Human-Centered Design process diagram

Visualizing my approach to working in hospitals and other healthcare settings

This article is largely intended for designers, but if you’re not a designer you may still enjoy it (and you may be interested in reading How designers make hospitals awesome.)

What do I love more than a diagram? Chocolate and my family, for sure, but not much else. It is endlessly satisfying to make sense of confusing and invisible things by mapping them out.

There are a plethora of diagrams and models out there that represent the human-centered design process. This one, originally created by the Stanford d.school, is always a handy reference. (This is my drawing of it, anyway.)

This diagram is helpful for describing the design process at a very high level, but I wanted something more robust; something I could expand on, deeply process, own, discuss with clients and use to plan and collaborate with team members.

The basic process diagram

Below is the basic version that I have shared with clients at the hospital where I often consult. It contains five overlapping phases, along with potential activities involved in each phase. The diagram looks fairly linear at a glance, but I always point out that this process is cyclical. The purpose is to set high-level expectations with teams at the beginning of a project so we come to a common understanding about what the work will look like.

The kitchen sink; the big kahuna; the whole enchilada

I expanded the diagram to include important pre- and post-project milestones such as a rubric (to decide whether the project is appropriate), measurement (important at the beginning and end of a project), creating a case study, and more; it also includes additional potential methods in each phase.

This expanded version is a great reference point for questions like: are we covering our bases? And: are there other tools or methods we could be using instead?

I put this together with hospital projects in mind, but in fact it could make sense for many different types of projects and organizations.


What does a sample project look like?

Notice how each phase above is roughly the same size? As you probably know, that’s not actually how things look in real life. Below is how a recent project actually unfolded (over a year and a half) — the ‘Learn’ phase has continued in some fashion throughout the whole project, and we haven’t actually gotten to the last ‘refine’ stage yet. I put this version together to bring a new team member up to speed on our approach this specific project. It’s nice to see this view, as each project is unique and will thus look a little different.

What do you think?

Is this helpful? What’s missing? How could it be improved? How much dark chocolate do you think I eat every day?*


Props to my colleague Jeremy Beaudry for giving feedback and input on the diagram, and props to Alli Berry for encouraging me to keep working on it after seeing a first draft. Props to all the internet dogs that give me the strength to keep going.


*Answer: approximately one bar