In human-centric healthcare design, less is more

By Laura Lovett

Amy Schwartz knows that product design isn’t just about making things look pretty. A trained cognitive psychologist, Schwartz said product design is about making devices usable and human-centered.

But unfortunately, she said, healthcare is behind the times when it comes to product design. Schwartz, now an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute and a human centric design thought leader at Battelle, advises and teaches about healthcare design. She will be presenting on the topic at the Digital and Personal Connected Health Conference in Las Vegas on March 5th.

“The right way to do it is to actually spend some time watching what people do and being in the context of what you are designing is going to be used,” Schwartz said. “If you are in a healthcare setting, spend time to understand the workflow and what goes on there. Then start with some early prototypes of what you are designing and have people try them out.”

Unlike the consumer world, hospitals are often hierarchical. For example, when nursing technology is being developed, the hospital might look for a surgeon’s input instead of input from nurses. 

“You always have understand who you are designing it for,” said Schwartz. 

The best kind of design is when you have the users trying out the app during the testing phase and are almost “co-designing”, said Schwartz. Additionally, when developing a product its important to look not only at what the average person needs but to also to look at the outliers. 

“You can learn a lot from people who are extreme in different ways,” Schwartz said. “In a scientific approach…. there is this whole notion about the representative, the bell curve and most people are right in the bell curve. But the consumer world for a long time has said, actually when you are first starting out and are trying to get ideas and innovate, and understanding the unmet needs, these people at the extremes are interesting to include because they can have the same problems or needs everyone can have but they are magnified.”

And sometimes, simple is better. A lot of times if you ask clients what they want in an app they will list many different features, she said. But when testing out the product it's important to look at patterns and what is usable. 

“It is not that hard to make things usable if you actually test things along the way and use the design process in an appropriate way,” Schwartz said. 

Schwartz said that just because something is possible from a technology point of view doesn’t mean that it is user-friendly. Oftentimes users get overwhelmed. In short, it’s important to put the human first. 

Schwartz will be presenting “Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference” at the Digital and Personal Connected Health Conference on March 5 from 3:05 p.m to 3:30 p.m. at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas.