Athina Santaguida, Miki Aso and Molly Oberholtzer are students from the Health Services Innovation Class at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. Their team worked on a group service design project for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

I interviewed Athina, Miki and Molly by telephone on May 18, 2010 about their GROW project at Parsons.

GROW: An Herb Garden System

Project Presentation [PDF 12.8MB]

JEFF: Hi everyone, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your work for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Before we get into the details of your project I thought maybe we could start with some background on the class itself. Parsons seems to be one of the more recent schools to embrace service design here in the US. Can you help me understand a bit about how this course fits with the other classes you’re taking?

MOLLY: We’re part of the Integrated Design Program at Parsons and service design is a new focus within that program that just came out last year. I think it’s one of the more different programs that we have here at Parsons — I haven’t seen anything like it. So it is very different from most of the normal studio classes. Because it is still considered a studio class; we do a lot of prototyping, lots of hands-on work, but it’s a different kinds of hands-on work that most design students are used to I think.

ATHINA: Definitely, it has more of a focus in terms of the objective of “designing for people” instead of just “designing a thing.”

MOLLY: And I think in terms of it fitting into the overall curriculum of Parsons, I think that it’s — Parsons talks a lot about designing for people and this is one of the few programs that actually address that in a clear way and that you can really see the results from using this type of design.

MIKI: I’m an environmental studies student and the other two are interior design program students so you can enter into the service design concentration in many ways.

JEFF: What other programs were represented in the class?

MIKI: There were two environmental studies students, myself and Payal [Patel] and we’re the only two environmental studies students that are concentrating on service design. For the most part I guess some people came from interior design and what was interesting about taking this class was that even though most of us had come from different concentrations, after we took the class we all really wanted to delve deeper into service design. I think it really changed a lot of our focus across the board.

JEFF: Are there more service design classes at Parsons?

MIKI: Yes, there are. You can specialize in service design; through the Integrated Design Program you can claim it as your focus — your major.

ATHINA: Within IDP each person has their own focus so we are all coming from different backgrounds. I’m also focusing on sustainable studies as well as service design. But before I also did fashion and then product design. And there are also people, like Miki said, that are doing interior design within IDP. All of us have these very customized majors, so we all have a little bit of a different background when we’re coming into this class.

JEFF: That’s great. It helps to give a bit of perspective about how the class fits within the overall context at Parsons. Moving on to the project itself, was this one long project within the service design course or did you work on many different projects?

MOLLY: This was our one big project over the course of the semester in service design with Steve [Dean]. We started off really slow, which was nice. We just looked at the concept of “transitions,” which I thought was a really great thing to look at in advance, and then we spent the whole semester working on it. We visited the MSK [Memorial Sloan-Kettering] locations early on and set up some interviews and then the rest of the time finalized our concepts.

JEFF: Let’s talk a little about how that process unfolded, in terms of working with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Now, was this the outpatient chemotherapy center in Brooklyn?

MOLLY: We were creating the concept of the outpatient center in Brooklyn but when we went to visit and talk to the people at MSK we went to their location on Lexington and 53rd.

ATHINA: After we had visited the location at 53rd we also made our own trips to the site in Brooklyn which is still under construction. That was our way of analyzing the community around the MSK center in Brooklyn and seeing how we could fit that aspect into our design for services. A big part of the MSK design brief was to include the community within the design and see how it fits into the lives of the patients.

JEFF: Alright, so you did some on-site research in Brooklyn but also research with patients in their main location. Can you tell me a little about how that research process worked?

MIKI: On the patient side we had two patients come into our class, and we got to interview them. We were able to ask questions and get some insight. About their process, how they go through chemo. We asked a lot of questions. We had no idea how they feel, what they go through, how it changes their lives — how it impacts their friends and families, and everyone in their lives. We gained a lot of insights from those two interviews and we were also given some printouts of interviews that were done prior to us starting our research. So that really influenced our design solutions.

JEFF: Can you explain how you moved from that research into the creation of design concepts? How you approached the service ideation process?

