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Stephen Downs, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


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Designing Everyday Life to be Healthier

In the U.S., we spend more on health care than anywhere in the world, but we’re less healthy. While there are many reasons for this result, one is that we’ve created an environment in which it has become hard to be healthy. We eat poorly, we’re largely sedentary, we don’t sleep enough and we’re increasingly socially isolated. But our behaviors are driven by the cultural, physical and technological environments we’ve created. We’re asking people to swim upstream and our response is to tell people to swim harder. It’s not working. Instead we should ask what it would take to reverse the direction of the river.

We often use tech to try to change individual behaviors by providing data, information and prompts. What if instead we used tech to re-shape our environments to make healthy lifestyles the default? What if we re-engineered daily life — how we eat, sleep, move from place to place, and entertain ourselves — with health as a design goal? What if, instead of treating health like an app that sits on top of an operating system biased toward unhealthy behaviors, we built health deep into our collective OS?

This talk would examine how technology has historically shaped our daily lives, identify behaviors that designers could help facilitate through creative applications of emerging technologies and showcase illustrative examples of tech that’s starting to take on the challenge.

Published in: Healthcare
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Stephen Downs, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

  1. 1. Designing Everyday Life to Be Healthier Steve Downs Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  2. 2. Original image by Max Roser, Our World in Data. Extension by Eric Topol.
  3. 3. Antiqua & Barbuda Algeria United States Iran Paraguay Cape Verde Cuba Venezuela Tunisia Uruguay United States International Rank: Age-Related Disease Burden (2017 data) Source: Chang Y, Skirbekk V, Tyrovolas S, Kassebaum N, Dieleman J. Measuring population ageing: an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet Public Health 2019; 4: e159–67. Switzerland Singapore South Korea Japan Italy Kuwait Spain France Israel Sweden Peru Colombia Iceland Norway Canada Australia Andorra Panama Puerto Rico Cyprus Austria Bermuda Portugal Ireland Bahrain Finland Netherlands Maldives Nicaragua Luxembourg Belgium Qatar Denmark New Zealand Chile Malta United Kingdom Germany Costa Rica Taiwan Thailand Ecuador Iraq Greece Jordan Sri Lanka Slovenia Mexico Turkey Barbados
  4. 4. photo credit: pandabearphotography
  5. 5. photo credit: Rafiq Sarlie
  6. 6. “The fundamental answer to why so many humans are now getting sick from previously rare illnesses is that many of the body's features were adapted in environments from which we evolved, but have become maladapted in the modern environments we have now created.”
  7. 7. Photo by Drew Farwell via
  8. 8. health is not an app
  9. 9. “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
  10. 10. “We shape our buildings technologies; thereafter they shape us.”
  11. 11. photo credit: UltraSlo1
  12. 12. building health into the OS
  13. 13. cooking real food
  14. 14. moving around
  15. 15. sleeping
  16. 16. building social connection
  17. 17. spending time outdoors
  18. 18. f.lux
  19. 19. Park Time
  20. 20. photo credit: CommScope
  21. 21. photo credits: CommScope, Wiyre Media
  22. 22. photo credit: Olabi Makerspace
  23. 23. photo credits: Nest, Scott Lewis, Sho Hashimoto and Scott Lowensohn
  24. 24. photo credits: Karlis Dambrans, Scott Lewis and Marc van der Chijs
  25. 25. photo credit: Mediated Matter Group, MIT Media Lab
  26. 26. What Comes Next?
  27. 27. Thank you! Steve Downs @stephenjdowns
  28. 28. @HXDCONF #HXD2019 Designing for Systemic Change