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Leveraging design and technology to transform the health experience | April 5-6, 2016 | Boston, MA

HxRefactored: Who Are We Really Designing For?

Originally posted on UsabilityMatters.com

The HXRefactored conference is now underway and it has my UXy wheels whirring. I attended a session of four panelist speaking under the theme Patient Centered Design this afternoon but it left me rather uneasily asking if the title should instead have been Patients-Like-Me Centred Design.

Eric Meyer (from An Event Apart) told a heartbreaking story of his daughter’s dire medical crisis and how the sunny happy personas used in the hospital website design process were clearly not ones dealing with such screamingly urgent circumstances as his family. (I barely kept from weeping openly.)

Similarly, Kate Brigham (PatientsLikeMe) spoke about how her twin brothers’ experience with cystic fibrosis inspired her to create a support service for patients and Catherine Rose spoke about how her daughter’s medical challenges motivated her design work at Philips. And Toni Pashley (ShareCare) spoke about the mobile only approach she has taken with her app and asked the audience rhetorically, “we all have smartphones here, right?”.

A creeping sense of unease had been building for me through the session because the whole point of personas in the design process and UCD in general is to avoid designing just for ourselves. We are supposed to design for real users, not for ourselves. But of course one’s experience with health care is intensely personal and as such can be a powerful motivation for wanting to make things better. In these speakers’ cases, they were the real users of the health care system, and at some point, so are we all.

So why was I feeling uneasy? What was missing from the discussion, I realised, are the people who we are, by inference only, not designing for – the anti personas who’s existence was being ignored. To bolster this, a new Pew study landed in my inbox today stating that 64 percent of Americans now have smartphones, and while this is a much higher number than a few years ago, it still means that 36 percent don’t have one and these people – 36 percent of Americans, i.e., millions of people – had been quietly excluded from this afternoon’s Patient Centered Design discussion.

My point I guess is that sometimes it makes perfect sense to explicitly design for ourselves, but we had better be damn sure that we are equally explicit about the people we are excluding from our designs.