More and more, in my work as a designer and design researcher, I’m struck by the importance of history. Knowing the story of how something came to be speaks volumes about need and possibility for the future. Usually, the implicit assumption is that field research provides the understanding of the “current state”, and history is one part of that. But I’m beginning to think that for some projects, history is more important than current state and that we should make a discussion of history more explicit. Our project this week got most informed when we uncovered insights related to history.
On the second day of the five day Lab, we asked the Partners In Health team to tell us about how Rwanda’s health care system had evolved over the last 15 or so years. Gene Bukhman spoke, and the team drew. 1996, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2012, and then 2015, 2025. As we followed the trajectory into the future, a common framework and language was born. This was the moment when we all got on the same page—a thread you can see in our final presentation.
The notion of history popped up constantly throughout the week. Our team was lucky enough to have a historian with us, Aaron Shakow, from PIH. When our team’s filmmaker Cori Stern spoke on Monday night’s panel, she described how her moment of insight about the narrative for the film she’s producing about the work of PIH occurred when she heard a talk that framed the powerful changes in healthcare delivery in Rwanda from a historical perspective.
Know your history. It’s what I’m taking back to my design practice from this week.