Not Just Another Pretty (Inter)Face

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1 WHITE PAPER Not Just Another Pretty (Inter)Face Lee Farabaugh, MS-HCI MSHI Chief Experience Officer The Benefits of Integrating Visual Design with User Experience Methodologies The landscape of healthcare delivery is evolving quickly, and the industry s push to implement clinical technology is playing a major role in the transition. No matter the application, information technology (IT) departments in hospitals and health systems across the industry need better functionality in this increasingly technologically-dependent world. But, this is a challenge. Ensuring the adoption of a healthcare solution isn t as simple as if it looks good, they will use it. Healthcare technology companies must also think long and hard about how a solution will meet the specific needs of end users. To gain or maintain an advantage in a crowded marketplace, it is now essential to deploy technologies with interfaces that look good and perform well. Both impact a solution s adoption rate in different, but important ways. Healthcare vendors looking to roll out cutting-edge, user-friendly solutions benefit most from partnerships with software development companies that have the expertise to elegantly combine visual design with user experience methodologies. Visual Design Is Not User Experience Design Designers frequently receive requests from vendors to make the interface look pretty, yet there is much more to a successful interface design than appearance alone. Some healthcare IT vendors use the terms visual design and user experience design interchangeably. In most cases, this reveals a lack of understanding of how visual design is actually an integral component of the larger user experience process. Designers frequently receive requests from vendors to make the interface look pretty, yet there is much more to a successful interface design than appearance alone. User experience design is an overarching concept that encompasses user research, interaction design, and visual design. While visual design is typically applied near the end

2 of a well-executed project, it is really just one component of a thoughtfully crafted user experience. Before having a conversation just about visual elements, a knowledgeable technology development team first addresses the underlying user experience decision points. The User Experience Design Process User experience design focuses on the complete experience of the person using a solution. Does the solution enable users to accomplish their desired tasks? Is it intuitive and easy to navigate? Where is the user when he or she is using the solution alone, in a crowded environment or while distracted? User experience design asks and provides the answers to these kinds of missioncritical questions. As any seasoned interface designer will readily acknowledge, the chances that an interface will fail to achieve a client s desired objective whether clicks-toconversions or end user adoption greatly increase if user experience processes are missing from the development process. User experience design includes a thorough research process that identifies the specific needs, wants and key tasks associated with the intended end user. It also takes into account interface, graphics, industrial design and the way individuals will physically interact with the product. Visual design questions are often explored during research and answered in tandem with interaction design questions. Additionally, user experience methodologies consider context by looking at situations in which a product will be used and pinpointing usability problems with current technology. User experience design includes a thorough research process that identifies the specific needs, wants and key tasks associated with the intended end user. Visual Design The visual design process, which ideally occurs towards the end of an interface design project, focuses on the look and feel of an application, and the impact of visual elements on the overall experience. Just as visual design questions emerge during research, interaction design questions continue to be answered during the creation of visual design comps at the end of the entire user experience design process. When people use technology whether launching a mobile application, visiting a website, checking in at a self-service kiosk or logging on to an intranet their immediate impression is based primarily on the solution s look and feel. This impression is influenced by visual design elements such as color, font, photography and graphical styling. Visual design also accurately conveys the organization s brand identity and, when done well, creates a consistent image PointClear Solutions. 2

3 Nonetheless, visual design alone has limitations. A strong, visually appealing design can cause a so-called halo effect in which an end user incorrectly concludes that because a technology looks good, it must perform well. While visual elements contribute to overall user perception, it is important to recognize that visual design and user experience design are symbiotic parts of high-quality product development. The Impact of an Integrated Design Strategy The most effective design strategies employ integrated user experience methodologies that include user research, interaction design, and visual design to create attractive applications that achieve ultimate user goals. The most effective design strategies employ integrated user experience methodologies that include user research, interaction design, and visual design to create attractive applications that achieve ultimate user goals. The kind of project a healthcare vendor wants will determine the degree of visual design and user experience methodology required. For example: Does the project involve redesigning an existing application, or developing a completely new solution? When redesigning an existing interface, two factors can reduce the time and eliminate the risks associated with user experience research and iterative design: the availability of user research findings; and access to existing designs that have been thoroughly iterated in previous project cycles. When building a new interface, upfront user experience research and testing can have a significant impact on the overall design effort. Designers can t know certain aspects of the user experience until the interface is actually put into people s hands. Users who don t find value in an application because it doesn t address their needs won t use the solution, no matter how good it looks. It is true that a visual designer who is well-versed in usability best practices can develop designs that are more user-friendly than one who is not. Still, user experience methodologies should come into play. Taking the shortcut of relying solely on good visual design for an application can result in poor adoption rates. Key Components of Design Methodology User experience experts conduct extensive research as part of a solid user experience methodology. This process should include time spent with clients to identify the key functions target audiences need to perform their tasks. User experience experts should also perform a heuristic evaluation, which includes testing to determine whether a proposed interface will conform to standard 2013 PointClear Solutions. 3

