Why designing for healthcare is the worst in the best way possible

Dec 29, 2016 · 6 min read

User experience is rarely at the forefront in healthcare companies so, as a designer, you’re met with a huge challenge in trying to showcase the value and impact research and design can have on products.

Have you seen the interface your doctor has to struggle with? It’s something nightmares are made of.

I recently took on a project for a U.S. healthcare insurance company with the goal to challenge the idea that UX design has no place in this type of industry.

The Project

Initially I was brought on to the project to make their current iOS app look androidy and slap on some OS conventions. The development team was already heads down and making swift progress.

Design had to catch up.

Well…being as ruthless as I am in my advocation for better experiences, I couldn’t bring myself to “make it look androidy” and call it good, especially when there was so much room for improvement. As the project owner would say: “She swung for the fences.”

What we knew

“Not a lot TBH”

We knew little about the audience that had been using it having a general idea of age, common devices, and user archetypes, but nothing concrete. The only quantitative data we had access to was sessions.

What we didn’t know

We didn’t have insight into the vital information, such as, our users primary motivations for using the app, user engagement level, under which circumstances was the app used most, or users delights vs frustrations with the current app.

Due to the lack of resources and the very short timeline, he had to make some assumptions to push forward. One was that our primary audience used the app on a fairly regular basis, approximately twice a month. We also assumed that we had a relatively evenly divided user market of single vs family group members.


The development team was already on their way from the majority of the back-end tasks on to the front end tasks when I started. To add more pressure there was user testing scheduled just a few short months away.

Design chunks

In trying to catch up with the dev team we took an agile approach to getting the job done. We decided to do the individual app features/sections in chunks. Which equated to about 3.5 rounds to get the design out the door.

Note. I have a pet peeve with agile processes, if not planned properly. Designers try and create a system to work with as they flesh out the design, though, without the foresight of the whole product, they run into unforeseen hurdles which forces them to break their own set conventions or revisit them holistically.

I wanted to take the directive of keeping the UI as autonomous as possible from either OS. Thinking many of the changes could be carried to both. This would also eliminate future effort in having a specific design and support for each. Several apps I found at the time taking that same initiative or were moving in that direction, some being: Duolingo, Dashlane, Gmail, and Acorns.

Education and the power of pitch

During the presentation to over 30 people, I walked through each design decision and the intention and hypotheses behind them.

Overall there was minimal pushback and people were excited about the new design direction.

They ended up liking it so much that we are taking everything we have done for Android and implementing it for iOS.

Design sign off is not where this story ends. The devs were on a tight timeline too and whether it was because of time, data, or the 3rd party vendors they had to work with, there were some things that just couldn’t be done for MVP that were only discovered post-handoff.

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(Left) We had little to no time to focus on the explanation around benefits. Though, we did remove the megalithic amount of text you had to scroll over to even get to your personal statements.

(Right) Presented in the phone, in front, is how we wanted to organize the information but with limitations on the database side we were left with using the terrible programatic language that it spit out.

However, the majority of the design changes were implemented and overall the team was happy with what we were aiming to launch with.


The script we constructed was meant to navigate the user through each of the app features with a goal of understanding what they thought of the new experience. We also had some very specific points to touch on that we kept track of in the design process:

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We tested a few concepts with Invision. Pulling these up on a secondary phone so the user could compare the new features against the MVP they had just interacted with.

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Rough notes from testing

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We learned a lot. You get it.

Splitting the feedback trends we received into tactical and strategic fixes allowed us to tackle some quick wins and understand which problems needed more exploration around the solutions.

My take aways

This type of project was really challenging as a designer. There was a lot of legacy that came with the company and it’s processes.

Challenging projects like this put what we do in perspective. It’s not always blue sky and if it were I probably wouldn’t want to be a designer.

What’s next

Continuing to educate the leadership team to understand the value of design and research overall and pushing them to buy into the resources for it up front is the long term goal. In order to achieve that the design team as a whole is putting more effort into documenting and showcasing their work alongside the research and testing being done.

Below are some screens from the finalized designs:

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So …

Why is designing for healthcare the worst in the best way possible?

The bad:

Legacy/Tradition — makes for dated processes and hinders the creative workflow

Siloed departments — collaboration takes a back seat between departments

Project disconnects—Web and mobile don’t work in tandem and each project owner has their own list of priorities. This makes for major disconnects across brand.

Pore analytics—Mostly due to PHI concerns. Health information is some of the most protected information out there but it makes a UX designers job very difficult when trying to make design decisions.

Follow up—Not only are we making a lot of initial assumptions but due to the lack of data the only way we can validate them are by following inquiry trends to customer service and mind you this is not an easy thing to do.

It gives it a real feeling of:

Cross your fingers, push it of the ledge, and hope it flies.

Where is the light in all of this?

Like any good designer, I love a challenge, and not only in the spectrum of design but also in processes. Because of these hurdles the team and I found ourselves collaborating on how we can better the processes in the future. We’re already having meetings with the other departments to improve how we work together.

This project has also put me into a position to work with our UX manager and help advocate for more user testing and set up the overall structure on how we incorporate it in every project.


Written by


World Traveller & Lead UX Designer


Written by


World Traveller & Lead UX Designer

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