Part 3: The complexity of simplicity

February 16, 2017

Now that you have a North Star and a user experience map, you get to do the design work. 

It is pretty easy to get the designers, developers and engineers iterating on a solution that addresses the user needs, pain points and gaps you prioritized. Because healthcare is so complex, it is particularly important to keep your solution as simple as possible.

 Making the complex simple, or ‘simplexity’ requires diligence in both true iteration (build, test, learn) and designing the system and the details equally well.

Make sure your company’s innovation process and your design and development talent are continually looking at the details and understand the implications to the system and entire experience.

When they are looking at the system and experience, they need to continually zoom into the details. When they are working in the weeds of design details, they need to continually zoom out to make sure their decisions stay true to the bigger system and experience. This helps ensure that you don’t end up with over-engineered solutions or empty ideas that don’t deliver on the experience or North Star. Last, it is critical to make sure your team is set up for success and has an empowered design champion, a well-managed and intentional design process, and well-aligned performance metrics to keep them focused and motivated.

If you are familiar with Lean Startup principles, the process begins zoomed out and moves very quickly into the details. It works well and may be best suited for startups or simple products where a big failure can be easily overcome. Alternatively, a ‘fat process’ may be required for well-established enterprises, high-stakes opportunities or more complex products (i.e., hardware) and services.

In the case of healthcare, designing in some “insurance” (building in more features early on than is typical in a Lean process) may protect from a catastrophic failure along the way from which it would be very difficult to recover. In short, be intentional in how you will address the system-level design experience and the design details of interactions to ensure that you design a simple, user-friendly experience that is intuitive and effective. Regardless of your business approach to innovation, the diligence in iteration (the cycle of build, test, revise, repeat) cannot be stressed enough, especially in healthcare. First, if you are designing medical device requiring FDA clearance, you will need formative studies during the submission process to evidence that you have

Because healthcare is so complex, it is particularly important to keep your solution as simple as possible.

mitigated user-error risks early on. Second, it is much easier to fix problems early, before it’s too late or costs too much to do so. Designers and human factors engineers play a critical role in defining the human interactions and the features and functions of a product or service early in the process as they work through options and details.

Designing interactions

In product or device design, design and human factors engineering are particularly important in reducing risks. Think of it as the difference between a film critic and a film director. One might argue that their experts have sufficient experience and knowledge to simply apply what they know to the solution and then test it in hopes of validating their approach. This would be the film critic approach. Usability problems that tests uncover early in the process can often be rectified while the solution is still a design in refinement. But in a product that has progressed without testing to a detailed prototype stage, addressing even minor issues can sometimes necessitate a near-complete redesign. By the time a product has been prototyped and tested, it’s often too late or costs too much to do so.

On the other hand, a film director is there at the start of the creative process and has a prominent voice in the development of a concept. Like a film director, a designer and human factors engineer engaged in the process from the conceptual phase can influence a design that carefully considers the cognitive and physical abilities of the intended user. Ideally, this allows you to create a more responsive product that avoids significant usability problems from the outset. The minor ones that are caught in testing will generally require a tweak to fix, rather than an overhaul.

Regardless of your business structure or product/service, your design and development process must ensure proper iteration to be desirable to users and deliver on simplification. Users may be delighted by a simple solution or they may simply find it easy to use, which is the table stakes you are going for. In either case, you will have designed a system-level experience and thoughtful design details that deliver the intended user experience.

Sometimes a simple user experience is a really simple design (think Post It notes). Other times, a simple user experiences requires very complicated design details and development trade-offs (think autonomouscars). Delivering a simple healthcare solution within an ecosystem of mammoth complexity is the ultimate accomplishment, and users and the market generally recognize that.

Like the saying, “"If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter," designing simple user-centered products and services takes time. Today, the speed of innovation is relentlessly competitive, so getting design processes and talent in place as soon as possible will get you on par or ahead of the curve in healthcare.

Simplification is complex, but users expect it and your bottom line will reap the results.

Please check back in a week for part four of this article series to learn about instilling user empathy into your solutions.