Posted November 21, 2019
I’m a Service Designer at Mayo Clinic’s Kern Center Innovation & Design group, one of the nation’s largest healthcare innovation centers within a major medical institution. We function like an in-house design consultancy for Mayo Clinic. As service designers, we use a systems approach to design healthcare experiences. My work is project-based, and the projects vary greatly. My everyday tasks include team brainstorm sessions, individual planning, interviews with patients and staff, running co-creation workshops, and stakeholder meetings to move the projects forward.
I first learned about Service Design through Professor Nassim Parvin’s project studio where she partnered with a mental health policy research team at the University of Pennsylvania. The group wanted to improve outcomes for a coaching service to autism support teachers. Nassim introduced service design as a lens for understanding and acting upon the group’s complex situation. I remember excitedly announcing I wanted to make this wicked problem my master’s capstone. With Nassim as my project advisor, I co-designed service changes with the staff, complementing the group’s implementation research principles with human-centered values.
Partnering with a community organization really prepared me for my current position. Exposure to workplace politics, differing stakeholder incentives, and constraints within the research and education space exercised my creativity and flexibility. Nassim’s guidance navigating this new territory was invaluable.
During my Mayo Clinic interview, I said, “I want a job where I do similar things to my master’s project but I’m part of a larger team.” I’m happy to say this is my everyday. Enjoying my work would be an understatement. I’m surrounded by people who are passionate, kind, and brilliant—both within the innovation group and among the medical staff of this world-class hospital.
The transition from student to employee takes time. I’m two years into this role, and while I haven’t figured everything out (yet), I’ve become more confident that I can figure things out. For instance, I’m more comfortable asking questions and explaining my thought process early on, especially to mentors and project seniors. This is important because (a. getting quality feedback early makes the work better and (b. exposure to experienced mentors’ thought process hones your own.
When you’re in a graduate program, you or your team directly determine your work’s success. As an employee, to get things done, you need to persuade, engage, and debate with people both within and beyond your team. Working in healthcare has made me particularly cognizant of the fact that not everything is within your ability to influence. Even if you give your all, you may not get the outcome you want—but still you give your best every day. Also, for someone like me who entered graduate school right after undergrad, working for a company with work-life balance is fantastic!
Digital media (DM) skills, such as making sense of multiple perspectives, synthesizing the big picture, and moving teams towards informed decisions, are a significant part of my work. In our group, we use iterative prototyping to test hypotheses in the medical practice. It’s a luxury in healthcare design to have ready access to patients and staff. These quick, “real-world” prototypes let us know if our designs are on the right track. We iterate towards change, with informed building blocks along the way.
Finally, while I use visual design as a medium to express complex concepts and get everyone on the same page, I don’t leverage many DM hard skills (e.g. coding). Rather, DM prepared me to think critically about situations. Principles such as embracing ambiguity, not jumping to solutions, and mindfully designing for multiple perspectives are lessons I’ve carried with me.
Michelle Partogi graduated with her Master’s of Science in Digital Media in 2016.