental issues in people’s lives.”

  • The myth of human-centered design by Mark Rolston

    “A good design must take into account what the user wants, but ultimately frame those desires within the boundaries of the technology. A great design does even more than that. It shapes the user’s expectations around those boundaries. For cars, noise equals power. For mobile handsets, thin equals power. Neither was an original user inception. A user’s ideal experience is defined by her experience with technology. But when designers assume people know what they want in a new technology, they end up hopelessly mired in the past–creating horseless buggies, keyboards modeled after typewriters, and mobile computers we still call phones.”

3. If you want to jump in and just start doing some design work, check out these books/toolkits: Design Thinking for Educators from IDEO; bootcamp bootleg from the at Stanford; and the IDEO HCD toolkit from IDEO. The book Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions by Bruce Hanington & Bella Martin is a useful compendium of a variety of design methods to use.  Finally, design sprints are an interesting way to accelerate the design process

4. Regardless of what you are designing, always design with patients and caregivers to create the most innovative solutions! Check out the Diabetemoji!

5. I receive a lot of communications from healthcare stakeholders interested in design. Here are some of my thoughts on healthcare and design:

6. You should follow these interesting health designers on Twitter: Dennis BoyleAnnie Valdes, Abbe Don, Stacey Chang, Paul BennettAaron SklarLenny Naar, Matt Trowbridge, Jose Gomez-Marquez, Bon Ku. What is the ROI on design? Read the annual Design in Tech Report from John Maeda.

7. Check out these conferences, workshops, and courses about design. I haven’t attended them but they do look very promising:

Design Workshops

In conjunction with HealthDesignBy.Us and research collaborations, we have conducted a variety of participatory design/maker workshops. Above I have shared some examples of slides and tools that we have used for these workshops.

  • Patient-centered Design Workshop: How Might We Improve Communication in Clinical Care (Leader) Committee on Emerging Technologies Mott Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, School of Art and Design March 2014

  • Design my Diabetes Solution Patient-centered Design Workshop (Leader) Global Challenges for a Third Century Group Society 2030 Committee on Emerging Technologies Mott Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, School of Art and Design April 2014

  • Leveraging Social Media for Child Health Policy: Design Workshop (Leader) Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit (CHEAR) April 2014

  • Resident Signout Deserves Great Design (Leader) Committee on Emerging Technologies Mott Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, School of Art and Design June 2014

  • IDEO Design Workshop (Facilitator) Stanford MedX Conference Sept 2014

  • Pediatric Diabetes Education Advisory Committee Pediatric Endocrinology/Mott Children’s Hospital November 2014

  • T1D Exchange/C3N Project Design Meeting #1 for a Learning Health System Cincinnati Children’s Hospital November 2014

  • Designing a Learning Health System for Type 1 Diabetes Division of Pediatric Endocrinology University of Michigan January 2015

  • T1D Exchange/C3N Project Design Meeting #2 for a Learning Health System Cincinnati Children’s Hospital April 2015

  • #MakeHealth: Design Thinking for Health and Problem Solving University of Michigan Teaching and Technology Collaborative May 2015

  • Hacking Diabetes, JDRF Teen Central Program, TypeOneNation Summit May 2015 (See Blogpost on DiabetesMine)

  • MedX Media Makers Workshop with SeattleMamaDoc & Mike Evans, Stanford MedX Conference Sept 2015

  • Design Thinking Bootcamp for Health, University of Michigan Health System, School of Information, School of Art and Design,

  • Design the Future of Diabetes Education, A Workshop for Teens,, University of Michigan, April 2016

  • #MakeHealth: App Design by Teens for Teens with T1D, JDRF Teen Central Program, TypeOneNation Summit May 2016

  • Participatory Design Workshop for T1D Research, Children with Diabetes Conference 2016

  • Patient-centered Clinic Design Workshop, T1D Exchange Quality Improvement Network Meeting 2016

  • You are a Healthcare Designer: An Introduction to Design Thinking, Fast Forward Medical Innovation 2017

  • Diabetes Data Tinkering Workshop, Collaborative 2018

  • Research with the Nightscout Community, Friends For Life Diabetes Conference 2018

  • “Innovate + Health: A Patient-Centered Design Thinking Workshop for Medical Students” Fast Forward Medical Innovation/


  • You are a Designer: A Patient-Centered Design Thinking Workshop for the Frankel Cardiovascular Center, Fast Forward Medical Innovation/ 2019