SXSW POV: 5 Ways to Create More Human Health Experiences for All

Daniela Carrasco, Experience Design Strategy, YuzuYello

“If you let them, patients will be your greatest teachers,” says U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, quoting his medical school professor, Dr. Auguste Fortin.

Key words: if you let them.

Imagine this…

You’re going to a new restaurant for the first time. After being seated, you are told by restaurant staff that you will have the spaghetti. It doesn’t stop there. They proceed to tell you you’re actually going to help them cook it.

The problem: you’re gluten intolerant. Not to mention, not the best cook.

You proceed to ask “why?” and the restaurant staff’s response is, “Selling our award-winning pasta is one of our strategic goals this year. But we want you to be part of the process so other customers like you will like our pasta, too. So, can you help us make it?”

That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s common to favor brand goals over the needs of customers, allowing the former to drive assumptions about the latter, instead of the other way around.

So how do we create experiences that connect with all our customers? Here are five ways organizations can practice inclusive design.

1. Co-design every time

Co-creation is necessary, but today, not enough on its own. In the pasta scenario, what good is asking a customer to help us make the pasta, when they might not be able to eat it in the first place?

Co-designing means we involve patients in every decision we make along the way, starting at time zero. We step back, listen and enable them to inspire new worlds built around them.

Involve customers in:

  • The identification of problems and needs
  • The design of solutions and new concepts
  • And then, in the refinement and execution of those ideas

When possible, start your process with ethnography. Get to know your patients beyond their condition. How do they begin their day? What are they most concerned about? What are the moments they look forward to?

2. Representation matters

When co-designing with customers, it’s important to involve the right ones. While personas and archetypes are useful tools that help us focus and summarize who our customer is, we should be mindful we don’t lose the nuance and complexities that make us human.

People come with a unique set of factors and traits – visible and invisible. Our highly visual-context society often defaults to the differences we can see. But deep into the invisible, cultural values, belief systems, personal experiences and family relationships all play a role in shaping us.

Jennifer Greenhorn, Director of Service Design and Research for EYDS Canada, introduced the Waterline of Visibility concept at SXSW to illustrate this notion.

Often, customers, who know their own deepest needs, are able to realize their vision of solving a problem they themselves have experienced, at scale.

The women’s health space has recently experienced an expansion of women-led accessible care, with customer-centric companies like Kindbody (fertility care), Natural Cycles (digital birth control) and Elvie (postpartum wearables) putting health products and services directly into the hands of women. Founders have taken it upon themselves to create businesses that meet their own needs, when other companies hadn’t. Two women who have built changemaking healthcare companies spotlighted during SXSW are Everly Health Founder and CEO Julia Cheek, and Maven Clinic Founder and CEO Kate Ryder.

3. Make technology human-first

While our instincts might tell us that machines are less biased than humans, AI can in fact perpetuate and even scale bias for two reasons:

1. Machines are programmed by humans (who have implicit biases).

2. AI draws from historical data (which has bias built into it).

MIT professor Renee Richardson Gosline shared examples of how AI used as “predictive policing” inaccurately and disproportionately affected people of color. What she suggests: adopt a human-first approach to machine learning, using AI to complement, not fully replace, human processes.

Machine learning is a wonderful tool at our disposal. Now more than ever, we need a diverse talent pool designing, building and working with machines to reduce, not enhance bias.

4. Use all the senses.

Most healthcare marketing today relies on two senses: sight and sound.

Yet, touch can have a calming effect and alter the way stress is handled.1 Scent is inextricably tied to memory and emotion.2 And taste is a powerful motivator, with restaurant, food and beverage industries revolving around it.

Engaging multiple senses can help deepen our connection with customers and allow us to reach those with vision or hearing impairments.

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer and President of Healthcare at Mastercard showcased their Touch Card, which has transformed the conventional credit card to incorporate tactile cues for vision-impaired customers.

Mastercard’s Touch Card was endorsed by The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the U.K. and VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired in the U.S.3

A favorite part of the case study: despite having a patent for the design, Mastercard chose to release the design to its competitors in order to promote widespread accessibility.  

5. Adopt a ‘never finished’ mindset. 

One of the most beautiful facets of humanity is our ability to learn and evolve over time. Adopting a culture of experimentation, not perfection, is much more human than a one-and-done approach to marketing. 

Practice iterative design. Run a pilot first. Change that KPI to redefine what success looks like, in human terms.  

The road toward complete health equity is a long one hinging on numerous factors and intertwined with the webs of healthcare systems. But we, as marketers, as creators, can do our part by designing experiences that hear, see and treat patients like the unique humans they are. 


  1. Calming Effects of Touch in Human, Animal, and Robotic Interaction—Scientific State-of-the-Art and Technical Advances. 04 November 2020.

  2. What the Nose Knows. The Harvard Gazette. 27 February 2020. 

  3. Mastercard Introduces Accessible Card for Blind and Partially Sighted People. 25 October 2021.