Many of us have been getting more than our fair share of user experience (UX) these days as we spend a lot more time working, playing, and living virtually. We know great UX when we see it – generally, it’s when we’re navigating a tool or website and it feels both seamless and easy. But what’s not always obvious is that the origin of these experiences is product design, which sounds technical, but can be simply defined as having empathy for the customer.
Designing to solve problems
Jessica Lascar, a designer and writer, describes product design this way, “It’s about the entire process of creating usable products and experiences, starting by defining real people’s problems and thinking about possible solutions.” Clear design helps eliminate confusion, bringing forward only the information necessary for the end user to take action. This is a big part of IMO’s mission – to create designs that reduce the burnout that can be caused by busy, confusing software.
For many, there is a popular misconception that design is all about aesthetics. In reality, design is about solving problems. Aesthetics in product design are not the main focus, rather they exist in order to support a product’s functionality by making its purpose clearer. Some of the best products in the world have been created as a result of empathetic design processes – think Netflix, or the iPhone. This starts with a deep understanding of the end user, how they operate in the world, and requires observing them in their own environment.
At IMO, our end users are healthcare workers. We design for the physicians, clinicians, nurses, and others who are pressed for time and critically need workflows that work with them. For example, the electronic health record (EHR) has been critiqued by some in the medical community for challenges with ease of use. But this important feedback presents an opportunity to make things better, with the right product design team on task.
Proactivity beats reactivity
Indeed, the Harvard Business Review has long recognized the need for active, rather than passive, consideration of product design and UX. “Customers are so accustomed to current conditions that they don’t think to ask for a new solution — even if they have real needs that could be addressed,” the publication notes. “Habit tends to inure us to inconvenience; as consumers, we create “work-arounds” that become so familiar we may forget that we are being forced to behave in a less-than-optimal fashion — and thus we may be incapable of telling market researchers what we really want.” This is why, for product designers especially, observation of the end user interacting with the product is so critical.
Since direct, on-site observation presents challenges in a world governed by HIPAA, we use prototypes that walk our customers through a potential solution. For example, users are asked to perform a task with the prototype while our team watches the customer without rescuing or helping when issues arise. This lets us observe the customer experiencing frustration or confusion in real time, so we can learn how to improve the product.
Prototypes help us get feedback on an interface quickly, without the full investment of building the entire solution. This allows us to learn as we go. Prototyping also speeds up the product development process. By learning which designs and concepts have the greatest potential for success, we can set aside other efforts that divert our focus, ensuring that products with strong reach and appeal move forward.
In health IT, this is essential. Our aim is to reduce frustration and confusion for users of our products, smoothing the path for clinicians to easily get the information critical to their work. And best-in-class product design plays a big role in how we get there.