This paper builds on the author’s keynote address to the Design Society’s 21st International Conference on Engineering Design in 2017 and in doing so provides a personal perspective to the question of the title. It begins by describing the engineering experience of the author which led to an understanding of the importance of taking a systems approach to the development of engineering products and services. This is followed by reflections on the development of a research portfolio focused on the design of complex engineering systems, inclusive design and healthcare improvement. The paper then reports on the recent work of engineers, clinicians and healthcare leaders, who came together under the guidance of the author, to explore how an engineering systems approach could be described that might simultaneously meet the needs of patients, carers and healthcare staff. It discusses the challenges associated with the translation of this narrative description of a systems approach (What?) into a practical implementation guide or toolkit (How?), supported by evidence of its effective use in health and care improvement practice. Finally, the paper reflects on the lessons to be learned from this process and their possible repercussions for design research and the practice of design.
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