if airlines can get it, why can’t health?

By Leslie Ziegler

What happens when you take a kick ass designer, show him/her an inefficient system or horrible interface? A few years ago, Dustin Curtis opened fire on the airline industry’s UI prowess (or lack thereof) by posting his redesign of the American Airlines’ homepage, accompanied by an open letter to the management beseeching them to consider a few improvements. Following this first assault, a second came in the form of  Tyler Thompson’s redesign of Delta’s boarding pass. A third came soon after when Zach Klein’s one hour rethinking of poor defenseless Delta’s Sky Club portal made their current site look like amateur hour. What’s amazing isn’t just the sheer design talent. It’s that enormous corporations with a plethora of resources left enormous room for improvement; and that in just a few hours, a single designer looked at a challenging interface, applied their superpowers and made it into something useful, simple and beautiful.

In the health world, a big change came this June when the White House unveiled the Food Plate, a replacement for the very 90s food pyramid. It’s simplified and more graphic, showing the basic food groups and their proper proportions. No more nebulous number of portions (and who knew how big a portion was, anyway?), just advice in the form of food groups and how they fit together to make a balanced diet.

Wired Executive Editor Thomas Goetz’s powerful TED talk “It’s Time to Redesign Medical Data” is yet another example of what a design-driven future might bring. He depicted how a fresh, graphic-driven approach to convoluted lab reports can radically change a layperson-unfriendly, multi-page, black and white printout, making it into a thing of infographic beauty.

While laying out and making sense of complex data is not what most designers dreams are made of, perhaps it should be. In this data-driven world, there is less need for empty, pretty pictures and much more for art and design with meaning and purpose. And nowhere is there a better opportunity to do this than health, because even the airlines have finally caught on.