Interview with Head of Design Consulting of Philips, Sean Hughes

Within Philips, Sean Hughes is the Head of Design Consulting practice. They work on a global basis to deliver transformative design solutions to healthcare providers and retail partners to improve access to care, drive efficiency in care delivery and to improve the experience of care for all stakeholders.

He is also a member of the Philips Design board, that is responsible for developing the design function across Philips.

Sean Hughes shares more on leadership, design, and work culture matters.

Why did you become a designer?

I was always interested in both art and technology and couldn’t decide if I wanted to be an Architect a Painter or a Sculptor. Industrial Design offered the opportunity to explore and develop both creative and technical challenges and seemed to be a perfect match.

What comes to you first: business or customer?

We have to always consider both perspectives, if we had no customers we would have no business, and if we have no business we have no means to serve the customer. Both are important and interlinked.

What is one specific challenge you encounter, as a designer in the healthcare industry?

Ensuring we address multiple stakeholder needs is a key part of the creative challenge especially when designing solutions in the healthcare space.

What is the most fulfilling part about completing a project?

The biggest benefit we get from any project is learning new things about the customer or the patients, gathering insights that can feed and inform our innovation funnel.

How do you decide which issues to try and solve and move forward with after just finishing a project?

Working in new markets or in new health spaces is always interesting as it expands our horizons in terms of what possible and what’s preferred.

What has been your defining moment as a designer?

I have a few defining moments when reflecting on my career to date, firstly gaining a place a the Royal College of Art in London to undertake my Masters Degree, joining Philips Design twenty five years ago, and then being appointed Chief Design officer for Philips Healthcare, my previous role to this one stand out as significant steps on an ever evolving career journey.

Holding such a senior role, how do you ensure that you still continue to learn and grow as a designer?

Attending key conferences or industry forums is a great way to keep up to date with the latest thinking in both design as well as the industries we support.

How would you describe your design research?

Our design research is best described as “hands on”, we get out of the studio and we go into the places and spaces we are designing.

Meeting patients, staff and any other parties that have a role to play in the future solution we are designing. We use many tools such a journey mapping, shadowing, interviewing and observation to gather as much qualitative and quantitate data that we need to help us to make informed decisions and recommendations.

Philips is a game changer in this market, but how do you know that your design has been a success?

Peer recognition such as these design awards is always a nice accolade for our design team and business partners.

If you could describe your corporate culture in one phrase, what would you say?

I would say that Philips has always been a people focused company, at least for the 25 years that I have worked here!

What would be impossible not to talk about your company’s culture?

That we always aspire to take the latest technology and innovations and then translate this in a way to improve people’s lives.

How do you decide which members are to work on certain projects?

We try to match the needs of the project and which capabilities we need to draw on to deliver a successful outcome. In this respect the individual designers capabilities and experience are crucial factors that help to staff our project teams.

How do you say no to people?

I prefer not to say no, unless I really have to, I would like to instead reframe the challenge with a different perspective and keep a conversation moving forward in a positive way.