Leveraging the power of design and design thinking for public health

Oct. 8, 2013, RWJF Blog

By Matthew Trowbridge

It is increasingly clear that solutions for our most pressing and challenging public health issues will ultimately hinge on designing environments that encourage healthy behavior choices by making them more available, economical, and enjoyable.

Traditional public health approaches are not perfectly suited to this task. For example, epidemiological studies allow us to measure the association between environmental design features such as parks or sidewalks and walking behavior, but these experimental data are generally insufficient to be either actionable by decision-makers or effective in prompting behavior change. As Jeff Speck, urban planner and theorist, observes in his recent book “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time”:

“The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban livability. Under the right conditions, this creature thrives and multiplies. But creating   those conditions requires attention to a broad range of criteria, some more easily         satisfied than others.” Continue reading