Co-design in health care is very top of mind in Ontario, Canada right now with the provincial government transforming the system with a patient-centred lens. There are powerful examples of co-design in healthcare and the outcomes that can be achieved when patients, caregivers and health care workers come together to design better solutions to problems. One example is from HFWCNY (Health Foundation of Western and Central New York) and how they brought co-design to health organizations across New York state in a program called Aging by Design.


HFWCNY advocates for continuous improvement in health and health care for young children and older adults. In 2016, the Foundation selected Overlap as a partner in exploring the impact of using a human-centred design approach to improve the experiences of older adults. The challenge was to understand the experiences of older adults and caregivers in Western and Central New York, train service providers to work in person-centred ways, and coach ten organizations to create and implement person-centred design projects with older adults, caregivers and staff.


The project kicked off with two hands-on training sessions introducing over 200 service providers across Western and Central New York to human-centred design. At the training sessions, we launched a design research phase to gather rich insight into the needs of older adults. Overlap trained organizations to engage the people they served and provided tools and frameworks for gathering input from older adults and caregivers. We also conducted ethnographic research and facilitated numerous engagement events—observing, visiting, and talking with older adults across the state.

From insights gathered, Overlap developed a toolkit for service providers to co-design alongside older adults and spark new ideas as they deliver a service, plan an event, or design a program around the needs of older adults.

At a week-long intensive training retreat, staff from ten grantee organizations were able learn about the design process and try it out on problems and ideas that were relevant to their organization. Through ongoing coaching calls, Overlap helped the organizations embed human-centred processes into their services, apply design to tackle real world challenges, and use Agile methods to manage progress.


Developed an approach to embedding human-centred design in the Foundation’s programs and in organizations across New York State—in partnership with Overlap, the Foundation is now using this approach for the initiative Co-creating Wellbeing: Supporting Children and Families Through Trauma, a program to support children and families impacted by poverty in addressing the potential impact of trauma and toxic stress.

Generated 15+ solutions across ten organizations to address the needs of older adults—solutions are now up for a second round of implementation funding and are expected to have individual outcomes such as: preventing falls by making medial and mobility equipment available to newcomers and refugees; decreasing isolation by providing social outings for older adults currently reliant on transportation to medical appointments; and decreasing caregiver burnout by providing more accessible respite opportunities to caregivers.

Engaged over 600 older adults to develop an understanding of their needs and experiences—engagement methods ranged from high-touch, day-long ethnography to low-touch, three-minute surveys administered by providers. The results were used to develop a comprehensive set of design principles for serving older adults.

Built design confidence and competency with over 200 service providers working with older adults in Western and Central New York—we created twenty experienced design practitioners through a year of ongoing coaching, and shared simple design tools with many more organizations.

We’re excited that co-design is being viewed as an important approach to creating better health outcomes for people—it requires a genuine interest and curiosity to understand the lived experiences of people and an openness to work and design services and programs together.