Christi Zuber on Design Thinking at Kaiser Permanente (004)

I was especially curious to talk to Christi Zuber, as Kaiser Permanente (KP) has been one of the first organisations to experiment using design thinking outside of product design. I met Christi first in 2011 when she was working as in the role of Director and founder of the Human Centred Design efforts at KP (2003-2015).  Still supporting KP’s design and innovation efforts,  she recently reduced her work load to focus on her PhD studies in relation to design and innovation. Thus, I was really happy that to get her to interview for this podcast.

The Kaiser Permanente Design Thinking journey

  • 2003 Execs at KP saw Nightline “shopping cart video” featuring IDEO and their approach to innovation. Asked me to partner with them to try out their “approach” to see if it was a good fit for Kaiser
  • 2003-2004-led medium and large scale efforts using HCD
  • 2005 became an official department and received a large grant for a project allowing me to hire 10 new people onto the team for 2 years, Nurse Knowledge Exchange project featured as Best Practice by Institute for Healthcare Improvement
  • 2006 Helped to open the Kaiser Garfield Innovation Center. Innovation and Advanced Technology group also began within Kaiser.
  • 2007 grant ended and had built enough credibility and understanding that the “duration” team members became official team members
  • 2010 Team’s work featured in Harvard Business Review
  • 2011 Kaiser listed as “most Innovative Healthcare Company” by Fast Company
  • 2012 Corporate innovation teams created DIG “design and innovation groups” and solidified one methodology and approach for organization
  • 2014 Began formalizing our knowledge in developing and educating other through Innovation Catalyst Program
  • 2015 Teams combined with Improvement and Evaluation departments

Top 3 accomplishments

  • Being the first person in a large healthcare organization to bring Human Centered Design in as a core capability and approach to innovation
  • Pioneer practitioner in what’s now called “service design” within the design field.
  • Approaches and resulting impact of designing directly with front line staff and patients has been featured in many case studies, books, research studies, educational courses, journals and presentations across the globe

References shared by Christi:

Articles & web resources:




3 Facts from the pre-show interview

Christi’s worst DT Moment

Being yelled at by a charge nurse and “run out” of her hospital unit (ward) and really learning about all the mistakes I made along the way.

Christi’s biggest AH-HA moment

Labor asking to be trained in HCD… and the power of front line engagement and support at KP.

Christi’s No.1 thing she would do when he would have to start all over again.

Find the passionate people and help skill them up, identify a few influential leaders excited about the work and approach and create a base understanding of the approach and experiences that they can and will share with their peers (making them look knowledgeable and in touch with customers/users/staff), take any opportunity to prototype ideas and tell stories to build momentum and excitement (not selling design, but focused on SHOWING design)

Episode Cover

Cover Episode 4: Christi Zuber, Kaiser Permanente

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