MOLLY: We started with lots and lots of observations. Through research and observation. And then just looking at everything we had. Doing the POEMS analysis — people, objects, environments, messages, services. We started to break it down into what was necessary: what the patients needed versus what the community needed. How to bring those things together and meet what MSK needed.

MIKI: We also had a lot of ideas that we presented during crits. We came up with different ideas like transportation and it was a lot of different things. After that presentation the class as a whole had to look at what everyone presented and choose four main strong ideas. Then the groups re-evaluated and chose one focus instead of five or six different ideas. That’s when we decided to take on the garden idea.

ATHINA: In getting there, we used polarity maps to see where the ideas stand and how they fit in with the patients and the caregivers and nurses and we also did story spots to go along with those. That really helped us to see ideas and where they stand.

JEFF: As you were coming up with these ideas it looks like you made some scale models of the location. Is that right?


JEFF: I saw that you used some of those same Playmobil characters in the videos later on. Was that initial scale model a way to come up with the ideas themselves in terms of sketching the concepts?

ATHINA: When we created the model we already knew that we were going with our garden project idea: the GROW Project. However, it was a really good way for us to see how our ideas worked out but they did change as we progressed with these models we could see what changes needed to be made in our services and in the aesthetics, and in lots of different areas. So it changed in that way.

JEFF: It looked like you built that on top of an actual architectural blueprint. Am I reading that right?

MOLLY: I think that really helped us with the prototyping process. We got to look at our idea on top of the actual space — that blueprint — and then to see spatially how it worked; what things were the most feasible and what was the best.

JEFF: How did you come up with the idea of using those characters?

MOLLY: Playmobil? Steve suggested it actually —

ATHINA: At the service design course here Playmobil is used a lot. Steve said that it can be a good tool to use and when we saw him bring it into the class we thought that it would be a perfect way for us to get our ideas down and see our services play out.

JEFF: Did you need to customize the character set or was it usable right out of the box? Did they include hospital and garden-type elements?

MIKI: There was some. There was an IV pole with a little IV bag and doctors and such, but we made a lot of what was in our prototypes. So for the most part we just used the characters, the people, and then we built everything else that we needed.

JEFF: Were there other outputs from your ideation process? Blueprints or journey maps? Anything else that supported your ideation?

MOLLY: Yes, we made a service blueprint of the whole service. It was a way to see how all the touchpoints interacted and how the back services, the whole service would come together.

ATHINA: We had mentioned before that we had done several polarity maps. Story spots, personas and service blueprints and that slide on limitations and evolution which was really helpful to show our progress. Even the things that you don’t see in our final presentation were really, really helpful in solidifying our ideas.

JEFF: Can you go into a little more detail about polarity maps and story spots in terms of how they fit into your process?

MIKI: We did some polarity maps in the very beginning. We had several ideas that it wasn’t just the focused idea of the garden. So I think what we did was we did the polarity maps in terms of the axes: active and passive and patient and caregiver. That way we could apply our service solutions inside that polarity map and see what different characteristics would come up in each quadrant. So each of us did that and I don’t think that we used the same polarities in each map. But it was a good way for us — I found them to be really difficult to do, but it was a good difficulty and it helped us to see how to address each quadrant in a different way.

JEFF: I see. How about story spots?

MOLLY: Definitely the polarity maps led to story spots. Like for the garden polarity map it was passive versus active and patient versus community so that led to four groupings that led to story spots, for example in the passive:patient quadrant was a woman who would not necessarily participate in the garden but just passively would be able to enjoy it based off of the aroma-therapy, the seating locations and the privacy hedges. And then on the active side of the polarity map would be a story spot of someone who once was a botanist or who once worked on a farm and he takes more of an active role in the garden and enjoys working in it, maybe shows other patients how to work in it, and then sort of falls into more of the community section as well.

JEFF: You’ve mentioned a few of the elements in your system. Can we take a step back and go through the overall set of touchpoints that you prototyped for your service design project?

