Advanced Leadership Initiative: Designing for Real User Needs

Harvard created the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI) to unleash the potential of experienced individuals exercising leadership across the world to help solve society’s most pressing challenges. Over the years, faculty from across Harvard’s professional schools have joined forces to help build knowledge around issues that demand interdisciplinary leadership skills.

During ALI’s 2019 Public Health Deep Dive, Patrick Whitney brought design as an essential component to help solve complex public health issues related to behavior. As problems became more ambiguous, and solutions more uncertain, Whitney explained that leaders are turning to design as a new way of thinking and doing. He presented the Whole View model as a systematized approach that uses advanced design frameworks and methods to help leaders reframe an issue and amplify creativity and imagination when exploring options moving forward.

Whitney began by telling the story of children in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago suffering from asthma at eight times the rate of children in middle-class suburbs. Despite there being a clear process for treating asthma, and well-developed protocols for medical response, the children were not seeing improvement in their condition.

While the strategies, processes, and offerings for asthma treatment aligned, they did not take into consideration the user’s home environment. Whitney highlighted the mold on walls, the dysfunctional ventilation ducts, and other factors as key inhibitors to progress in Chicago. “The daily life of the people is disrupting the best-laid plans of the medical provider,” he said. Complex problems, in public health and beyond, required design’s capabilities of understanding human needs and aspirations.

To help executives better understand user experience, Whitney shared two frameworks: Five Stages and Five Modes. The Five Stages of user experience are: entice, enter, engage, exit, extend; the Five Modes were: physical, cognitive, social, cultural, and emotional. While not every offering would occupy all five modes of experience, Whitney explained that there must be alignment in user experience.

When developing solutions or new offerings, Whitney cautioned against information pollution and reflection deficit disorder. “Over time, the speed of creating, finding, and sharing information has increased rapidly,” he said. “The problem is the invisible resource called ‘downtime’ has been decreasing rapidly.” In closing, Whitney highlighted the importance of reflection and encouraged the use of prototypes to test ideas.