What’s next. Of change, design, and the future of health, by design.

As part of our series on the future of design and Design Thinking, Filiberto Amati of Amati & Associates and I interviewed Bisi Williams, co-founder of Massive Change Network in Chicago with Bruce Mau, founder and host of the Health2049 podcast series, and a writer. Bisi inspired us about our preferable futures and informed us about her future plans, that are based on her unique vision of what design will be, and how Design Thinking will evolve.

Marco Bevolo
8 min readAug 17, 2022
Bisi Williams is host of Health2049 podcast and Massive Change Network co-founder with Bruce Mau

Bisi Williams is universally acknowledged as the co-founder with Bruce Mau of Massive Change Networks in Chicago, developing from a personal partnership that started in 1988. Bisi comes from a family with a background in science and medicine and a personal background in Humanities, therefore the discovery of design, from the very unique approach to editorial and graphic design by Bruce Mau himself, to what Bisi identifies as Design with the big “D”. First, Bisi became aware of the pervasive nature of design, and its connections to multiple disciplines, including journalism itself. She took a position as a specialist in Humanities building and binding the diverse but not so different worlds of literature, writing, and design. The power of synthesis and the possibilities to inspire movements and benefit businesses became apparent to Bisi in her inception within the role of co-founder of Massive Change Network and step by step, gradually but strongly, she developed her own vision of this field, and the value it can generate and offer to the world, including “the rest of us”, who might not be trained as designers. Her notion of design includes the translation and communication of said value in order to make it not only understandable but actually comfortable for those clients who invest a lot in design but might not have the technical ability to read blueprints or discern fine details from concept to model to actual delivery of products, environments or solutions.

An intellectual journey from journalism to design

After her formative years in design, Bisi matured the necessary confidence in her awareness and vision that led her to take on the role of co-founder of Massive Change Network, Bruce’s next step after his Toronto-based studio, Bruce Mau Design. As Massive Change Network was created in order to go beyond the traditional notions of design, Bisi was instrumental to pursue such ambition by bringing her reflexive research and analysis talent to the table. Massive Change Network was started up in 2010, right after the banking, real estate, and financial crises that changed the world in 2008. It was developed as a whole new practice within the creative and design fields, with the drive to actually reach far beyond the conventional boundaries of those industries. Inspired by the Institute Without Boundaries and the Massive Change milestone exhibition in Vancouver, Massive Change Network rapidly became the platform where the new notion of Life-centered Design was developed by Bruce, Bisi, and their team. Ultimately, the goal was and is to create tools for devising and designing new solutions to meet the present and future challenges on our planet. It is with this mandate, that Bisi completed her intellectual and professional journey from journalism to design. Still, Bisi’s drive is towards fulfilling the necessities of synthesis, translation, and overarching connection by bridging all those multidisciplinary universes that enable design to deliver solutions by inspiring change. It is a vision-driven perspective, where the pursuit of said vision is the engine to seek cooperation with experts in fields that might be necessary but unknown. For example, starting up a vision-based business will still require legal and financial expertise to structure the formal construction that enables entrepreneurial spirit to be converted into an actual enterprise. However, design will be also needed to provide the synthesis, both in terms of visual as well as verbal articulation into experience and actionable storytelling.

Design consulting, redesigned

Shifting the perspective to the ways of working in the professional sector of design consulting, what appears mission-critical is the ability to adapt and translate objectives to fit with the “grammar” of commissioners and clients, in order to engage with them from their own perspectives and challenges. Then, it is the task of designers to “paint with money” by visualizing solutions, opportunities, and visions in aesthetically appealing and communicatively impacting sketches, 3D models, and whatever other form of rendering, to prototypes, required for clients to be triggered and inspired. This process is based on a necessary, fundamental ingredient, that is humility. Designers must start their projects and programs with the necessary humility derived from the very fact that clients know their business much better than designers do. at the start of every project, designers must be aware that they are at the very beginning of a steep learning curve. Mastering such process is necessary to work with businesses towards innovation beyond what is established in their trade, delivering the delta that will uniquely make the difference. it is this intellectual intimacy with customers that will empower clients to rethink their practices, processes, and ways of working through the eyes of the designer. At the opposite end of servile servicing, design consulting must be built on genuine dialog and authentic respect in a mutual process of true engagement. Of course, intellectual immersion and professional intimacy with any given business will not make designers practitioners of said business. In her 2015–2017 work with New York State Medicaid, developed solutions for one of the largest healthcare institutions in the world, with six million citizens being served and an initial budget of 6 billion U.S. dollars. In spite of their massive dimension in terms of volumes and financial means, New York State Medicaid did not enjoy high ratings in terms of overall satisfaction by its stakeholders, from practitioners to patients. A first project focused on processes and accounting, brilliantly achieving efficiencies that multiplied the budgetary value at disposal. However, re-engineering might push the quantitative value up, without necessarily shifting perceptions or increasing actual service quality in the eyes of stakeholders involved. For example, mitigation of fear for patients and improvement of quality of life for practitioners might not be visible in terms of accounting as we know it but are mission critical. This is where design came into the picture, from the redesign of systems according to a positivist paradigm, to the reframing of what healthcare is actually about. All along this process, Bisi realized both the need to grow her own viewpoint on highly specialistic topics while not losing sight of the purpose of her contribution as a designer. No matter how many books she might read about surgery, she would certainly not transform herself into a practicing surgeon. However, this higher level of preparation enables the designer to achieve the necessary understanding and insights to propose a systemic synthesis across products and solutions based on innovative technologies. Communication is the main asset that designers bring to the table, whereby said synthesis works at multidisciplinary level thanks to dialog and exchange among professionals who belong to different epistemologies and therefore distant visions of the field and of the world. Designers work at intersections, where words make worlds and images inspire what’s next, beyond current categories.

