A Conversation with Stephanie Morgan


Stephanie Morgan is a Design Researcher here at the Design Institute for Health. Before joining the team in June 2018, Stephanie worked with medical device manufacturers and health systems to implement human-centered design into their practices. She combines this experience with her research training in human behavior to study how people perceive, interact, and emotionally engage with product systems, services, and experiences. I spoke with Stephanie to learn more about her design perspective and experience thus far at the Design Institute for health.

Q: Can you talk to me about your background?

Stephanie: My formal background from an education perspective is in Cognitive Science, which is interdisciplinary neuroscience. I describe it as cognition in context — all the cognitive activities we experience: learning, memory, attention and decision making.

Q: How did you become involved in design research?

Stephanie: I didn’t go out trying to find design research, I didn’t know it existed. When I read the first description for a job with design research, I said “Oh okay, this is who I am.”

I was doing research on chimpanzees at the San Diego Zoo, studying their socio-cognitive interactions, which is essentially conflict resolution. I realized I liked the idea of extracting patterns from micro sets of data, but being able to level it up to more macro ideas or things to pursue. I looked for ways to apply ethnography and found the field of design through that pursuit.

Q: What drew you to design specifically for problems in health?

Stephanie: Working with problems in health is infinitely more meaningful, in terms of the outcome and impact. The problems in health are a lot more complex — which is a good fit for my brain and something that I like.

I call them wicked problems, they are just things that don’t have a one size fits all, easy, and identifiable solution. Everything is at odds with each other. There are conflicts, variables, multiple layers of people involved, policy, money, and factors that create this messy area that is great for opportunity.  

Q: How do you define design?

Stephanie: I think some people think design is fluff and magic and post-it notes on a wall and getting a lot of people with different backgrounds together in a room to come up with ideas that other people haven’t thought of before. I think that’s pretty inaccurate.

For me, design is problem solving. Sometimes I caveat that with design is creative, strategic problem solving. In my opinion, good design is never without strategy. It involves actually looking at the context of a problem, the business side, the policy side, the regulatory side and asking: Is this viable? Could it work? If it failed in the past, then why did it fail in the past? Let’s understand the context because times are constantly changing, people are changing, technology is changing, needs are changing. So, it doesn’t mean you can’t try it again with a twist.

Q: What would be your dream project at the Design Institute?

Stephanie: I would love to do a project to figure out how insurance wouldn’t have to be a part of health care, but not in the way that it insures us to be healthy, but the financial side. It determines where you can go to get care, who you can talk to, who has to approve what first — every time you move or change jobs, you start all over again. Healthcare should be a basic right. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is.   

I would also love to look at, I call them, the little things. All the little things that ultimately create so much frustration and create so much challenge — the little bits of care coordination and redundancies of information. I’m not saying overhaul a complete system, but think about little things you could get rid of. Things like if there was modern technology integration similar to what happens in other realms of our lives, or maybe if someone called and talked to you so you wouldn’t be doing things over and over again, or maybe a ride could be provided for you. If you need someone to watch your kids, a babysitter will come. It’s all the little things that really affect someone’s ability to be healthy, but aren’t directly related to health.   

Katherine Jones