Ingredients for Success When Designing Great Health Technology

15 February 2019

Derived from one of a series of interviews with Dr Chris McGinley, Research Fellow and Leader in the Age and Diversity Space at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.

With the unrelenting quest for the ‘best’ new apps and technologies within the health sector, how do we design technology that stands out from the crowd? Here are Chris’ top tips for success from our conversation on the topic.

  1. Know those you are designing for

    “Often there is a lack of conversation with users, or customers, or keeping it human – simply ‘people’, during the design process. Instead designers at times resort to purely desk-research, or broad assumptions, or even personas they’ve created around loose data and project goals, this is dangerously reductionist. Personas can be used well at stages in the design process, but far more often they are inaccurate and counter-productive - I would therefore encourage people to get more involved with the specific user demographic, engaging with people in meaningful ways to understand their needs, motivations and desires”.
  2. Don’t Fall into the Tokenistic Trap

    “Designers are often under pressure to deliver for a particular brief, so it’s not uncommon to hear a loose ‘I spoke to some ‘users’ at the beginning’ - this is often a bad sign. User involvement should not be a token interaction at the beginning, nor a bit of simple ‘testing’ at the end – if you do it that way you risk going through a costly and time-consuming design process only to discover too late that the demographic can’t relate to the end product, at that point making changes is difficult. Instead, include people in the conversation throughout the process”.
  3. Be Problem Driven - Not Tech Pushed

    “While it’s tempting to jump on the latest tech developments, it is essential as a designer to consider the balance of the fuller experience, and bring the voice of the user to the table, putting people and their needs first. Don’t be driven by the technology, it’s only one component, be driven by the problem and by the needs.” It is essential to have a people push not a tech drive.
  4. Consider All Audiences, Even Those Who Are Switched Off

    “There are 4.8 million people in the UK alone who are not online, so how do we design health tech that is inclusive when such huge numbers are excluded? Much of this demographic consists of older generations, who seem increasingly isolated as society becomes ever more digital. To design for an amicable future we should strive to consider society and its breadth, and keep in mind those who are not, and never will be, digital natives.”
  5. Utilise Data, Ethically

    “In the UK there are huge opportunities for effective data usage, for example, in health and transport. If done well, taking advantage of data can take away life’s frictions and chores; however, if used badly, it can infringe on human rights and privacy. Data should to be used to improve life.” In an age of Artificial Intelligence and big data, good data could very much feed into better lives, but we must always consider the ethical implications of people and their data.
  6. Updated, Not Dictated

    “Technology is advancing exponentially, and at times design can struggle to identify the right fit; or new tech experiences are introduced with the implications understood in a ‘live’ setting, almost an afterthought! That’s partly why at times leading companies seem to be writing the rules – with fuller ethical and other considerations coming in later. As digital futures are now becoming rapidly developed realities, we have to ensure we collaborate in purposeful ways so tech developments meet experiential needs, and vice versa.” We even see governments and regulators struggling to keep up with the tech giants – we need to understand the fuller picture and collaborate to advance in the right way.
  7. Design for your Future Self

    “Today people can simply ignore design that ignores them, there’s plenty of options out there - shrewd companies know that getting design right, and getting it out there first provides unquestionable competitive edge. In the case of older people and design, a useful way to think about need can be to consider our ‘future selves’ –  not thinking of older people as a homogenous ‘other’. People don’t change fundamentally just because they get older, much of our passions, interests and motivations remain the same, certainly some needs may change, as part of the ageing process but people are not defined by this”.  The societal imperative to design a better world for our older citizens is clear, with the ageing demographic growing so quickly.  However, with most of the nation’s wealth in the over 55s, the older generations should not be ignored from a commercial standpoint too.

Overall, while there is good design all around us, it is great design that is still in short supply. Great design is about being inclusive, targeted, responsive and impactful. If designers take time to delve into the intricacies of human life to create the tools to address the problems we face - while also looking through an ethical and forward-facing lens - we can see into a future that is not only filled with good health technology but filled with great health technology.

Interview conducted by Tina Woods, CEO, and Jasmine Eskenzi, Content Manager, at Collider Health

Dr Chris McGinley, Research Fellow, Leader of Age & Diversity Space, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design

Chris is an award-winning people centred designer, researcher and writer. He has developed projects including medication packaging to address compliance issues with GlaxoSmithKline, cooker redesigns with a focus on the elderly for Osaka Gas, design research to prevent alcohol related violence for the Home Office and hospital furnishings for the Department of Health. His research interests are based around design ethnography and the role empathy plays to inform research driven people centred design.  He is a member of the AXA Health Tech & You Expert Group.