4 usability best practices. The advantage of bringing this kind of research to a design project is that it enables the deploying company in collaboration with the design team to validate decisions based on actual feedback provided by the solution s target audiences. Because each project is inherently unique, user experience experts leverage different methods and activities based on specific project requirements. Development projects that execute a full range of user experience methodologies, including visual design, typically feature the following components: Research and Design Planning: This includes conducting interviews and performing observational studies with actual users, or people who typify actual users, to understand how they solve problems. This step is important for understanding the context surrounding an application s use, and provides the design team with insight into user needs, wants and motivations. During the research and design planning component of a development project, user experience experts may also look into traffic and usage analytics for Web and mobile apps. Competitive benchmarking may also be done to better understand how competitors are solving similar challenges. Persona Development: Personas are user models that represent the primary target audiences for the product being designed. They enable the design team to categorize users into key segments and validate design decisions against these targeted segments as functionality is being prioritized, developed and implemented. For instance, personas can be created by spending time onsite shadowing prospective users. Based on the information collected during the observation, a user experience expert can create a series of highly detailed personas related to users unique workflows, tasks and biographies. The goal is to increase product adoption by vetting design decisions against these identified user scenarios. Iterative Wireframing/Prototyping: Wireframes are a user experience designer s static, one-dimensional low-fidelity blueprints that represent the skeletal framework of a solution. Wireframes purposely lack visual design elements so that focus can be placed on page layout, placement and proximity of text and controls, as well as interaction between screens and screen states. There are two advantages to the wireframing exercise. First, wireframes give clients a high-level view of the overall layout of a page without the distraction of visual characteristics. Second, wireframes can be tested with actual users who can provide valuable insight 2013 PointClear Solutions. 4

5 regarding the design s strengths and weaknesses. It may also be appropriate to create an interactive prototype in addition to or instead of a wireframe. Prototypes are interactive, allowing users to engage with an application. They enable the user experience expert and product team to understand a design in terms of interaction and layout, but the drawback is that they generally take more time to create. Wireframes and prototypes typically are tested and validated with actual users or user representatives, then tweaked and refined based on that feedback. This iterative approach ensures that designs are optimized to meet the precise needs of the target audience. Visual Design: Visual design comps are applied after the development team has built the design framework on a research-based foundation. These high-fidelity, production-quality graphic design treatments are iterated and tested in the same manner as wireframes. Although ideally treated at the end of the design cycle, visual design is important for supporting a product s brand standards and ensuring ultimate user satisfaction. A Process that Pays Off Many companies worry that incorporating the components of both user experience methodologies and visual design might lead to longer product development cycles. However, a number of different software development lifecycle approaches can be used. Agile methods, for example, can speed development through a sprint-by-sprint approach while still incorporating user experience design PointClear Solutions. 5

6 The deploying healthcare company gains several benefits from developing solutions that integrate visual design with user experience methodologies. On the administrative side, a well-designed application can reduce training times and shorten development times by 30 percent to 50 percent. Also, a well-researched interface design based on user experience research will be less likely to have usability flaws. From a financial standpoint, it is less expensive to tweak issues with technology while it is currently in development. For every $1 spent correcting a problem identified during the design phase, $10 will be spent to correct it after the product is developed. That figure rises to $100 after a product has launched. When usability is factored in at the beginning of a project, efficiency improvements can be over 700 percent. -T.K. Landauer According to T.K. Landauer, author and former manager of an information science and human-computer interaction research group, when usability is factored in at the beginning of a project, efficiency improvements can be over 700 percent. On a national level, Landauer estimates that the inadequate use of usability engineering methods in software development projects costs the U.S. economy about $30 billion per year in lost productivity 1. To get the most out of precious and often tight budgetary dollars, it cannot be overstated that healthcare vendors should require proposed development projects include a user experience design component. In short, if end users don t have a meaningful and satisfying experience with a technology, they just won t bother. The release of a solution that isn t widely adopted is a financial and marketing faux pas most companies can ill afford to make in today s competitive healthcare environment. To successfully create and implement technologies that include visual design and user experience methodologies, healthcare vendors should collaborate with a software development company that is not only imbedded in the industry, but also has the vision, the strategy and the expertise needed to consistently deliver winning products to market. For more information, contact: Lee Farabaugh, Chief Experience Officer 1. Landauer TK. The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability and Productivity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; PointClear Solutions. 6

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