As part of the Better Births Initiative, we have been working with midwives and maternity units to understand how design thinking approaches can be applied to maternity care. 

In 2015, we worked with the Design Council to apply design thinking approaches to maternity care. Read more about the project

In 2016/17, we worked with Sheffield Hallam University and NIHR Yorkshire and Humber CLAHRC to support two maternity units in England to implement codesign projects. Contact us to find out more.

In 2017, we have initiated a codesign project with student midwives re-designing the evidence/practice connection. 


The way in which we design the space, service and care that we provide for women during the antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal period may impact on access, their experience and outcomes. Many midwives, maternity support workers and other health professionals are actively working on changing the way in which care is provided to meet the needs for particular groups or for all the women who are accessing the service. This may be in response to a community or hospital-wide initiative or to solve problems and issues they have observed themselves. When this happens, health professionals are in some way going through all or part of what we call the design thinking process.

Design thinking is a creative process which can be applied within maternity services by anyone interested in working through a problem or issue that can improve care or experience. This is mainly about approaching the problem in a number of manageable stages including define, research, visualise and prototype, test, implement, and evaluate. The approaches used can include observations, interviews, and brainstorming including as many different groups as possible and thinking about the design from the end-user’s perspective.

It is important to remember that design thinking can be applied to small and big challenges, and the end result will in some way make a positive difference to those who are using the service or even those providing them including the midwives, maternity support workers, doctors and other health professionals. The process can be applied in small stages and does not necessarily need a great deal of resource to get started.

Design thinking in healthcare is not new and there are many approaches that could be perceived to be similar. Discussions on applying these principles can be found in key publications such as King’s Fund and other organisations.

Examples of projects applying the principles of Design Thinking

Designing a better A&E

The Design Council have been working with the NHS and the public to address some health topics and two examples of their projects are shown below.

Creating a Better Accident and emergency departments

Watch the animation  

The animation sums up how using a design-led approach can improve health environments in a low cost/high impact way. The design solutions installed in Two A&Es have been proven to reduce stress and violence by up to 75% and for every £1 spent on the design solutions, £3 was generated in benefits.

Knee High Design Challenge

This  project was looking at the differences that can be made for families of children in the first five years of life including the nine months of pregnancy, specifically in the Lambeth and Southwark areas in London. Working in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas Charity and Lambeth and Southwark Councils, a challenge was created for anyone with an interesting solution to come forward and pitch their idea.

The Knee High Design Challenge teams are showing new approaches to this and there are couple of entries with relevance to maternity care highlighted here:

• The Good Enough Mums Club wanted to increase wellbeing of mothers and challenge the stigma around postnatal mental health. They deliver theatrical performances, workshops and online resources. One in five. free tickets available free through community networks and referrals for their theatre shows and mothers are encouraged to share their stories of motherhood in the workshops. These activities and the online resource aim to tackle some of the isolation that can go with motherhood.

• Creative homes is another winning idea and is a home-visiting service where trained artists work with the families to address some of the stresses with playful solutions. This can range from the clutter inspector, tooth fairy for brushing teeth, and dream catcher for bedtime routines.

 Watch the video 

The King’s Fund published reports on design thinking including Jocelyn Cornwell on designing empathy into services and Jeremy Myerson on how design thinking can support and influence innovation in healthcare.

There is also a more detailed information and crash course from Stanford University on design thinking. Watch the video.



RCM products ready for downloading and/or printing for non-commercial use.

Key reports, case studies, and examples from maternity services and projects.

Knowledge sharing through webinar recordings and videos.

Key sources of information and data on maternity care in the UK.

Around 762,000 births taking place in the UK and nearly 1.5 million lives cared for including women and newborns

© Copyright Better Births Initiative 2018
Back to Top