A Christmas Tree in June
design mind on GOOD is a series exploring the power of design by the editors of design mind magazine. This is the third installment in a miniseries within that blog, and it will run every Thursday for six weeks.
It was early summer, and I had been on the road for a week in the Midwest conducting design research to generate insights into the development of new health care services. A woman named Sarah was walking me though her house and telling me about how she was managing her numerous and mounting health-related bills and paperwork. The previous fall, Sarah spent several months on her couch as the result of complications related to her pregnancy, which had been very painful. Her doctor was unable to help because her condition couldn’t be treated medically, her husband worked long hours and was often not home, and she felt she had nowhere to go. She lay on the couch depressed and “waited for it all to just go away.”
When we came to the room with the couch—a plain brown leather job—Sarah got emotional. Behind the piece of furniture was her Christmas tree still standing in June, its decorations intact and its needles fading and dropping to the floor. With tears in her eyes, Sarah explained that her pregnancy began to get better around the holidays and she was able to carry the baby to term relatively smoothly. Before that, though, she felt helpless, afraid, and alone.
Obviously, the tree represented the positive outcome of this difficult experience. In their book The Meaning of Things, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Halton explain how objects in any “home ecology” symbolize control. For Sarah, the tree was a symbol of chaos control—of fortitude and, later, persistence. It also signified a critical turning point in her health and her overall outlook on her baby’s arrival.
As design researchers, we came away with a critical insight about the timing and type of health care service Sarah could have used at this moment in her life. When we manage our health (and related finances), we need chaos control. We also need to feel heard and cared for. Had Sarah been given easy access to a helpful, meaningful product or service, she could have discarded her tree in the corner and saved Christmas for December.
Next week: “Dishwasher Barbie”
Jason Severs is a principal designer in frog’s New York studio.