Modern vehicles are a technological marvel. The sophisticated computers in today’s automobiles, SUVs and trucks monitor every imaginable parameter. They constantly adjust and regulate a multitude of interrelated systems in a complex symphony of mechanical and electronic performance.
Yet when you get in to drive, it’s doubtful you think about any of those things. You turn the key or push the start button, and off you go. Vehicle manufacturers such as Tesla, understand that, which is one of the reasons they spend so much time studying customer interactions with their products.
It is a lesson lost on many healthcare technology companies, however. As they race to build the latest feature-laden, point-solution products, they can sometimes forget the whole point is to help improve the lives of patients, families, nurses, doctors and other members of the care team.
In their excitement to bring new technologies to market, tech companies often make life or work more difficult and frustrating instead. It is akin to reviewing a manual checklist of switches and gauges before you could turn on your car and start driving.
Fortunately, the concept of designing products first and foremost for users is making a comeback. You can find many articles these days focusing on “human-centered design.”
Design From The End-User Perspective
There are two key components to replacing an inward focus on what you think you should do with human-centered design. The first is to observe your users in their natural habitats (i.e., their homes, workplaces, schools, vehicles) or wherever they will be using your products. Walk in their shoes. Explore their workflows. See best practices in action, and identify their preferences.
See what they do in those locations, then think about how your product can make whatever it is faster, easier, less stressful, less costly, etc. If they’re already using your products, watch what frustrates them, what slows them down, what causes confusion. You can often learn more from one sincerely pounded fist than from a dozen formal customer satisfaction surveys.
Design With Your Users
Dig deeper by interacting with them. Make them co-designers of your products. Hold extensive discussions with stakeholders at different levels of the organization and ask them to give you honest, unvarnished feedback. As you observe and interact, take copious notes. Then use that information as a road map to make your products better or to develop new products that solve related issues.
A good example of this type of learning by observing was what Intuit practiced and learned with its Quicken personal-finance software. Intuit sent employees into retail outlets and had them ask customers purchasing their products if they could accompany them home to see what worked well and what didn’t. Those observations led to the development of QuickBooks to address customers’ unmet needs. (N.B. Intuit sold Quicken in 2016.) User experience design is leveraged for other Intuit products, including TurboTax.
Talk with users, either one on one or in groups, to get additional input on what works, what doesn’t and what they need. For example, you can ask users what they wish they could do that they can’t right now. They may have suggestions your research and development team hadn’t considered — or didn’t think important to users.
Observe User Behavior
Another approach for work-related products is to embed one of your employees at a customer site so they can interact with and observe the behaviors of your users. This is a strategy my company, a clinical communications solutions organization, uses. Our on-site employees hear every comment firsthand in real-world situations as well as see every instance where a user felt our technology saved them valuable time or improved their workflows. This raw, unsolicited feedback is a huge contributor not only to product updates, but also to our development plans for new solutions.
This human-centered design concept should not be limited to corporate executives, the sales team or customer service representatives. It is critical for engineers and others on the product development team to see how the products they are building are being used, and to speak with the people using them.
The healthcare industry provides a particularly potent example of the value of this approach. It’s one thing to sit in an engineering lab all day working on the latest features and functions of a product. It is quite another to visit a hospital to see firsthand how that solution helps a nurse do their job better. It is also quite inspirational to see the impact a well-designed product has on the lives of real human beings.
After years of focusing primarily on returning value to investors, the pendulum has begun to swing toward addressing the needs of all stakeholders in a balanced fashion. The corporate world is recognizing again that placing customers at the center of design decisions is critical to building and selling must-have solutions.
Technology designed for its own sake, rather than with the needs of workers in mind, is how we have ended up with too many healthcare technologies that complicate clinical workflows and turn many nurses and doctors into data entry clerks. The better approach is to observe users in their working environments, engage with them, understand their processes and needs, and see how they’re connected to other people’s jobs. Then, find the best, most efficient ways to improve their lives.