I was recently listening to a podcast where Mauro Porcini was being interviewed.  He’s the Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo and has just released a book called “The Human Side of Innovation”[1].   He talks passionately about the importance of human-centricity in design, holistically instilling design thinking and embracing technology with open mindedness and flexibility.

Ultimately, he highlights that in the evolving digital and technological landscape, great design has become vital. When used thoughtfully and empathetically, when we are ambassadors for human needs and desires, we can offer the best possible solutions while guiding and inspiring our businesses. Given a level playing field, the brands that will succeed will be focused on delivering the best possible experiences   which are truly meaningful to people and address their unmet needs.

“Our approach to business needs to be human-centered… This is a culture made by “people in love with people””.

Whilst his perspective is clearly from a very different sector, the principles resonated with me and the digital UX work we have done in the healthcare sector.  All our clients have a goal of patient centricity, and we work every day to ensure the HCP and Patient voice is heard – putting their unmet needs at the heart of our research.

This inspired me to shortlist success factors for digital UX.  Highlighting how we put people at the heart of our digital user experience research and working in tandem with design teams to create the best, human-centric solutions.

Understanding the Human Context

For designers, it’s impossible to create a meaningful and frictionless user experience without the benefit of having the person they are designing for ‘in the room’.  Throughout the digital development process, but especially at the formative stages, we recommend immersive ways of enabling the design team to really ‘see, hear and feel’ the voice and actions of the person who will be using the digital interface.

Speaking to Jen, who uses digital Type 1 diabetes devices, it’s clear that this immersion is critical to understanding, and sometimes lacking.  When interviewed, she questioned whether patients had been involved at all in the design of her insulin pump and companion app and rightly pointed out that topics of advancement have focused on areas such as making needles smaller but nothing on how the device and app actually fit in with her life.

“There’s such an emphasis on the improvement a ‘new version’ carries, but then it never ends up being better.  It seems like a lot of guesswork to me.  There’s always a tradeoff or a sacrifice….every new option is so close to being right and then it’s like – nope”

This is why it’s important to understand the wider context, the role the device / digital technology plays and how it fits in to the needs of the end user.  Successful innovation focuses not only on the innovation itself, but on it fitting seamlessly into the user’s existing life.  Product improvements that require complicated or substantial change on the part of the user often may not be considered improvements at all.

Gemma Bullimore, Creative Director and digital UX designer at our sister company Together Agency, echoes our philosophy and passion for putting the end user front and centre.  We work in partnership to translate our insights into Digital User Journeys, Wireframes and Prototypes for apps and online use so we can visualize the right solutions to test with patients and Healthcare Professionals (HCPs).  From experience working in the clinical trials domain we advocate building the idea of who the user is in detail, including the language used to describe their needs and the key benefits they want from their experience.  Clearly understanding these benefits, how needs differ by persona and any behavioural biases which might prevent optimal engagement are critical for development.

Ultimately, the more we understand the needs of the people who will be using the interface, the better we can serve them.

Inclusivity and accessibility

Part of taking a human-centric approach is ensuring digital UX experiences are tailored to the needs of the individual within their own health context.  Understanding the nuances of each therapy area and demographic has a huge impact on usability and adoption of digital tools. As well as taking into account the WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) for general best practice, there are other considerations, for example voice activation capability for patients who have Parkinson’s or options for audio descriptions or larger fonts for those who might need them.

This is a real benefit of having Therapy Area Specialty Hubs like HRW Synapse – bringing a deep understanding of the Neuroscience area to digital UX.  Recent work in this space highlighted dissonance where symptom tracking was already in place with patients but the HCP perspective was that “no news is good news”.   Lack of time can lead to lack of empathy and so really cementing the benefits of a digital app for both stakeholders will optimise uptake of these essential sharing platforms and lead to better treatment optimization for the patients who need it most.

Reducing Cognitive Load

This comes up time and time again in the UX work we do.  We know from our Behavioural Science Experts HRW Shift, that Cognitive Load is one of the key challenges in digital UX.  Often for HCPs, any more data than they already have access to is too much.  And for patients, there is such a wealth of information and  functionality that it can be overwhelming.

Josh Kaye, a UX product designer who works on a digital enhancements team in the OTC sector finds this one of the biggest challenges in managing digital optimization programmes.  There is a balance to be struck between the end-user needs and the business goals in terms of streamlining and simplifying UX.  Often, users are distracted by clutter which not only leads to confusion but critically can distract from the user’s goals so it’s important to keep the person you are designing for front and centre.

Bringing the experience to life

Cognitive Load also exists for the design teams developing the ideal digital experiences.  We focus on creating a clear story of key findings and also using user journeys, wireframes, video immersion and workshops to illuminate design teams in the specific needs of patients and HCPs.

It’s vital to demonstrate to our client and design teams how the insights translate and what this looks like for experience optimization.  You can’t develop the right solutions if you haven’t experienced it fully through the eyes of the ends user so we need to be visually insightful.

Good design should be invisible and should not leave patients like Jen wondering whether the developers have ever spoken to a patient before.  Visualizing what each persona needs, what their journey should look, how it will fit with their daily lives and then being able to test what this will mean to patients should be the driving force of our designs and solutions.

Thank you to all of the contributors to this article

Jen Vos – Researcher and Behavioural Scientist, HRW

Gemma Bullimore – Head of Creative Digital and Digital UX Expert, Together Agency

Ben Fathers – Managing Director, Together Agency

Josh Kaye – Digital UX Designer, OTC

[1] The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love with People (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, November 2022).


By Esme Barrow-Williams

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