ATHINA: One touchpoint we could start with, we have the outer garden and the inner garden —

MOLLY: Starting from the outside touchpoints we wanted to put benches out there to be more a part of the community outside. To allow the people in that area to also take part. To join the community. Also hanging plants; we discovered that there are butterfly and bird-attracting Trumpet Vines and Honeysuckle and we thought that would be a nice way to beautify the street and, again, help out the community. Also aroma therapy, the potted plants located at the entrance as well. On the inside, touchpoints start with the seating area; the window garden. And then, again, aroma therapy. Walking further inside we —

ATHINA: Another touchpoint that would be part of the system would be our GROW make station. That is an area that the patients can interact with where there are supplies, seeds, GROW information cards that give you simple information about the herbs that would be provided to plant. Another touchpoint would be the kitchen in the back of the site which is the area where the patients and caregivers can make tea using the herbs from the garden as well as others that are provided in the kitchen in the back. Another touchpoint in the kitchen is the chart for making the teas which would provide different blends addressing your needs whether you’re stressed out, tired, nauseous — which was based on different symptoms that the patients had told us about during our interviews about chemotherapy.

MIKI: I really think it’s important to know all that. We did a lot of research on herbs and different types that would be good to grow in this space but we also looked into applications with herb interactions with chemotherapy and chemo-treatment. And we came across a lot of interactions that we didn’t want. We didn’t want to use those herbs that pose any sort of threat to their treatment. So we really pared down our list of herbs that we wanted to have at the site. And took into consideration that we didn’t want to endanger anybody’s treatments. That’s listed in our limitations and constraints sections.

JEFF: One of the most interesting touchpoints for me are the mobile green partitions. Can you explain how those fit into the system?

MOLLY: The mobile green partitions actually were something that we found on the internet. It’s from the Greenworks design company. It’s a really great invention of theirs. We definitely noticed during our interviews that there was a patient need for privacy. Also because it’s such a small space MSK explained that this needs to be an area that can have transitions. It can be suited to the patient needs, which can change over the course of the day. So we definitely wanted to add something that stuck with our GROW style and concept and was green and living. At the same time, it could be a piece of architecture almost. The Greenworks Moving Hedge is basically self-watering. You just fill it up and it uses water as needed. It has a roller system on the bottom so you just roll it and push it to move it where you like.

ATHINA: With the Moving Hedge you can customize your own space within the waiting area so if you want privacy you can move it and have a little space on your own or with someone else, or you can move it and make it more of an open space so it’s really a way for people who are waiting to customize their own area.

JEFF: In your presentation and videos you also mentioned a mobile herb cart that the nurses deploy, supported by a third party called Botanica. Was this company something that you encountered during your research, or is it a placeholder of sorts?

ATHINA: Yes, Botanica is actually a gardening and flower shop that is practically right next door to MSK. When we did our tour of the community we saw this and recognized it as a potential partnership that could be made with MSK to help them with their garden and herb system at the site.

JEFF: I’m curious about how MSK figured into this process as a whole, in terms of giving feedback on your concepts or helping to provide the initial direction.

MIKI: They provided us a really rich and specific design brief. And that kind of started off the work that we did with them and then we had the mid-term crits which they were really influential in terms of changing our focuses a little bit and honing in on specific things that they thought were really important. So their feedback was really integral to the way that our whole class worked on the service solutions.

JEFF: Can you give an example of how your design evolved in response to their critique?

MIKI: When we presented our initial service solution, like I said before, transportation solutions, welcome kits and send-off. But the garden was part of that initial presentation. Also these blue patient-identifier bands that we created as well, so we had a few different ways that we could interpret this design brief, and then from that point our team decided to focus on the herb garden system.

JEFF: So it was a process of refining and eliminating some of the early ideas so that you could focus on a set of related ideas.

MIKI: And it was a class effort. The whole class came in. We blueprinted everyone’s ideas and services and saw where some of them overlapped. We saw where some of them could be improved and areas where we hadn’t focused enough on that MSK wanted to explore. So those were some interesting areas that needed addressing.

