December 30, 2015

User Driven Design: Three Steps to Breakthrough Digital Health Care Solutions

Kent Lawson is the Health Care Practice Lead at IA Collaborative, a preferred partner company.

Together with IA Collaborative we offer our clients in the digital health space a full service solution development process, from research, design and deployment of applications to consultancy and domain specific problem solving.

Throughout the year we will invite our trusted partners to guest blog to introduce new perspectives and angles on digital health.

The key to innovation—any innovation—is seizing latent opportunities and solving real problems for real users. At IA Collaborative, we call it user driven design.

User driven design includes three course of action and reaction, all focused on taking insight to action:

  1. Design Research- Researching real users and key stakeholders, in-context.
  2. The Journey- Understanding the current journey of any user or any product, the gaps that exist today, and most importantly the potential to fill or capitalize on those gaps.
  3. Design & Develop- Designing and developing the ideal future state, collaboratively with a multi-disciplinary team, including all key stakeholders.

user choices running through the wild

Recently, United Airlines released their new website and mobile application which have beautiful and usable user-interfaces, and are widely known as some of the best digital interactions and consumer tools in the industry.

Given that the airline industry, like the healthcare industry, is not well known for providing great overall customer service, how was United Airlines able to create a compelling, beautiful and truly usable digital ecosystem?

Design Research-

To get to the insights that led to such a successful digital ecosystem, 41 “users” were observed on 82 flights, 40 trains, and over 110,000 flight miles. We (IA Collaborative) uncovered insights as these travelers prepared for their trip, made reservations, packed and unpacked, traveled to the airport, checked their bags, waited for their plane, boarded the plane and flew. We observed them as they got off the plane and found transportation to their destination, and we observed them all the way to their final destination, to do what they came to do only to repack and start their trip home.

The Journey-

Understanding the current user journey in granular detail enables you to understand the transitions and gaps that exist and to identify new insights that expose the potential for how we might design an ideal journey. Deeply observing users, in-context and in the moment is critical if you’re looking for nothing less than best-in-class digital user experiences that drive customer loyalty. In United’s case, we explored the reasons people travel, their expectations and the frustrations they encounter along the journey.

Design & Develop-

Once you understand the users and the current journey, only then can you start to collaborate with all key stakeholders on designing the ideal journey. And while stakeholders inevitably have their own agendas, nothing expands what is possible or imaginable more than a deeper understanding of the people they serve. Engineers look at the world through engineering lens of systems, cost effectiveness and efficiency, coders look at the world with coding eyes that see binary paths and linear sequences, marketers look at the world through the filter of appeal, positioning and market size, and front-end and back-end developers look at the world with an eye on discrete components and phases. Each of these stakeholders brings an essential set of skills, competencies and even necessary biases. The challenge and opportunity is to use all of these stakeholders to seek truly optimized not compromised solutions.

Health care beneficially leverage User Driven Design more than any other industry.

Doctors Have Lost Touch-

Due to the fee-for-service business model under which our health systems have been operating over the past few decades, doctors have lost touch with the lives of their patients—their customers—outside of the exam room experience. The health care system as a whole has been so focused on compensation and reimbursement that they’ve lost sight of and touch with the patient.  Great health care includes the whole life of the patient, not just the six minutes spent together in the doctor’s office. The current patient journey and the impact of effective patient-caregiver interaction have been lost.

We must spend the time with our users in-context to fully understand the entire patient (and HCP) journey. We must go into patients’ homes to uncover how patients are living with their conditions and how they’re feeling about their conditions. We must understand the impact their health challenges have on others and the rippling effect it has on the entire ecosystem of their lives. Only then can we design to improve their experience.

Journeys Unleash the Imagination

Today, venture capital is pouring into digital health products and services, and large and established health care companies have started to turn their attention to designing for the holistic patient experience. As is the case with so many “new” trends, many of these players are not long-time practitioners of user-driven design.  As a result, they defer or regress back to the comfortable and known world of designing features and benefits that they think a patient or user may “want” rather than what they “need”. These unmet, latent and unexpressed needs can only be obtained  through a more holistic view of the experience—the journey– that currently exists. Understand the journey and gaps and you can imagine the opportunities that exist.

Collaboration Is Key

Having this foundational understanding of your user is not only imperative for exposing and seizing new opportunities and designing new offerings, it is also critical as you move into production and prepare to bring these offerings to the market. In any offering, whether they are products, experiences or digital in nature, the development process demands that choices be made as you look to launch a minimally viable product before advancing to more robust offerings. In order to ensure the integrity of the design and that the best product is launched, it is considered best practice to unite designers and developers (and other key stakeholders) early and often. While it may seem counterintuitive or even illogical to involve engineers and even manufacturers in research or researchers in engineering and production, beginning with the end in mind and ending with the beginning in mind have proven to be compulsory to successful outcomes and desired impact. As we prepare for research and synthesis of our research findings, we typically engage our development and production partners to ensure they understand the ideal experience being created. We also integrate our client partners during the research and throughout the design and innovation process.  This type of collaboration provides purpose and meaning to what we are building together.  It is common that as user-stories are scoped, we leverage insights gained through the user-driven design process when it is required that we make educated tradeoffs while staying true to the mission of designing a successful user experience.

User Driven Design:

  1. Design Research- Researching real users and key stakeholders, in-context and in the moment.
  2. The Journey- Understanding the current journey of any user or any product, the gaps that exist today, and most importantly the potential for capitalizing on closing or eliminating those gaps.
  3. Design & Develop- Designing and developing an ideal future state, collaboratively with a multi-disciplinary team, including all key stakeholders.

Solving real problems for real people.


IA Collaborative is a design innovation consultancy recognized by Fast Company, Forbes, Business Week and others as “premier practitioners of immersive design.”  As a global leader, IA Collaborative is known for creating ideas, products, services, brands and experiences that improve lives and build businesses across health care and other industries.

Kent can be reached here:

Author: Tech Team
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