Case study: How we crafted the UX for children’s health clinics
For the past 18 years, I’ve been designing and building digital products. Building products has always been exciting, from considering the problem being solved to finding the right market fit to bringing moments of delight to customers. When I joined Brave Care, I had a new product challenge in front of me, but it wasn’t a digital product that I was so familiar with, this was something new to me — a physical product. As it turns out, building a physical product, in our case a new pediatric care clinic, is surprisingly similar to building digital products — it’s all about the customer experience.
Brave Care is a pediatric urgent and primary care practice that provides high-quality, affordable care in modern, kid-friendly clinics. While some of our services are digital (we offer an app for parents to connect with a provider 24/7/365), the majority of these experiences are happening in our clinics. Our mission and vision share the idea that children deserve the best care, no matter their circumstances or the reason for their visit. In order to ensure that we can deliver on our mission and vision, it was important to make sure that our physical spaces made every parent and child feel welcome, comfortable and safe.
So with a digital product background, here is how we went about designing the first of many Brave Care clinics.
Building the Moodboard
We started where most designers start, a moodboard. This time however, instead of going to Behance or Dribbble where traditionally product designers go for inspiration, we dove head first into Pinterest. (I consider myself to be a Pinterest newbie, and if you’re like me, I feel it would be remiss not to mention that Pinterest is a black hole where time and space do not exist. I mean, we lost an employee in there months ago. HR had to get involved.) Three weeks in the black hole and we surfaced with a Figma file full of inspiration.
We broke the board up by room, and then by feature: Reception, Waiting Room and Exam Room. Within each of those we had items like: lighting, flooring, seating, cabinet finishes, signage, plants, and artwork. We then wrote statements for each of these sections — descriptions for what they were and what we hoped to achieve with them. For example, here is our statement on chairs for the waiting area:
If you look at a medical waiting room, the chairs may be the most defining piece of furniture. Drab, dull and uncomfortable, simply seeing the chairs lets you know that you’re in a medical space. Let’s turn that on its head, and use chairs that don’t say medical space, instead they say, sit, relax we know you’re stressing out right now.
These moodboards served as a guide for us when it came to making finish selections. Have you ever had to make finish selections? There are more options than there are people in the universe. It’ll make you question everything ever. Needless to say, these moodboards were a guiding force and time well spent for our team to focus in the areas we felt most important.
Working with Constraints
We opted for a building nestled in the heart of the Sellwood neighborhood in SE Portland. Our first walk through would be enough to give anyone tasked with designing a new clinic in an existing space a heart attack (picture a poorly lit coffin decorated with Anne Geddes photos).
Poor light, low ceilings, mismatched flooring, no real flow through the building and an overwhelming sense of confinement — oddly enough, the old place used to be a medical office. Yikes. As daunting as it was to think about how we could convert this space into what we had been dreaming, the path forward was clear: ample lighting, high ceilings, consistent flooring and flow. Thankfully, the building had good bones and we were able to blow out the ceilings, refinish the flooring, add new light sources and funnel that light into all the appropriate places. We couldn’t do everything we wanted, but working with the constraints provided, we’re ecstatic with how it turned out.
We removed the mismatched flooring and went down to the concrete foundation. In order to lift the lid off the hyperbolic coffin, we pushed up the ceiling to a 9 foot height. In doing so, we made what is traditionally a small space, an exam room, feel like a much larger space. Additionally, we were able to add clerestory windows at a level that still allowed for patient privacy while providing much needed lighting from our hallway which funnel in both natural and artificial light.
Aesthetics and all the feelings
Our overarching theme in focusing on each of these key areas I mentioned above was to make our clinics feel like a living room: a place where a family gathers, where everyone feels heard, comfortable and most importantly, safe. Every design choice we made came back to this theme. Let me give you an example. In our exam rooms we have benches instead of chairs. A bench allows a parent to sit right next to their child, providing the comfort of an arm around their shoulder or a more intimate holding of a scared child’s hand. The majority of our visits don’t require the patient to sit on the exam table, so the bench serves as an exam table of sorts, but one where your most trusted advocate is there by your side.
Of course, this simple touch may go unnoticed by our younger patients, so we made sure to build something that could capture their imaginations, and in true product style, serve our staff as well. It’s a magic room sign. Here is how it works.
Let’s say Sally and her mother arrive for their wellness check-up. Our receptionist asks Sally what her favorite color is, Sally being a big fan of all of the colors has trouble deciding, so she says “All the colors!”. With a smile our receptionist says “Awesome, why don’t you head down to the room with the rainbow light.”
It’s a simple way to bring joy and excitement to what can be a daunting experience for a young person. It also happens to be a simple way for our staff to keep our room statuses up to date in our booking system. The lights are more than just little guides for our little friends to find their room. Each light has a motion sensor on it and when you wave your hand in front of it, it dynamically updates the room status for our staff. Fun for the kids, efficient for the staff. In the end, both our staff and our patients benefit from this experience.
Being a Portland based company looking to expand nationally, we also needed to consider how we are entering neighborhoods and the aesthetics we bring when we open a new clinic. The last thing we want to do is step into a neighborhood and bring an awful aesthetic that doesn’t respect the community we’re moving into. One of the ways we are doing this is by working with local artists to feature their work as a mural in our clinics. Not only does this help promote the beauty of art and creativity, but it creates a landscape that captures the imagination of our young patients and shows our new neighbors the respect we feel for their community.
For our new clinic in Sellwood we worked with the fantastic artists Jeffrey and Josh from J+S Signs to create a mural that celebrated the Sellwood neighborhood and the rich history it holds. The Sellwood neighborhood is known for its amusement park, The Oaks, which happens to be the oldest amusement park in the country. It’s also has the southern most bridge over the Willamette river. It’s a beautiful community with a rich history and J+S Signs delivered in spades for us. It’s become a popular photo destination for our patients as they arrive for their appointments.
In the digital product world, design systems are all a buzz, and for good reason. They help us design quickly and consistently, simplify decision making, and generally speeding up the product design process. In the same way, we’re building our Expansion Playbook — a physical design system that will help us ensure all of our future clinics feel part of the Brave Care brand and experience. So if you’re a Brave Care patient and have a medical need while you’re away from home, you can roll into one of our clinics and feel right at home with a familiar clinic, and the same amazing support that our talented staff provides.
At Brave Care, we believe that children deserve the best care, no matter their circumstances or the reason for their visit. We strive to make kids feel comfortable when they’re in pain, help them find courage when they’re afraid, show them kindness when they’re vulnerable, and help them find strength when their bodies are weak. We do this by considering every interaction, every touch point from a visit to our new beautiful clinic to the delight a child receives when they head down the hall looking for the rainbow light — it’s all about the customer experience.
Of course, building a clinic is an entire team effort, design is simply one part of a larger story—a story that is shaped and told by our entire Expansion Team at Brave Care. Huge props to Rachel, Marlon and the amazing team!