Designing for Good

Emotion-driven design and its importance when designing for social impact.

“Once they get you back there, you sometimes have to wait for one or two more hours… and it is way worse than the waiting room. The room is small, white, there’s nothing to see, nothing to do. You’re waiting for the doctor and it’s uncomfortable, it’s tiring. Even though you haven’t done anything for hours, you feel like you’ve done a lot of work. And for the patient, all this time you’re sitting there undressed.”


During a previous project, Marianne told us about her experience in the pre-operation room while waiting for her mom to undergo surgery. By this, we were able to identify different sources of negative emotions such as being uncomfortable, unattended and vulnerable. Here lied an opportunity space for design: rethink a positive waiting experience for the patient, resulting in better outcomes for their loved ones and a smoother going for the hospital staff.

Designing for Social Impact by Focusing on Emotions

According to current literature and industry conversation, there is a growing urge to design for deeper causes. People are shifting interests and turning their goals away from surface level solutions and towards pinpointing core problems improving the well-being and quality individual lives and communities.

Designers are partnering up with experts from other fields (NGOs, non-profits, etc.) to collaborate with them and the involved communities to solve diverse socially complex problems, usually in the areas of rural development, healthcare, education and natural resources. These solutions have the potential to be spread widely and have positive consequences for years to come.

Stepping away from our usual projects and designing for social impact is a way to maximize Round Feather’s emotion-driven methodology: we design focusing on emotions that arise from such problems and on the impact on them that our solution will have. By putting ourselves in the shoes of the people involved, we can dig deep into underlying concerns and needs. This understanding empowers us to co-create powerful solutions with a considerable impact in whole communities.

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Redesigning the Waiting Room Experience

Marianne's example above is one of many where emotion-driven design can generate impact. To understand the emotional situation within a waiting room, we talked not only to patients but also with people who went with them as well as the hospital staff. This was essential to procure varying points of view, consider all perspectives, and obtain a holistic interpretation- a key to our methodology.

Observing the participants in context helped us to better empathize with their situations, while mapping out their journeys allowed the comparison and uncovering of fresh insights and relationships. Within these, we identified specific pain-points, exposing our opportunity spaces for design. For example, we realized how people dreaded the waiting room (or the pre-op room in Marianne’s case) more than the actual procedure or appointment because of lingering anxiety and uncertainty, seemingly endless and unexplained waiting time, and the constant pool of mixed emotions. All of these factors were vital for us to keep in mind in order to successfully redesign the waiting room experience.

Moreover we noticed the importance of the person who accompanies the surgical patient, such as Marianne. Through our holistic approach, we realized that because of the patient’s vulnerability, they became the most receptive point of contact and acted as direct link between the hospital and the patient- whether it was for emotional support or for practicalities such as receiving instructions and information. This is something that took us by surprise since usually the main focus is on the patients, not on their company. 


So, where can design come in?

 After immersing ourselves in this context, we were able to propose multiple solutions for the pinpointed concerns, varying from an interactive wall for patients for entertainment while waiting, to a simple digital display with actual waiting times. We also learned how we had to strongly consider and include the participation of the accompaniment, since they would be the main practical and emotional support system for the patient. In this way, we would transform an experience of anxiety and fear into one of comfort and hope. Our solution would impact the patient, their loved ones and the hospital staff, resulting in improvements in the overall experience.

Within Social Impact projects, emotion-driven design has an expansive effect. As designers we look to propose solutions for inclusion, empowerment and sense of belonging to contribute to society. By maximizing our emotion-driven methodology and taking a holistic approach we are able to put it towards more meaningful use. Throughout this process, our team members actually get to know the people they are designing for and connect with them in an intimate way.

Driven by the stories of our participants, we can co-create to improve their environments as we uncover root problems which are turned into opportunities to design for impact.