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This opinion piece was first published in Dagens Næringsliv on Tuesday 16 October 2018. 

The health sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and represents enormous potential for creating value in two ways. Health offers great opportunities to industry both domestically and internationally, while industry is also able to help solve the health and care challenges Norway faces over the coming decades. But the Norwegian health industry must avoid going under the wheels of international operators in the way that the media industry has.

White paper on the way

There is a lot on the innovation agenda in Health Norway at the moment. The sector must deliver more health to more people without taking up more resources. Next year will see the publication of the government’s first white paper on the health industry, which will describe how the industry can help to increase value creation, new profitable workplaces, more efficient use of resources and better fulfilment of health policy goals.

The health sector is well on the way to being wholly digital in both Norway and the rest of the world. This development creates a wide open space for the formation of new ideas and solutions. And these are arriving at record pace from the major international companies. But Norwegian operators wanting to enter this space of opportunity can also succeed. On one condition: they must be good at using design.

Because: sophisticated technology alone is never enough. There is a major need for systems, services and products that are well-designed for use, that work in collaboration with each other and that reflect the social values we wish to support.

Design provides a competitive advantage

Designers manage the intersection between what users need, what technology can offer and what organisations can deliver. One of the strengths of the field is the methodical approach to cultural, social, emotional and sensual issues. These human factors generally receive far too little attention during development processes.

Norway is amongst the best in class when it comes to security and privacy. If we add design, we have a huge competitive advantage that means we can make our mark internationally. In April's issue of Computerworld, Nard Schreurs, Director for eHealth and smart tech at ICT Norway, wrote: ‘Trust design! Norwegian technology companies need to invest in quality and trust through built-in privacy, security and design. The latter has been undervalued as the way to develop and market Norwegian technology.’ 

All forms of development and change can result in risk. But because the design process includes so many perspectives and has a repetitive and exploratory approach, the accuracy can be improved and risks reduced.

Silicon Valley has cracked it

Silicon Valley long ago cracked the idea that design is a key factor in the development of new, profitable technological products and services. This has provided them with an enormous advantage that gains them market share around the world.

Fortunately, there are more and more people who realise that design provides a competitive advantage here in Norway. Forbes Magazine recently published an article about how Norwegian start ups are currently flourishing. The article particularly focuses on the edtech company Kahoot and the medtech company No Isolation, who have managed to source most of their investments from abroad. Coincidence? Hardly. Both of these start ups make design an integrated part of their business model and have used design strategically from the very beginning.

Security, privacy – and design

The government has just published ‘Digital21’ – a plan to promote industry’s ability and opportunities to develop and use new technology and knowledge as digitalisation continues. It is a paradox that design is conspicuous by its absence from this plan. This must not happen again in the white paper on the health industry. Design, alongside security and privacy, should be defined as one of the sector’s foundation stones.

The design field in Norway is truly at the cutting edge on the global scene. If you remove the designers, the product doesn’t necessarily become bad, but it isn’t as good as it might have been. And that allows other operators to enter and win in the market because they have dealt with users’ challenges in a simpler and more attractive way. It’s quite simply that easy and that difficult, all in one.

Fredrik Matheson, Design Lead at Bekk, Head of IxDA Oslo
Sigrun Vik, Lead Service Design and Head of Health, EGGS Design
Jonathan Romm, PhD candidate at the Centre for Connected Care (C3), the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) and Designer at Halogen
Benedicte Wildhagen, Senior Design Advisor, Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA)