Diversity in Design Matters in Health Tech

African American young woman

As a diabetic, I use health technology to make my own life better every day. As a designer, I am hyper-focused on how interface and application design can improve lives. In my career field, which includes helping Healthtech (Information technology, Computer software, Internet software, etc.) companies and Nonprofits improve access to care and important public health information. Diversity matters and designing user experiences that support diverse patient groups is essential for the future of health tech – here’s why.

As a UX designer, I know that a part of my job is to create products and solutions for a diverse set of users. Doing this accurately means purposely incorporating diversity in the conceptualization and implementation phases by working with other designers, programmers, project managers, and industry professionals with different backgrounds and ethnicities. These backgrounds, life experiences, viewpoints, and perspectives help to ensure that we’re able to deliver well-rounded technological solutions that support diverse user groups. This also means testing the aforementioned products on diverse audiences and collecting and using the data/insights we’ve gathered to improve the product(s). In healthcare, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution and the impact on the quality of life for each individual user can be life-altering if all potential possibilities and pitfalls aren’t considered. 

When designing user experiences for new health technologies and mobile applications, success or failure often centers around who’s conceptualizing and designing the product, as well as from what life experiences and/or perspectives are they approaching problem-solving from for their many users (also known as patients). The questions we ask as industry professionals and subsequently how we solve them impacts the quality of patient care in both the short and long term. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has been a stark reminder of how diseases impact certain populations differently. As we work together to tackle COVID-19 in the U.S. and around the world, bringing together diverse design groups will help to create more comprehensive solutions and tools that best serve all patients.

Group of individuals sitting at a conference room table

Embracing UX-first product design and diversity

UI design is the design of user interfaces. Every website, mobile application, or high-tech device you use has an interface, or environment, that you interact with in order to achieve a desired goal or outcome. In many cases, if the UI doesn’t “get it the way” it means the design is intuitive.Successful UI design is led by an obsession over the ideal user experience, called UX. There are many products that appear sleek and innovative, but function poorly. In response, companies are starting to embrace the UI/UX design first methodology, and insist that it’s the first thing to be completed in the product development lifecycle. IEEE, the professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity, lists these highlights on the importance of UX design:

  • Programmers spend 50 percent of their time on rework that is avoidable. 
  • The cost of fixing an error after development is 100 times greater.
  • Three of the top 12 reasons projects fail are directly related to user experience or user-centered design work and badly defined requirements.

Here are a few action items to ease the transition to UX-first product development: 

Allocate time for research – Building time in the schedule for conceptualization is a great way to begin UX-first methodology. A successful UX design phase starts with small victories – a rough whiteboard sketch, brainstorm meeting, a handful of sticky notes, or a list of features. Ultimately, it should result in high fidelity mockups and/or prototypes with annotations. But, beginning each project with an open mind and giving your team the time and space to be creative and open to different viewpoints and diverse solutions is a great starting point.

Person sketching a wireframe design on paper

Embrace the pivot – Being open to adjustments throughout the design process is critical for successful user-led design. It’s important to approach the design first model and each adjustment that is recommended with the same amount of patience and understanding that you would have if you were switching to a new CRM or task management tool. It’s easier to embrace the pivot when you know it will make things easier and less expensive in the long run and improve the overall user experience.

Yong asian man using a desktop computer

Build a diverse design team – Bringing together a diverse team is extremely important in the development of comprehensive health tech products and solutions that improve the lives of all medical professionals and patients. As designers, we’re working towards the best-case user response that “this was designed for me by someone like me, who truly understands me and my situation.” When we bring together a diverse design team, results like these are possible.

How does diversity play an important role in coming up with a comprehensive solution? 

Let’s preface the answer to this question with the following – Seniors have the lowest reported usage of telehealth of any age group. For this particular scenario it could be tough to find and hire a UI/UX designer that identifies 100% with the user profile, but selecting an individual who’s had to closely care for a parent or grandparent could be another valuable alternative.   

A recent article in CNN Health states “Black Americans represent 13.4% of the American population, according to the US Census Bureau, but counties with higher black populations account for more than half of all Covid-19 cases and almost 60% of deaths, the study found.” We also know the African American Uninsured Rate is still staggering, “Blacks remained 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured” stated by KFF.org. What can be done? 

Being that I’m a black female that was raised in a primarily underprivileged black community, I immediately identify and empathize with this particular group of users. When you take into account the fact that I have countless personal experiences and shared perspectives with this demographic and combine that with my UX design skills, this motivated me to take two weeks to conceptualize a simple web application that tracks COVID-19 symptoms every 4-6 hours for 14 days. Not only is it a product of my own ingenuity, but it is also a cumulation of my past experiences as well as my wins, losses, and lessons. The application push notifications, allows users to chat with a PCP, and get access to other valuable local health resources.  Ultimately, my end goal is to get funding and to be a part of standardizing self-monitoring for the large uninsured population of the American public.  

Link to Prototype: https://www.sketch.com/s/9a4cf907-4c18-431d-9416-2636c7200c12/a/xZdRZJ/play

COVID Prototype Screenshot

Link to Prototype: https://www.sketch.com/s/9a4cf907-4c18-431d-9416-2636c7200c12/a/jaKqGa/play

COVID Mobile Prototype Screenshot

As the founder of a UX-led design firm serving the health and nonprofit sectors, I understand firsthand how creating a dynamic team of ‘human-centered’ designers is essential to serving our clients. A human-centered designer means that our team will have the ability to empathize with the key audiences and solve complex problems where many of the “solutions” will be drawn directly from past personal experiences. In my experience, assembling and working with diverse design teams also helps to build trust with clients and lowers the barrier to change needed to meet complex problems head on. 

Two people sketching design on whiteboard

Implementing UX design best practices with diversity in mind

The value of prioritizing UX and design-thinking can increase the ROI of all products and/or solutions, but companies like Virgin Group, Disney, PricewaterhouseCooper, and organizations across industries are also embracing the benefits of diverse design teams, states Hult.edu. Here are some of the benefits of assembling design teams with people with different walks of life, backgrounds, and ethnicities:

  • Diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation
  • Local market knowledge and insight make a business more competitive and profitable
  • Drawing from a culturally diverse talent pool allows an organization to attract and retain the best talent
  • A diverse skills base allows an organization to offer a broader and more adaptable range of products and services
  • Diverse teams are more productive and perform better
  • Greater opportunity for personal and professional growth

Being a human-centered designer gives me the unique ability to empathize with my target user group, check my mental library for similar experiences, and figure out creative ways to solve the problem at hand. For example, who better to design health applications for diabetes patients than a patient herself? As a designer in the health tech field, I am dedicated to helping improve patient outcomes, reduce inequalities in health tech, and connect patients and doctors with the data they need. Bringing diverse perspectives to the table throughout the design process helps to make comprehensive outcomes more commonplace in the health tech and nonprofit industries.

African American young woman sitting at table with laptop

 

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Author: Amy Oughton

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