Oftentimes the healthcare design industry at large is asked to think a whole lot about the “B” side of an “A-to-B” scenario.

Clients might ask designers to take an outdated inpatient unit and renovate it to become a modern care setting, or ask a construction manager to take a greenfield site and transform it into a new medical campus.

Either way, goals for the end result have likely been well thought out and communicated to the project team, guiding planning, design, and construction from start to finish.

But sometimes the best way to meet stated goals is to take some of that focus and place it back at the beginning, says Kevin Bennett, co-author of “Solving Problems with Design: 10 Stories of What Works," who offers some takeaways from his book in a recent Forbes column, "Design Thinking: Creating A Better Understanding Of Today To Get To A Better Tomorrow."

Bennett writes in the column, "The value of design thinking is in allowing us to see ‘A’ more clearly. For it is in focusing on ‘A’ that we truly understand ourselves, each other, and our world.”

Bennett explains that the concept of design thinking is to go on an “archaeological dig” that explores journey mapping, or essentially understanding others’ goals by walking in their shoes; and mind mapping, or understanding others’ rationale by getting a grasp on their values, beliefs, expectations, etc. 

In the case of healthcare design, it’s a good reminder not to let this process get lost in the shuffle of tight schedules and small budgets. And it makes sense. Using one of the examples above—the only way to design a truly successful inpatient unit—at least in the client’s eyes—is to understand what’s not working in the old one.

Take the NBBJ-led design team behind the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Clinic in Fairbanks, Ala. To understand the specific patient population the outpatient and specialty clinic would be serving, designers went to where those people live—even in a remote area of the Alaskan Interior—to understand their culture, their sense of community, and, most importantly, their expectations for a healthcare provider.

And they worked closely with the owner, too, to understand problems that existed in a former facility before crafting not just a replacement but one that supported a new model of care the owner was seeking. (For more on this project, see the September issue of Healthcare Design.)

It’s difficult to successfully meet any project’s goals without first understanding where you’re starting from.