Embracing the Ambiguity with Human Centered Design
My name is Sydney Arsenault and I am a junior majoring in social work at USC. As a social work major, I never thought I would be using words like “prototyping” or “design.” However, when I signed up for the Galen Health Fellows Leading Innovation in Health, that’s exactly what I found myself saying. During four sessions, my fellow students and I were given three different health problems experienced on college campuses asked to come up with innovative ways to combat them. The assigned problems were the lack of nighttime routines in college students, the lack of participation in mindfulness activities, and the poor nutritional choices of college students.
During our first session, we were encouraged to “embrace the ambiguity.” Or, in other words, go directly against my human nature. As uncomfortable as this initially sounded, it was an appropriate and inspiring structure for the program. We weren’t given the purpose of every activity we did, but every activity had a purpose. Thinking outside of the box, letting go of perceived barriers, and fighting the initial urge to say no to an unconventional idea was difficult, but incredibly helpful and necessary.
Human Centered Design allowed us to explore different methods of data collection, brainstorming, prototyping and, most importantly, made all of them seem possible. We were encouraged to think of as many ideas, no matter how extreme, as quickly as possible. Then, we critiqued our ideas, kind of. I say kind of because we used a “yes and..” approach, never saying no or pointing out the flaws in someone’s idea. This way, we never minimized the innovation of an idea and used each idea as a building block to a better one. This strategy equipped us with the right attitude to start building prototypes and visualizing our ideas.
Through four sessions, my team took our initial problem, the lack of a nighttime routine on college campuses, and created the framework for an app. The app would monitor cell phone use before bed and, when the phone wasn't being used, students would accrue points to turn in for rewards and discounts from local businesses. My partners and I identified electronics use as a barrier to solving our problem, so we developed an idea that would overcome that obstacle and incentivize the implementation of a nighttime routine.
I walked into the first session unsure of what I had committed to and how fitting it would be for me and walked out of the last session impressed with what my teammates and I had accomplished and empowered to search for atypic
al solutions in my everyday life. I was able to work with an integrated team of students of different ages, from different majors to learn a new method to facilitate positive change in my community.
Before Galen, I never would have believed that I would be able to prototype an app. But, because I was able to “embrace the ambiguity” and versatility of Human Centered Design, I did! I will able to use Galen’s approach to innovation and problem-solving in my schoolwork and in my future career as a social worker.