Celebrating Service Design Day with the Emergency Design Collective

What is Service Design Day? SDD is a day dedicated to service design enthusiasts. It’s a world-wide event that launched in 2016 to bring together people from different backgrounds and disciplines across the globe to celebrate service design, raise awareness, and create impact in the world around us. This year SDN New York spotlit the Emergency Design Collective (EDC).

June 1st is Service Design Day to “reflect the discipline’s spirit and energy;” June originates from the Latin word, young.
June 1st is Service Design Day to “reflect the discipline’s spirit and energy;” June originates from the Latin word, young.

Service Design Day

The Service Design Network New York Chapter featured the Emergency Design Collective at their most recent virtual Meetup to learn how they’re tackling problems and finding solutions to healthcare during the global pandemic.

The Emergency Design Collective

The EDC is a group of over 500 doctors, designers, public health experts, and academics using human-centered design to create rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health crises. Their goal is to generate solutions that can be immediately helpful and implemented by people, patients, and healthcare providers as they discover new ways of working, caring for others, and accessing critical tools.

The EDC, an H corp, is committed to open source work which includes publishing research, insights, and proven solutions to ensure maximum scalability. Their 20+ projects fall under one of three categories.

Design for:

  • Frontline healthcare and healthcare workers
  • Vulnerable populations
  • The new normal

During SDN New York’s virtual Service Design Day event, we had the opportunity to learn more about the projects the EDC is working on and hear first-hand how healthcare workers are handling the pandemic on the front lines. We heard five people’s experiences on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their work and personal lives.

Nick Dawson—EDC Executive Director and Executive Director of Innovation for Kaiser Permanente

Nick Dawson has a background in leading design and innovation teams inside of hospitals and health systems. He’s constantly reminded that this kind of service design work inside of healthcare organizations is still a new concept and not widely adopted. He emplores that healthcare is a place that desperately needs design in every way.

When we started the EDC, one of their guiding thoughts was the realization that our orientation to health as a society is very fractured and broken. We go to the hospital if something is physically broken, but they don’t know how to solve someone's homelessness or job loss. There are organizations that deal with those things but they don’t know how to fix someone's chronic disease. We have all these fractured silos that are trying to address health.

When the pandemic started he and his team realized these fractures and silos were being stressed to the point of breaking and this was a time when society urgently needed design and doctors working together, other civic leaders and experts to think of systems that are more thoughtful and more usable by everyone.

Amanda Sammann—EDC Executive Director and trauma surgeon

Amanda Sammann is a working mom with two young children who were suddenly no longer going to school. Her husband also works in the medical field, on the business side, and was working around the clock to get access to testing capabilities. On top of that, their backup child care — both sets of their parents, who are in their 70s-80s — were socially distanced from their family. They were scrambling personally.


For people in healthcare who were used to being experts, and used to having some sort of stability in our daily workflow, the early [stages of the Covid pandemic] was really hard.

In the early days of the pandemic, things were changing every day. There was a lot of confusion around what PPE should be worn and when. This was further complicated by the lack of supplies at her hospital. In addition, there was a lot of conflicting information between professional organizations and what her hospital advised.

We knew we were getting guidelines that weren’t based on what should be the standard of care. We knew we were completely off trajectory on what was the standard.

Trying to do her job in this new landscape provided other problems. Psychologically this was new territory—remembering to grab her N-95 mask while rushing to surgery, trying to do her job, and adjusting to wearing this face covering, all the while in the back of her mind thinking about protecting her own health.

Her patients didn’t have access to their support system, family members and friends, who not only provide emotional care but often act as translators for patients who don’t speak English. Things felt very lonely. The hardest part for her was seeing patients often die alone.

While we were scared and alone, our patients were even more scared and alone, which was very hard for everyone.

What she’s seeing now is people and resources depleted. Now that her hospital has stocked up on PPE equipment, there’s another repercussion of the pandemic. People aren't giving blood and her hospital is critically low. They’re thinking about how they’ll ration care since they’re resource-constrained.

Illustration by Andrew Holder from the EDC’s website.

But despite all of this, she sees tremendous positives that have emerged.

COVID has been upsetting. The social situation and leadership in our country has been upsetting, but it has reinforced to me the beauty of sheer resilience of humans and how they’ll work together. Seeing the EDC that’s come together out of this, started by Nick and I, and now has grown to over 500 people… The power and creativity of humans, and the ability for people to use design for good. There has never been a more urgent time for service design to play a role.

