User Centred Round up

I’ve finally got round to ‘concluding’ my series of posts on user-centred design in healthcare. It’s not intended to be definitive or exhaustive but I hope you’ve found it interesting!

This series of posts considered the use user-centred design in health care and the implications using such a design methodology has on the role of the designer in such a process. We established what the core values of user-centred design are, establishing the need for strong human-centred design research and an iterative process of prototyping and testing. Another key aspect of user-centred design that has been repeatedly emphasised is the need for multidisciplinary design teams to enable the most efficient research and design development.

Through examining the aims of User-centred design it is clear that there is no rigid structure by which all design projects must adhere. The key aspects are always present – Human centred research, multidisciplinary design teams and prototyping and testing – but each individual project is different and therefore each will employ a different method for each part of the design methodology.

These conclusions have been reinforced by both a practising designer’s point of view and an expert academic on the subject. West, with great experience practising user-centred design and successfully realising design solutions through it, is very clear that

“you can define [user-centred design] as an intent, but I don’t think you can define it in terms of a discipline” (West, 2012)

And the academic research agrees;

“user centred design’ in which value is understood to reside in the relation between people and things, rather than in things alone” (Shove, Watson, Hand, & Ingram, 2007 p119)

A design process that is by definition a human-centred relational process will by definition vary from project to project as users change.

What are the other options?

It was important at this stage to compare and contrast a user-centred method with other possible design methods. The second post deals with this, contrasting one style of design process – That Laurel calls ‘old’ and Shove ‘Product centred’ with the ‘new’ user-centred approach. The chapter highlights the different style of research, the positioning of user interaction in the process and discusses the role prototyping plays. The conclusions were specifically that a user-centred approach includes user interaction from the outset of a project, involving them not only in market research, but concept generation, prototyping and testing in a far more fluid and iterative way. This is contrasted against a process with user interaction limited to market research as a final test of the product’s possible value to the users.

Wasn't it about healthcare though?

Post three considered user-centred design specifically in regard to health care, focusing on the need for quantifiable research and results of design solutions. This practice, backed by Rosalyn Cama in Evidence Based Design ensures that in an industry with such high risk can hold any design accountable. This chapter establishes why user-centred design should be practised within health care, as user-centred design is at its core driving constantly to provide the best user experience, thus providing the best products to provide the best care. User-centred design in health care is not simply a call to design the products that patients or clinical staff desire, functionally or aesthetically, it is a process that deeply considers all the users and stakeholders of the product and delivers the most suitable product solution.

In health care this focuses primarily on providing the best care possible, whether this is through effective medical equipment, furnishings that are easy to clean or providing an overall environment in which patient, visitors and clinical staff are able to work and relate together in the best way.

One example of this is the Designing Out Medical Error report and subsequent designs, this focused on designing products that would reduce human error in hospitals, design solutions that are best provided by a user-centred process. Although these designs dealt with a specific area of medical error the same principle can be seen being applied to environments by Cama (Cama, 2011) and to furniture by Design Bugs out (Design Council, 2012). All these projects and the responses to them show the relevance and necessity of applying user-centred principles to design for health care.

But Designers don't know anyhing about medicine

The chapter also gives reasoning for including non-expert designers in ‘medical’ designs, giving examples of the benefits of creative thinking an how clinical ignorance can lead to innovative solutions.This theme has been developed on in chapter three, exploring the skills and thinking that a designer may be required to bring to such a design process. It has been shown that designers need not abandon their ‘traditional’ skill set; that many consider to include sketching, idea creation, prototyping and CAD modelling. These skills are still extremely relevant, without which the user-centred process would struggle as in fact it is highly demanding in these areas, with the need for wide ranging concept generation leading to a vast number of prototypes often created using 3D CAD and rapid prototyping facilities.

It has also been established that designer’s cannot now forgo understanding design research methods and practices, requiring that they give time towards empathetic research and gaining true understanding of user’s needs. A common thread running through the dissertation is the urgent need for multidisciplinary design teams that includes not only those in the design profession and medical experts but those who can inform and assist in implementing human-centred research such as sociologists and those who relate to users on a daily basis who may not themselves be considered primary users. It is clear that in a successful user-centred process, it is not only a slight alteration of the designers role that needs to be considered but to a much greater extent the other professionals that surround the designer.

Further research into the role design education plays in this would be crucial into gaining an understanding of the mind-set of design professionals as they enter the market for the first time, whether they have been formally educated in ‘design’ or from another route. A stronger emphasis in education relating to how design professionals relate to other professions in their projects would undoubtedly provide stronger user-centred projects, especially in such a high risk industry as health care.

Hopefully we’ve all got a bit of a better understanding of how user-centred design could be applied within health care, and discovered through using leading designers in the area such as Jonathan West, have reinforced the nature of user-centred design and that ultimately the value lies in more than the final product, with huge value in immersive research and sharing expertise and skills across professions. Thus allowing for the ultimate aims of user-centred design to be achieved better, as there is a far greater understanding of the design process.

Thanks for reading!