3 things you probably didn’t know about design for health tech

I recently joined Tradecraft, which is an intense 3 month program that trains people to succeed in the startup community. Coming from many years of management consulting, I know I have a lot to learn if I want to be a Product Designer. I am passionate about health tech and want to design products that help people lead healthier and happier lives. So, I tracked down leading design professionals at health tech companies to get their perspectives.

HYPOTHESIS #1: You should have knowledge about health and medicine.

RESULT: FALSE. Most startups that touch on health and medicine will have medical professionals on staff that provide domain knowledge. This is not to say that you can just arrive on the job bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but there is no requirement to have extensive experience. Be curious AND proactive!

Laura Martini, Director of Product Design at Counsyl, says:

“Know enough to be dangerous — be curious enough to research and understand key considerations in healthcare such as insurance and billing. Actively learn.”

My next thought was — how do designers interact with domain experts? Do they influence more design decisions because of their specialized knowledge? The answer — not necessarily.

In fact, designers should emphasize experts to instill confidence in users.

Alex Dahl, a UX designer, shared that at Spright they specifically showcase the health coaches behind their personalized tips to instill trust and confidence from users.

This definitely matches one of my favorite takeaways at Tim Chang’s presentation at the Quantified Self Expo:

“Technology and data intelligence is not enough by itself; a tech-enabled coach is what is trending and going to succeed.”

I completely agree that we need to strike a balance between patient-driven health management and patient-engaged health management. I think this trend of self-tracking and patients having more access to health and medical information is not about dismissing doctors, but enabling patients and health professionals to have a more engaging dialogue.


  • Talk to more professionals in the field — ongoing for me!
  • Spend time asking questions of domain experts before designing
  • Design for the dynamic of domain experts and health professionals interacting with the product and the user
  • Continue to keep up with health and health tech news (I highly recommend signing up for Prescribe Design)

HYPOTHESIS #2: You should know how to analyze and visualize data.


“Data can be used to inform your work if you know what you’re looking for, but it should never drive your design.”

— says Jeff French, Product Designer at WellnessFX. Determine how much data you need to validate a point, and once you have, move on. I see parallels to that in usability testing where you don’t need to test 100 users to be statistically significant, because you’ll likely start to see patterns after the fifth test.

When I asked about data visualization tools, I was told to not focus on tools, but to practice empathy.

For example, Matt Maher, Front End Engineering Manager at Counsyl, shared that the data they collect are analyzed and reviewed by doctors. Thus his focus is not so much on how a patient would interpret the data, but rather how the interface can be made more relevant to doctors.

Another key finding is the correlation between data and credibility of a health tech company. Matt at Counsyl shared the importance of not providing misleading data. They take pains to make sure that doctors and patients don’t think a positive on a genetic test means there is a 100% chance of developing that disease.

They also intentionally share percentages in multiple ways to ensure there is no room for interpretation. For example, saying a woman has a 25% chance of being a carrier of a genetic disease is further reinforced by writing “( 1 in 4)” alongside it.


  • Use data as guideposts to validate or invalidate design choices
  • Visualize data in terms of mental models (thank goodness for Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines and Google’s Material Design to provide a baseline)
  • Pay attention to content and information design when health data is involved. It’s mind-blowing to think that a few simple design changes can so greatly impact a person’s LIFE decisions. I will never forget that.

HYPOTHESIS #3: You should be good at cognitive science.

RESULT: FALSE. I am sure there are benefits to learning cognitive science (like how it sounds cool and nerdy!), but it is not a must.

The clear frontrunners in critical skills are writing and verbal communication.

Yup, we’re going back to the basics. Why are these important? Because designers spend much of their day communicating in addition to designing. Designers must communicate through their wireframe sketches, but not at the expense of foregoing a simple conversation. Scott Tong, Designer at Pinterest, says:

“Writing is underrated.”

It is common for people to refer to art as subjective. In product design, we need to train ourselves to minimize that subjectivity and interpretation. The more we can practice doing that in basic conversation and emails, the better we’ll be at transferring that to our design work.


  • Publish this post — COMPLETE!
  • Practice organizing thoughts and learnings, and share (for me the emphasis is on “share” because it holds me accountable to sharing only my best work)
  • Practice communicating clearly and concisely without losing meaning

On that note, please provide feedback on this post — I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you think is important to designing in health tech. Drop me an email or Tweet me. Looking forward to the dialogue!