This past September, I had the opportunity to participate in SmithGroup's inaugural IdeaLab, an intensive crowdsourcing and idea generation program focused on researching a design problem and fostering solutions. Thanks to the hard work of our very own Erin McNamara, Heather Chung, Amy Kircher, Matt Richter and Vlad Torskiy, this first IdeaLab honed in on artificial intelligence in healthcare design. How will AI change the landscape of healthcare? How will designers respond to radically different care pathways? What would a clinic run entirely run by AI look like? These questions and more came to mind as I became more excited about the idea of AI in design. When you’re coordinating with engineers and knee deep in site visits, it’s liberating to step back and let your creativity run wild for a spell. My inner nerd definitely enjoyed riding the hyperspace lanes of ideas.
Through an online pin-up board, designers from across the firm posted their ideas and commented on articles they’ve read, usually in the odd hours of the night which is when the best ideas usually come to the surface. There was a distinct Star Wars vs. Star Trek divide at times (just remember, Han shot first), but needless to say, we enjoyed scratching our sci-fi itch.
After this crowdsourcing event, and a brief, if revealing application process (a sombrero-wearing robot was involved), nine of us were selected for the IdeaLab and divided into teams of three. Each team focused on a patient profile, or persona, and my amazing team members—the witty Sally Whitely out of San Francisco and the ever effervescent Alise Robles of Los Angeles—became part what we dubbed Team Karla, after our fictional patient to be. We collectively started what we called the “getting in the mindset” phase, with several homework assignments and other tasks to shift our focus to the future. There was a great diagram I recalled from the kick-off meetings showing the future as possible, probable and, hopefully, if we had anything to say about it, preferable.
All three teams finally come together in a 2-day charrette held in our Washington, DC office. Thanks to the hard work (and late nights) of my teammates, we were prepped with an expansive narrative of Karla’s life navigating in the world of AI. Our patient, Karla, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer while contending with diabetes and a heart condition. Needless to say, we had our work cut out for us.
As we kicked off the charrette with a “fill-the-wall” download of each team’s progress so far, the leaders of our national health practice happened to be on hand to see us present. What followed could be described as a cross between a trial by fire (we were all presenting for the first time together) and a free-flowing ideation session. Thankfully, we fostered a culture of inclusion where no idea was too outlandish. We then broke out into our teams and continued working and reporting back over the next two exhausting days, keeping everyone apprised of our design for a retail clinic based in a rebranded CVS. Once you jettison conventional thinking, it’s amazing how much we designed in such a compressed time frame.
After recuperating from that exciting but brain-draining charrette, Team Karla spent the following weeks doing post-production work, getting our ideas ready for publication (coming soon). Converting our sketches and scribbles into a coherent narrative for Karla’s life into graphics, models and renderings. Visualizing our most powerful ideas—the AI of Things, our Declaration of AI in Healthcare Design and our clinic design—became our focus. Hopefully our AI Clinic of the Future will shed some of the discomfort we as humans have designed into our current healthcare process and let a little healing occur along the way.
So far, the IdeaLab has given me much to think about. After dwelling on A.I. and its implications I’ve come to some conclusions. The potential is immense, especially for those in the design professions seeking to better utilize data. As an optimist, the future capabilities once A.I. becomes widespread and applicable in 15 or so years will fundamentally change how architects conceive of space. Whether it’s augmented reality, or processing environmental data, or an artificial intelligence developing a building design from a client’s program, it’ll be a frightening miracle to behold.
Since it will eliminate functions and create new ones we haven’t dreamed of yet, the power of A.I. will drive our clients business as much as our own. It will probably sneak up on us, quietly seeping into our lives and becoming commonplace, with occasional bursts of innovation that will force us to redefine our worldview in the process. A less optimistic view might concern the loss of privacy and how A.I. could control our lives. To combat that possible outcome, we’ll have to be vigilant about putting humanity first—and making the individual the center of this brave new world.
SmithGroup’s Innovations in Practice initiative is a series of events designed to instill a culture of knowledge, innovation and thought leadership deeper into our practice. The intent is to develop the resources and processes that will help move SmithGroup ahead of where our client’s industry is (present state), and position us to shape and serve where the industry will be (future state). This exploratory process uses scenario building to articulate and test future state concepts, including socio-economic, demographic, environmental, and technological impacts. The resulting insights are used to seed a series of IdeaLabs with design challenge statements, a fuller investigation of a specific design problem that engages the broader practice and industry partners in finding real solutions.