From that point everyone decided which direction they wanted to go in. There were four strong areas of focus and there were four groups.

JEFF: Did MSK assign that focus?

ATHINA: Not necessarily by MSK, it was I guess they gave us feedback on which ideas they had liked the most but when we regrouped in class we made the connection between the similarities within all of our projects and we pulled out as a class the main things that everyone had in common. From there we broke it off in terms of which groups should focus on each of those areas. Our area was the garden.

JEFF: Let’s move into the final phase when you worked on the experience prototypes. Did this mainly include the videos?

ATHINA: We created these scenarios and personas so we could look at people in different stages. In terms of discovering which personas to use and types of scenarios, it was through our patient interviews. We knew that the patient could be anyone. It could be the guy next door it could be a child, it could be — well actually at the center there will not be pediatrics — so we do know that this is for only adults. But it could be for young adults, older people, mothers, daughter, son. So basically in our scenarios we were choosing the types of personas to make sure we had a range. We have Carol and her kids. So we have a mother with her children which would ideally be bringing her children with her to her treatment, since they do span for hours a few times a week. And also we had some older patients with their sons —

MOLLY: We also wanted to address the care-givers of the patients because MSK asked us to address that. They’re a big part of their lives. They tend to be more stressed out than the patients themselves, so we also wanted to make sure that the garden and GROW could address their needs, if not more-so. Because they’re going to be in the waiting room more often. They’re probably the ones who will be making the tea. So that’s where the videos come with Alex and Eddy and Joel and Maggie. Also the nurses. We wanted them to be able to enjoy the garden as well. We wanted to make everything as easy as possible. And the story spots definitely helped address that.

JEFF: I’m curious about what the overall reaction has been from Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

MIKI: They loved it. The gave us really, really positive feedback so they were a really great group of people to work with. And their response was really wonderful. It was interesting to hear how a lot of the solutions that the class came up with they were already thinking about, or are already pursuing. It reinforced that we were on the right track. That made us all really happy. For example, like the moving hedge; the space is basically a prototype. This is going to be their first just-chemo site so there needs to be a lot of flexibility and they don’t know how things are going to work so they wanted things that could be flexible and mobile so that they can change as things happen. We came up with solutions that already address some of their needs.

ATHINA: Also, a few days before we presented to MSK we presented to faculty and former cancer patients who looked at our projects and after that presentation we found out that the former cancer patients really liked what we had to offer and the fact that they were really happy about what we had created and thought that they would really benefit from this being in the center also just really made us feel great about what we were doing and it was great to hear that they would actually they actually would use and would enjoy.

JEFF: Well it sounds like a fantastic outcome. I appreciate you all taking the time to tell me about the project today. One last question before we wrap up, I noticed that the GROW project is entirely an analog solution. Was the digital aspect part of the solution for other teams or was it outside the realm of the class?

MOLLY: Digital solutions were definitely included in the other service design concepts. We just went for a more hands-on sort of approach. It was more about studies that say when you work with nature, garden, or tend to a plant it’s beneficial for your health and healing gardens and hospitals — and just spending time in nature. Personally I don’t really believe that digital things are necessarily that helpful for cancer patients. Other than the medical of course– but for this particular service design and solution we really didn’t feel the need to add digital media to it.

JEFF: Well I think this is a great example of service design in an analog context.

MIKI: There was a point where MSK said that for every high-tech solution you need a low-tech solution. And a lot of the groups, some people were inclined to give really high-tech solutions, like iPhone apps or personal hand-held devices that guide you through your experience but this was something that we all felt would benefit the patients.

MOLLY: In this project we tried to come from a really organic place. Even from the beginning I feel like we first starting thinking about this when we saw this ridiculous amount of sunlight that was pouring in on that side of the street, on Atlantic Avenue where the patients center will be. And realizing what an opportunity that offered.

JEFF: It’s very cool, and again a great outcome. I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to talk with you about the experience.