Matt Brown—nurse and nurse leader

Matt Brown manages a team at a DC hospital. His mantra to them during this time is, “Be kind (always, but especially now), stay calm, and be confident.” At his hospital, they were fortunate to have the proper PPE and worked towards being good stewards of it.

A PAPR is a powered purifying respirator. It’s a fully enclosed head covering and face shield with a powered air pump and filter.


His team faces challenges around communicating with patients. It’s difficult to hear and communicate with patients while wearing a PAPR, or a face mask and shield; even more so if he’s communicating with a patient who is hearing impaired. Face shields often fog up making it hard to see people. And on top of all those physical barriers, there’s the need to “cluster your care”—do what needs to be done, get in and get out. It feels contradictory to what’s he’s been trained to do… be with the patient.

You can see the patient is scared, and I’m scared too, but I don’t want to be in there too long because then I’m risking exposing myself.

In addition to physical care, Matt and his team are working with patients to ensure access to their support systems by using iPads for daily Zoom calls with their families. Often times patients aren’t familiar with Zoom and aren’t good with technology, which requires nurse assistance.

What we could use is a tech helper to run around and help all our patients get set up on their calls while we continue to care for our patients.

Natalie and Emily—both survivors of COVID-19

Both expressed initial feelings of uncertainty, wondering if they really had COVID during the first week of their illness…until they experienced distinct health markers that confirmed it.

Natalie had a couple telehealth visits with her doctors. At first, they thought she was just experiencing anxiety since some symptoms of an anxiety attack are similar to those of COVID; but as symptoms progressed and chest pressure increased, along with other COVID typical symptoms, it was clear that there was something more happening. Ultimately Natalie was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection through telehealth and, after a night of aggressive stabbing in her chest, tested positive for COVID-19 at a local hospital. One of her struggles was knowing “how bad was bad enough” to seek professional help when it came to her symptoms. This was nothing like any illness she had ever experienced, but there was a heavy weight of guilt to ask for support. Healthcare professionals told her she had a right to seek assistance and care, but it still felt selfish to her given her age and, to her knowledge, a relatively healthy immune system.

Natalie on the left and Emily on the right both survived COVID and shared their experiences having it, the healthcare they received, and their concerns after surviving.


There’s nothing I can take for this…either my body fights it or it doesn’t.

Emily’s symptoms weren’t as severe. She experienced the typical muscle pain and weakness. But when symptoms got worse during the second week of her illness, she called her doctor. And though she experienced seamless care from telehealth calls to in-person testing, the effects this illness had on her psyche were real. Guilt around getting tested, guilt about recovering. Not knowing who to tell afterward, not wanting to worry people, and unsure of who would react weirdly knowing she’d had COVID-19.

There are so many social ramifications that we haven’t even begun to understand yet.

Ideation and Brainstorming Amongst Attendees

Taking these personal stories with us into small breakout rooms, the attendees of the event reflected on their thoughts and ideated rapidly around potential solutions to the problems just heard.

My team‘s ideation, which a teammate white boarded on laminated index cards (thanks, Greg!).


My team of four came up with different ways to solve a few of the issues we heard each speaker discuss.

Starting with the top left corner and going clockwise:

  1. A playbook card or knowledge article to send to patients explaining a certain procedure, giving visibility into what will happen.
  2. An online survey that allows people to understand if their case of COVID-19 is severe and whether or not to go to the hospital.
  3. Crowdsourcing policies and processes—if someone has an innovative idea and wants to share it with another hospital.
  4. A box of medical supplies shipped to patients to be used in tandem with telehealth.

Post-ideation the attendees gathered as a whole to share each teams’ thoughts and concepts. While this short exercise was a simple way for us to share our speculations briefly, we were inspired by what the EDC is doing and encouraged to get involved.


There was a vast amount of information shared during the event. You can watch the recording to learn more. It was a particularly relevant way to spend Service Design Day addressing current issues during this time in our global history.

Want to get involved with the EDC? Contact the EDC and contribute your skills here. Interested in attending the next SDN New York event? Follow them here. And finally, find a recording of this session here.

#ServiceDesignDay #SDDay20 #SDD #EDC #service design #design #emergencydesigncollective #healthtech #healthcare

Christina Collura
Christina Collura - UX & Product Designer

Brooklyn-based UX + Product Designer. Interested in service design, social impact, and my furry co-worker…Stanley “Tucci” McFly.

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