WDE Spotlight: Reframing Studio

In the series WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to various designers of the Embassies. This time we speak withBeatrijs Voorneman, designer at Reframing Studio, part of the Embassy of Health. What is her background? What inspires her? What does Reframing Studio hope to achieve with their workd? You can read it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 28 October 2021
Part of Embassy of Health
WDE Spotlight: Reframing Studio
Part of Embassy of Health

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and Reframing Studio?

Hi! My name is Beatrijs Voorneman, and I was trained as an industrial designer at TU Delft. When I enrolled in Delft I thought I would later design ski boots. That seemed important to me, a ski boot that fits really well. But towards the end of my Bachelor degree studies, I realized more and more: it’s not the design but the people who use the designs that fascinate me the most. I then enrolled in the Department of Psychology at Erasmus University. And again, a year later (back in Delft) I started my Master’s in Design for Interaction. With my diploma in my pocket, I was all set to improve the world with my design skills and an enormous sense of responsibility. It soon became apparent that there were few vacancies for designing do-gooders. I roamed for a while, testing the waters from pure design to pure research, and in the end, I found the perfect balance at Reframing Studio (RP). 

At Reframing Studio we design according to the Reframing Method. This is a design method (developed in Delft by Matthijs van Dijk and Paul Hekkert), a philosophical approach that focuses on ‘the why’ of designing. So we don’t set off working on a solution right away, but take quite a few steps back and do thorough research into the future context and behaviour of people, to then determine together with our client what the actual design assignment should be. The meaning of what we make is central to everything we do. And I enjoy that, with my enormous sense of responsibility! 

We work on many different assignments for different clients, from a design for the dairy farming of the future to a vision of central government’s information management. We go through the same method every time, but the issues are different every time.

Your project, Redesigning Psychiatry, is part of the Embassy of Health during Dutch Design Week. What can you tell us about this project?

It really is a dream of a project in which we designers, together with philosophers, and theoretical and practical experts and with a number of innovative organizations, develop a desired vision of the future for mental health care for 2030. We want to accelerate the transition to a reliable, accessible and flexible network for mental health care. 

We do this through design projects, research and the RP movement. So we’re working on many different things at the same time. We are currently developing a podcast series (The Bumpy Road) for young people about getting stuck in puberty. We explore language, products and services that help people understand and change the patterns that make life possible – and sometimes impossible. And we’re planning a reunion for the approximately 150 alumni of our summer schools.

Can you explain how this project relates to the story of this Embassy? 

In order to be able to shape a new mental health care system, we focus on two fundamental questions: What will the world of 2030 look like, and how will this world affect our psychological well-being? And what is a psychological problem?

So we investigate how the world is changing. And how changes in the way we live with others, how we work, how children grow up, affect our psychological well-being and how people can get stuck in this new world. A study that I think fits in well with the Embassy, both in terms of subject matter and method. We work with a large network of healthcare professionals, practical experts, philosophers, creatives and researchers. A major issue also requires great cognitive diversity. 

But also the second question: “What is a psychological problem?” fits in well with the Embassy and the exhibition “Chronic Health”. It may seem like a simple question, but there have been very different views on this throughout human history. If we look at our present time, biomedical explanations and ‘disorders’ are especially dominant. We tend to place both the causes and the solutions of a psychological problem entirely with the individual. Our starting point is that people and the environment are always intertwined. Psychological well-being is shaped as much by social, cultural and economic conditions as it is by our biology or psychology. The basic idea of Redesigning Psychiatry is that psychological problems are therefore essentially interaction problems. It’s the complex interactions within people, between people and between people and their environment that cause people to get stuck. Patterns can arise in these interactions that perpetuate the problems.

You have done several projects related to healthcare. Why did you decide to deal with this theme?

About nine years ago, we did our first mental health design project. We designed Temstem (commissioned by the Parnassia Group), an app for people who suffer from voices. We were introduced to a sector in which innovation was enormously technology-driven. There was a lot of experimentation with E-health, online patient portals made their entrance and without an app you didn’t belong. But the value for the end-user of all this innovation was not always clear. With our value-driven approach, we were able to add a lot. And Temstem acted as a sort of flywheel. Early on, conversations arose about an almost utopian project: what if you could redesign the entire sector? A few years of dreaming and much more talking went into this and we started in 2015 on behalf of 12 mental health institutions. 

It really is a dream project, as I said before. On the one hand, this is of course, due to the scale of the issue and its utopian character. And on the other hand, because within the healthcare domain, we design so close to the life of that healthcare user and can really make a positive contribution to people’s well-being. Design what matters. Then you cycle home whistling.

What kind of design/project would you like to realize in the future and why? 

Mental Gymnastics! If we’re learning ring swinging, somersaults and dodgeball, why don’t we also learn how to argue, how to deal with adversity, with the chaos in your mind and how friendships work? It is an RP concept that we are very enthusiastic about ourselves, but which also resonates enormously with the people around us. Everyone wants to participate and think along. So we really want to develop this further and give it more shape. What exactly do children learn, how do they learn it and from whom? We are currently putting together a project group and are still looking for one or more schools that want to work with us. Suggestions are very welcome!

How do you think you can make an impact with your work? 

We hope to make an impact on many different levels. For example, by creating experiences that do justice to the complex problems that people struggle with. And by providing the handles in an accessible way that can help break the downward spiral.

At an economic level, by investing in the psychological well-being of society as a whole. Cutting back on mental healthcare has the opposite effect because many psychological problems become increasingly difficult and expensive to treat if you wait too long. Many people do not seek help in the current system or only end up seeking assistance at a very late stage. But medicating any psychological or social challenge also backfires. With RP, we, therefore, focus on the development of life skills and the social capacity to deal with the rough sides of life. 

But psychological well-being is about much more than just good care. It is also about the way we grow up, learn, work and live. We often get the question, “Why isn’t your project called redesigning society?”. After all, a redesign of mental health care also requires a redesign of society. Not only do we want to design new care, we also need to develop a new language together to talk about vulnerabilities, embrace human variation, relieve the pressure to perform and stimulate social ingenuity. 

Who would you choose and why if you could choose any person to work with (a scientist, artist, philosopher, biologist, designer, politician, anyone)?

No, I can’t choose! In any case, the future ministers of Health, well-being and sports and education culture and science, because if we want to tackle this properly and thoroughly, we will have to do this at the national level and design in and with The Hague. And maybe we can also talk about a Ministry of Quality of Life. 

But in the short term may be: Paulien Cornelisse. Within RP we are very often involved with language. We find that sometimes we just haven’t learned the words to talk about certain vulnerabilities. The redesign of mental health care may simply start with an appropriate language. Within RP we are not talking about crazy or normal but about getting stuck and opening up. But hey, we’re only designers. I think language is her thing.

Which company would you like to work for or with on a project? And what kind of project would that be?

With one of the major health insurers. We notice that (re)design sometimes gets stuck on the financial models that lie behind our current healthcare system. And that everyone gets stuck on that, by the way. 

But it can really be different. The personal physician of the Chinese emperor was only paid on the days when the emperor was healthy. Just think about that for a moment. 

Which in my opinion, means that there is also an enormous design task there. We have often talked to insurers, but we have not yet succeeded in designing that transition to a reliable, flexible and accessible mental healthcare network together.

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