In May 2003, President George W Bush stood under a garish banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier and boldly proclaimed “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” in the Iraq War. A decade later, the U.S. military would still be fighting a war that was increasingly unwinnable. The infamous image of President Bush standing at the lectern on an aircraft carrier is seared into the U.S. consciousness, not as a moment of victory but as a warning on hubris.

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Image credit Andreea Mica.

I think of this image every time I hear a designer say “we finally have a seat at the table!” or “everyone understands the value of design!”. We designers think we have accomplished something meaningful — when all of the serious work is ahead of us. …


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A doctor using Simple in a primary health center in Maharashtra, India in 2019

The challenge

It might surprise you that high blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most common causes of death in the world. High blood pressure leads to heart disease and strokes, and it kills more people than all infectious diseases combined. In many countries, like the US or India, about 1-in-4 adults has high BP, which translates into hundreds of millions of people who are at risk.

A chart showing the relative scale of deaths from communicable diseases, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
A chart showing the relative scale of deaths from communicable diseases, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
By using evidence-based methods, it’s possible to save 3 million lives every year from cardiovascular disease

The good news is that most deaths from high BP are avoidable. There are several things that countries must do to get a handle on the problem. One of them is to measure where treatment for hypertension is working and where it could be improved. The tech team that builds Simple is responsible for helping clinicians and health officials measure outcomes so patients lower their BP to a safer level, health facilities improve BP control rates, states improve control at the population level, and that as a result heart disease, strokes, and deaths are avoided. …


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Photo of some basic tech bros by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Over the last couple of years, several of my friends have landed coveted leadership roles at a company that I’ll call BIG DESIGN STARTUP. First one guy that I know joined as a VP, then a close guy friend took another VP position, then another friend became a director. Just last week, yet another guy I know joined as their newest VP.

I’m honestly excited for my friends. From the outside it looks like they’re getting a fun band together to go on tour. Who wouldn’t want to get on that bus? …


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We asked the larger design community for suggestions. People came through with excellent suggestions and we thought it would be helpful to share them with you:

Human-Centered Design and Performance Improvement: Better Together

New England Journal of Medicine, June 2018

A really useful article about human-centered design at Kaiser Permanente (a large US health system) and the impact on healthcare quality and safety gains over the past two decades. This article applies particularly well to a health audience, but is applicable across the board.

The Business Value of Design

McKinsey Quarterly, October 2018

Regardless of what you think of McKinsey (and we have mixed feelings) this high level article on design’s value makes a compelling case backed up with performance metrics. The charts are excellent and the authors make a strong case that design reduces costs and drives value — compelling to business leaders and government officials who deal with budgets. …


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In July, the team behind Simple put out a call for contributions to the brand for this open source project. Simple is an app for healthcare workers to track patients with high blood pressure.

The contributions from the community have been nothing short of stellar. Whoa! We are so happy with where this project landed. Thank you so much to every single person who contributed with their design work, critique, and encouragement.

The most exciting part of this process has been the collaboration. …


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Photo by Tyler Callahan on Unsplash

I’ve been to many conferences over the last twenty years. Mostly the speakers droned on about their topics, which were easily forgotten. Thinking back, only a few big ideas really stuck with me. These are three ideas I’ve come back to over and over again in my career.

There is a big difference between designed well and well-designed.

Graphic design legend David Carson gave a tedious presentation at one of the first conferences I ever attended. However, fifteen years later, I still clearly remember a pair of slides from his talk that looked something like this:

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(photo credits STML and Bernard Hermant)

There is a chasm between a concept that looks professionally designed versus a design that truly communicates your message. …


I am the director of design for Resolve to Save Lives, which is an initiative of the not-for-profit organization Vital Strategies. We are currently working on apps for doctors, nurses, and patients under the new moniker: Simple.

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The original Firefox brand was created by distributed volunteers

Fourteen years ago, a group of us helped design the Firefox identity. We liked Mozilla’s mission and it seemed like a fun, rewarding project. The Firefox brand was a true open-source effort. The members of the Mozilla visual identity team remixed each others’ ideas, gave all ownership over to Mozilla, and volunteered our time for a cause that we believed in.

So, I got to thinking, would it be possible to rally a similar effort for Resolve to Save Lives, but in an even more distributed way? …


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I asked a whole bunch of designers what books, which weren’t specifically about digital or graphic design, inspired them. And, wow I got a ton of great responses. Here are twelve of the most popular recommendations:

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

The classic book about city planning in a humane way. Still as relevant as when it was first published in the early 1960s.

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Technically about city planning but everything to do with designing for humans

2. The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

“A new theory of architecture, building, and planning which has at its core that age-old process by which the people of a society have always pulled the order of their world from their own being.” — Amazon

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The classic on design patterns

3. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

About Dr. Paul Farmer and his work to eradicate tuberculosis. On doing service design and primary research, but with different names. …


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Twenty years ago, when I started my design career, I made a lot of fake stuff. I can still clearly remember when I designed my own CD covers for albums by famous bands, created a fake e-commerce site with my friends, recreated famous logos in Corel Draw, redesigned a popular website just to see what I would do differently, and designed fake logos for fake products that didn’t exist yet. You might say, “What a waste of time on unpaid work!” You could say “Gosh, you didn’t understand the intricacies of designing for the real world!” …


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Photo by Alice Achterhof via Unsplash

Recently, Jared Spool caught my attention with an article about how Netflix’s performance engineers are actually designers. It’s a provocative idea, but it makes sense. His argument is that everyone in your organization (including performance engineers) designs the product, not just the people with “design” in their job titles.

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From some of the reactions, you might think Jared had kidnapped a baby for ritual sacrifice. What exactly did Jared write?

The members of this team are performance engineers. They are architecting, engineering, and maintaining the performance of a very complex system. It occupies all their time and then some. …

About

Daniel Burka

Daniel is a designer and product manager. He works on Simple.org

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