Human-centered design for global health equity

Inf Technol Dev. 2019 Sep 29;26(3):477-505. doi: 10.1080/02681102.2019.1667289.


As digital technologies play a growing role in healthcare, human-centered design is gaining traction in global health. Amid concern that this trend offers little more than buzzwords, our paper clarifies how human-centered design matters for global health equity. First, we contextualize how the design discipline differs from conventional approaches to research and innovation in global health, by emphasizing craft skills and iterative methods that reframe the relationship between design and implementation. Second, while there is no definitive agreement about what the 'human' part means, it often implies stakeholder participation, augmenting human skills, and attention to human values. Finally, we consider the practical relevance of human-centered design by reflecting on our experiences accompanying health workers through over seventy digital health initiatives. In light of this material, we describe human-centered design as a flexible yet disciplined approach to innovation that prioritizes people's needs and concrete experiences in the design of complex systems.

Keywords: Digital health; ICT4D; co-design; design thinking; eHealth; global health equity; human-centered design; implementation research; mHealth; participatory design; user-centered design.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [grant number OPP1183755]; Gates Cambridge Trust.