Clearer Thinking: telling stories to understand big ideas

by Zach

How do medical leaders deal with what happens when a patient is hurt because of their care? I mean, how does someone even begin to answer such a question?

Dr. Suzanne Shale makes this huge question her life's work. She wrote a book on this – Moral Leadership in Medicine – laying out all-too-real problems with definite directions medical leaders can take. Through her ethics consultancy (Clearer Thinking), she works with leaders in national bodies and healthcare organisations on their moral duties.

At some time in our lives, all of us rely on people who work in healthcare to take responsibility for meeting our needs. My work is about what makes it possible to trust them, and how to rebuild trust when it breaks down.

Our job was to answer a simpler question: How do you capture what Suzanne does in a single website?

After speaking with Suzanne about how she expresses her work, it became clear that stories are the currency of ethics. One of her projects, Patient Stories, perfectly captures their power. Stories put problems in the context of discussions more clearly than expositions. Or, in other words: show, don't tell.

I needed to learn more about the context, and work very closely with Suzanne on the words. Crafting the content helped focus the message. In creating a content strategy for wide-ranging stories, our first expectations for a generally static website evolved.

We reached for a helpful story-making tool, WordPress, to be the backbone for But, we had to do some rethinking about the difference between stories and blog posts. Clearer Thinking stories last a long time, but blog posts are about timeliness and immediacy.

So, a blogging engine is a useful tool to look after stories, but the familiarity of a blog gets in the way of Suzanne's message.

For the design, Matt dived into our detailed discussions – he had to work as closely with Suzanne on the look and feel as I did on the words. What he created was a style that showed Suzanne's personality in the context of big topics. He repurposed WordPress's tools to put stories inside the right pages.

Matt also made a set of reusable texture-blocks, which let Suzanne set a visual tone without having to find unique images for every story:

Vintage-feel and textured images reflect her perhaps more so than generic photos from her field.