Why Doctors Need Design

A technology journalist and an art director gave a GP’s presentation a makeover. Here is what we learnt:

Why Doctors Need Design

Dr. Faiza Khalid (aka The Lifestyle Medic) is a GP and a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine. Dr. Khalid specialises in treating chronic illness by addressing the root causes of disease rather than just the symptoms. As a result, food is an important weapon in her medical arsenal. The UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners asked Dr. Khalid to talk to medical students about using nutrition in a GP’s practice. I worked with art director Nathalie Hennequin to create this presentation and we only had a few days to do it.

Doctors convey important, complex and often nuanced information to patients and fellow health professionals. They develop deep skills in consultation and conversation but are not trained in presenting information visually. This became obvious when we looked at Dr Khalid’s first draft and presentations from other doctors which she found inspiring. Many people in technical roles will have a similar lack of training in presenting their topic in an engaging way. Poor design is distracting. It detracts from your message and reduces the impact of your words.

“We have all essentially been trained in the same way,” says Dr Khalid. “Put a blue or black and white slide on, and maybe a small image somewhere in the corner, but nothing really to seize the imagination of the audience.”

Think in Headlines

Doctors want to convey every detail and nuance of their topic, especially when addressing other health professionals, but the presentation format differs from a scientific paper or an in-depth study. You can only hit the headlines of your material and highlight a few salient details which reinforce those headlines. Ruthlessly cut material which does not increase the overall impact.

Think of each slide as a headline. Don’t show a table from a scientific paper that nobody can read. Choose some highlights from that table and present them in an attractive way. Overall, keep text on slides to a minimum and never read from your slides as a speaker. You should know the material well enough to use a visual prompt.

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Surprise and Delight

You must capture your audience in the first slide or two. If you can surprise the audience or make them laugh, you immediately have their attention. We used this video as Dr. Khalid’s first slide. First the audience of medical students will wonder why she is showing this video? Then they will laugh. Dr. Khalid then points out that in the future it will seem as ridiculous not to discuss diet during a GP consultation as to use doctors to advertise cigarettes.

Keep it Colourful

One of Dr. Khalid’s most important messages is that eating a rainbow of foods confers many health benefits, since each colour indicates that the food contains particular phytonutrients. We carried the rainbow theme throughout her slides in vivid imagery. The visuals serve to underline her message, not distract from it.

“Make it colourful,” says Dr. Khalid. “Capture the essence of what you are saying, but maybe in imagery, rather than in words.”

Bad design is distracting: It detracts from your message and reduces the impact of your words. If you don’t have the luxury of working with a designer, you can still learn and apply some basics of visual design in your own presentations.