From reactive treatment to predictive anticipation: tomorrow’s care

Bisi looks at a future where acceleration is a constant given, due to the speed of adoption of new technologies. It is a future forming vision where social media, VR, and AI lead us to new opportunities for connecting, communicating, and being together. However, it is also a vision of the future where, for example, autonomous driving will change not only cities but urban lifestyles. The future will not be about adding a new layer of technologies to our everyday, it will be about technology determining a new everyday. As a result, the role of designers in this context might be injecting slowness, recuperating human pace, and ultimately putting the notion of time as a nonrenewable resource at the centre of their solutions. Time and health are the two only resources that appear necessary and available in scarce quantity for all of us, and that is where Bisi’s activist advocacy will focus in the future. The path to a preferable future from this viewpoint inevitably goes through new notions of wellness, where nature is central as the provider of beauty. This applies to healthcare futures as well, where no systemic disruption occurred yet in the last decades in spite of the introduction of digital technologies. In order to engage with and empower trend setting voices in the field, Bisi established her design futures footprint through her Health2049 podcast, with Jason Helgerson as co-host. The podcast featured a varied panel of experts, thought leaders, and visionaries on the future of health and care, with a strong predictive ethos and a major investment in time to select, prepare, and publish the conversations. From Chris Bevolo, Chief Brand Officer at Revive, to Dr. Bella Tendler Krieger, Director of Value-Based Care at Envision Physician Services, from world famed Paul Ryan, Former Speaker of the House and Founder of the American Idea Foundation, to Dr. Megan Ranney, Associate Dean, School of Public Health & Alpert Medical School, Brown University, 40 guest speakers delivered ideas, insights, and visions of the future over the first and second seasons of the show. From therapeutic to anticipatory healthcare, from holistic wellness to digital clinics, towards the new notion of value-based healthcare that appears inevitable as the next phase in this sector, Bisi and Jason engaged with these minds over time, extracting a comprehensive overview of the landscape of tomorrow’s health care, management and preservation in the U.S., and beyond. A particular point of attention is how our societies do and will treat the most vulnerable citizens, those who are exposed to hazards, system failures, and the consequences of the economic gap. Digital technologies will require new training, new professional profiles, and new ways of working all over the architecture of healthcare. Quite counterintuitively, Bisi sees the rise of digital health management as a major opportunity for a new notion of healthcare, one where empathy is central as enabled by the time and workload save up by technologies. Then, embedding healthcare and wellness into welfare and into the natural landscapes of food production, green scenery, fresh air and the likes, might be the storyline that might enable progress from our current status quo to possible and possibly preferable futures. In Bisi’s ways of working, storytelling “are” design because stories inspire those new scenarios on which innovation is built from scratch, in the fuzzy front of what’s next. Designers depart from stories and scenarios, to imagine what is possible and to sketch what is preferable.

Health futures are design challenges, ahead of us

The challenge of designing for institutions like hospitals and other healthcare infrastructure is not a budgeting challenge. There is no price difference between bad design and good design. There is only a difference in outcome and impact. The challenge is cultural, in view of the preconceptions, assumptions, and rooted beliefs leading to the repetition of the same approach over and over. Bisi’s conclusion, after several interactions and discussions with Bruce Mau, was simple. The challenge pertains to the design of a whole new vernacular grammar of experience and aesthetics for these institutions, these programs, and these clients and commissioners. A grammar of beauty, where the notion of “Life-centred Design” as advocated by Massive Change Network and Bruce himself in his publications and speeches, finds its natural seedbed. A new vision where being grounded in nature enables efficiency and effectiveness in the prevention and provision of what is needed as care for humans, in balance with the planet. Setbacks and even failures will not be spared to designers and to practitioners who engage in the exploration of the fuzzy front of preferable futures. However, it will be those setbacks that offer the opportunity to rethink our approach and reframe our mindset, toward what’s next.

To watch the original interview with Bisi Williams, please click the link:




Marco Bevolo

Italian living between NL and Japan. 1967, born; 1994, Literature and Philosophy; 2016 Behavioral and Social Sciences; 5 books; 20 scientific papers; Keynote.