Gijs Ockeloen is the managing partner of Reframing Studio, a design firm based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. His design firm designs for social change, combining technology along with the services that they provide to their clients. Gijs Ockeloen has been a designer for three decades and has worked with multiple design categories like public design, industrial and product design.

He begins the TED talk by citing a fact about mental health- one in four Americans are affected by a mental disorder (Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness). Taking one example of auditory illusions, he explains the auditory hallucination that affects adults. 

TedTalk for Architects: Design for mental health and other big challenges by Gijs Ockeloen, TEDxMoscow - Sheet1
Gijs Ockeloen ©Gijs Ockeloen’s LinkedIn

Technology has developed to a stage where mental issues could be coped with, if not fully cured by a designed product. Auditory hallucinations occur in certain parts of the brain, connected by a set of nerves identified by psychiatrists. His design firm developed an app which counters the issue through cognitive stimulation to that part of the brain. While the app doesn’t cure the hallucinations, it does help people cope with the voices in their heads, improving social and personal life. Mobile phones are with everyone, it becomes a handheld cure. 

Worries in our current healthcare system

Gijs Ockeloen mentions how the present mental healthcare system follows a top-down approach and how small open-source platforms could improve mental healthcare systems. He argues that the formation of a bottom-up approach puts the patient in the driver’s seat, letting him/her make decisions regarding his/her health. The technology could improve transparency in healthcare systems. While medical professionals cure critical patients, a community-driven approach could handle people with mild cases without seeking professional medical assistance. It also intertwines multiple departments like design, psychiatry, medicine and engineers to design a solution for the masses. 

TedTalk for Architects: Design for mental health and other big challenges by Gijs Ockeloen, TEDxMoscow - Sheet2
Bottom-up vs top down ©

As all governments lack the health funds for treating a quarter of its population affected mentally, banking on technology and design could improve the situation. Mild cases could be cured, though the efficiency might not be the highest, usage of design could help the masses. If done correctly, simple ways like designing an app, hardware or a system that could help eliminate several patients and the underlying medical costs could be eliminated for a fraction of the money. This induces a need for more product designers, UI designers in case of apps, graphic designers for visual stimulus and architects for spatial healing. 

How a designer could improve the economics

Designers have the opportunity to disrupt a monopoly in the medicine industry by decentralising the services provided by them and taking a slice of the revenue pie which is currently controlled by big pharma. Gijs Ockeleon calls for a design thinking approach to all issues, making every solvable solution to the mass market, which will work only if designers wish to step out of their box and try a hand on other fields. As the monopoly is broken, it opens doors for competition. 

Multiple designs could provide different renditions to the same issue, and competition improves the product and design quality, allowing consumers with a viable option other than switching physicians. Designers could also improve the efficiency of service provided through machine learning and other technologies, thus extending the user base. He supports this stance to an extent where he asks designers to leave behind everything in their portfolios and begin something fresh and multidisciplinary. His bottom-up approach respects the able-minded professionals, while still considering what the common man can contribute to improving medical care. 

Major takeaways from the talk

This talk is mainly directed toward product and industrial designers, though architects and other professions can take away some major ideologies. Designing for the user is a necessity in all fields, Gijs Ockeloen indirectly stresses this fact. Collaborative work-architects and other designers work closely with their clients to make a product (whether a building or pen), making the design process shuttle back and forth between the client for improvements and alterations. Designers should induce conversation and become the bridge connecting information flow between various departments leading to a positive outcome.

Product design to help cope mental health ©KseniaChernaya

The talk focuses on tackling the challenges in the mental health industry. The ideas given in the TED talk are well-thought and researched, the need for a bottom-up approach, ways to decentralise and split the monopoly that the industry has. It also makes more sense as all people could not afford medical care. Those with access to technology can solve their problems while having a cure with them all the time, reducing the dependency on a doctor (who would treat a critical patient). However insightful, the talk focuses mainly on a data-driven approach to mental health and challenges, while missing out on physical design products that could be mass-produced. 

Though those solutions might exist, a mention could have expanded the knowledge of the viewer. Psychiatry is an emotion dependent practice needing a person to understand and diagnose a person with the illness which artificial intelligence, data and machine learning at our current status could not diagnose. Thus, this talk forms a framework of what could be, forcing designers out of their chairs toward a goal for a better future. 

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Vignesh Esakkinathan is a final year architecture student from chennai. He blogs about climate change and productivity with the hopes to become an architectural journalist. When he's not playing cricket, you can see him philosophising life at his rooftop.