Illustration by Sarah Healy

How can thinking like a doctor help you as a designer?

Sarah Healy
Jun 10, 2019 · 4 min read

Stop selling and start diagnosing.

Let's say that I have a niggling pain in my foot. A discomfort which prevents me from running and is even painful when walking.

I decide this is a problem I need to address. I go and see my doctor.

First, I try and describe my ailment to my doctor.

Yet, only a few minutes into the discussion, my doctor begins to set up an appointment for surgery.

How do react to this?

Wow! This seems rash. Let’s talk more about this!

My guard immediately juts up.

I would question and doctor his motives for prescribing surgery so soon.

His behavior does not instill trust.

Had he even listened to what I told him?

Did he really understand my problem?

This rash diagnosis would suggest no. I would not even describe it as a diagnosis. It was not thorough. He prescribed an action before investing a lot of time listening to me or what my pain point was.

After this point, I am slow to accept anything he says without skepticism and distrust.

I just want to flee the scene.

Yet the same rules apply when coming up with a design solution for a client.

It is best to stop selling and start diagnosing. A thorough diagnosis is required n order to design an effective solution.

Stop selling and start diagnosing

Who likes to be pitched to?

That’s right, no one.

As the founder of the Futur Chris Do says,

We’re very accustomed to being sold to, so our defense goes up really fast

When their guard is up, they are resistant to anything we may say after this point.

So, what can we do instead?

Seek to diagnose rather than sell.

How can we do this?

Three steps to design diagnosis

1. Listen

Illustration by Sarah Healy

We are talking to a prospective client, the money that dangles before our eyes can prove distracting.

We must remember to be truly present and practice the art of listening.

Similar to a good doctor, a good designer first seeks to understand the true nature of a clients problem and only then offers a solution.

To get clarity on the problem, we must listen.

We do not need to focus on pushing what we are trying to sell, showcasing our amazing work or why the client needs it.

We must focus on listening.

This is a key step in getting to the root of the problem. A route which must replicate those a doctor takes during through diagnosis.

It is only through listening that we can get a clear understanding of the problem for which we are designing.

Only after listening, can we merge with step two.

2. Ask good questions

Illustration by Sarah Healy

Asking good questions is not easy.

Yet good questions help to further guide us to the root of the problem. These questions guide us past an avenue of endless possibilities and lead to a narrow field of focus.

Similar to a good doctor, good questions allow us to whittle down options. We get a clearer idea of what the ailment or problem is.

Usually, we have to ask a good question and a lot of them. When designing a solution it helps to be armed with as much information as possible. The more information we can glean, the more effective solution we can design.

3. Seek to serve

Illustration by Sarah Healy

This is more of a mindset than an action.

As a designer, I always strive to serve my client as best as I can.

I do not seek to solve the problem I think they have.

I do not design in my own image.

I do not assume.

I willingly accept that I know little if anything about their company or brand during the first initial call or meeting.

The client possesses intimate knowledge of the brand, I could not possibly yet know.

It would be arrogant to think that I know what they need before first listening to them and understanding what their pain points are.

This first meeting is an opportunity to absorb as much information as possible.

This leads to a more informed concept.

It is my job to tease out this information.

How can I do this?

By listening intently.

Asking great questions ideally. Asking as many questions as possible.

Questions that help to distill.

Questions which will lead me to the root of the problem.

If I can adopt a mindset which seeks to serve and the methodology of design diagnosis each design decision will serve the needs of the client.

Design diagnosis is similar to the steps taken by a doctor. It ensures a thorough diagnosis and prescribes the correct medicine.

In design terms, it means getting to the root of the problem and offering an effective solution.

Nobody wants to be sold to.

Everybody wants to be listened to and heard.

Strive to diagnose rather than sell.

About the Author

Sarah Healy is a writer, adventuress, and designer focused on presentation design and visual storytelling. She authors content on Design Digest and Happy Human.

Follow her on Twitter, Dribble, Behance or her website.

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on…

Sarah Healy

Written by

A multidisciplinary designer, storyteller, and adventuress with a penchant for exploring blank spots on the map. https://healysarah5.myportfolio.com/

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on creativity, design and why it matters.

Sarah Healy

Written by

A multidisciplinary designer, storyteller, and adventuress with a penchant for exploring blank spots on the map. https://healysarah5.myportfolio.com/

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on creativity, design and why it matters.

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