Designing Within Context: Healthcare

Why understanding and designing for context is critical to thriving in a new design system.

I had the unique opportunity to be one of two interns at Collective Health, San Francisco. If you haven’t heard of Collective Health, they are a technology company harnessing the power of the employee-driven healthcare economy. I committed to joining the design team because I believed in the company mission of making the process of healthcare more approachable, transparent and efficient. I was also inspired to join the team because they understand the importance of human-centered design.

Reality check — healthcare was a space that I knew little about and was frankly quite intimidated by. However, I was eager to learn how Collective Health was designing within the broader context of healthcare, and how I could contribute to their vision.

Aside from exploring the healthcare space, I was also looking forward to designing with a team to grasp what collaboration looks like in a setting with real objectives and implications. As an Interaction Design undergraduate at the California College of the Arts, I have run multiple simulations of end-to-end product design cycles, from concept to user-testing. Entering my internship, I was confident that I possessed the skills to step in and show my value. How hard could it be? No surprise, healthcare is much more complex than I could have ever imagined.

Finding contextual relevance

Employee-driven healthcare is the contextual backdrop which I was focused on. As a product design intern, my role was to assist with envisioning an interface for an internal facing role-based access control (RBAC).

All designing should start with understanding the context in which the thing will be created and eventually exist.” ~Christina Wodtke

While learning the nuances of a new domain, it was easy to lose myself in the weeds of new information. It was all incredibly fascinating! For me, the biggest challenge came from discerning what was and wasn’t relevant for my role, and how to avoid rabbit holes that my intrigue and curiosity would unearth. Once I was clear about the contextual constraints I was working within, I was able to focus on how I would design the product I was assigned. This was also made much easier with the support from my very patient design managers and mentors.

Tapping into the Company Consciousness

This was my first time experiencing a stakeholder research interview. In this experience, I realized that my biggest hurdle would be learning the language around a whole new industry, healthcare. While the conversation was flowing and everybody’s mouths were moving, they may have well been speaking another language. All I could do was rely on context clues, type everything and anything, and hope that one day it would all make sense. I had to quickly learn a glossary of healthcare industry acronyms and jargon to effectively follow along. It took a few interviews before I was able to understand. After learning the lingo, I was able to participate in the research process beyond note-taking.

Once the first stage of stakeholder research was complete, it was time to analyze my research notes and translate the data to find meaningful insights. Synthesis was my favorite part of this journey because it gave me unique perspective and insights into the tools I would be working on during my internship.

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Now get out there and make something!

Half of my time at Collective Health was dedicated to learning and research. There was still more learning to be done, but it was time to start learning by making. First, I had to adapt to a workflow and design language system (DLS) that was rapidly expanding. Watching this happen was really special. My intern counterpart was assigned to the DLS team, and I could not help but be inspired by the quality of their production.

The making started with system diagrams and flow models to put the scale and use case into context. This proved to be a great conversation starter for my team to align on the scope of the project. Feedback turned into wireframes, which created more conversations. Soon, I was submitting patterns of my own to the DLS, as I worked toward a final visualization of my project assignment. I made a clickable happy path prototype that I was able to test and receive valuable feedback on.

Time flies when you are in a flow

My internship with Collective Health was overwhelmingly positive, but it was over as fast as it started. Reflecting back, my most positive takeaway was that I made something that really mattered. Did my design culminate in the final design? No, and that’s okay. I created visual context that moved our project along by generating conversations that contributed to actionable strategy. My work was a first iteration of many to follow.

I have immense respect for the healthcare space and for the brave designers within. It is an ocean filled with tough competition and even tougher restrictions. Having been exposed to restrictions, like HIPAA, taught me to be aware of the legal boundaries of what I am designing. The real world is filled with these constraints, which is why Designing Within Context is so important for a new designer to learn how to fit into a design system.