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Vivienne Heyhoe

Service Design MA

I’ve been working as a doctor for the past nine years. I worked at Imperial College Healthcare Trust in critical care; so that’s anaesthetics, intensive care, emergency medicine. I’ve always been a little bit of a misfit. I’ve always been interested in design and before I came here I’d done some photography, and some short courses in interiors and furniture design, and things like that. But I’d never seen design’s potential beyond the aesthetic.

I knew that the work I was doing as a doctor was useful, so I didn’t consider leaving that to pursue something that might be useful, but might also just contribute to the huge amount of ‘stuff’ already in the world that doesn’t serve much purpose. Leaving a lucrative and successful career was a big decision. And I’ve got a little girl. It’s tough – I didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for! But it’s good here, it’s really good.

I started following the work of the Design Council, and began to understand how design could really create value and change people’s lives. It felt like a good time for me – I really enjoyed my work, but I’d got to the stage in my career where I could either become a consultant, which is the top level in healthcare, and then there’s nowhere really to progress from there. As a doctor I was working at a micro level but I became interested in the prospect of creating a broader positive impact through good design.

Healthcare is so complex, and while a lot of products are designed for healthcare, designers often don’t understand that complexity. A small part will be designed and just thrown into this really complex system and a lot of the time it just doesn’t fit – especially in the case of technological systems. And the risks and consequences of designing something that’s not good enough are huge.

Although I didn’t work on healthcare service design until the second year, I always knew that would be my focus. In first year though, I wanted to be able to expand beyond my skill-set, which is quite specialist. So I intentionally took on a range of projects: a couple about transport, and we did a retail project with Sainsbury’s. Then I did an internship in the summer with a design agency who were doing some service design work for a big company who had an idea for a healthcare product and wanted it to be developed further.

The potential to make a difference is really exciting. The Head of Programme gave us a talk when we started because we were the first cohort on the new course. It was really a pep talk and I’m a bit of a cynic and wasn’t completely convinced. But as time’s gone on, you realise that these are an amazing bunch of people. Everyone on the course has something slightly different about them – it’s a very multi-disciplinary design specialty – so the potential for creating something amazing is extraordinary.

"Everyone on the course has something slightly different about them – it’s a very multi-disciplinary design specialty – so the potential for creating something amazing is extraordinary."
Vivien Heyhoe
Vivien Heyhoe