I had a developer say to me recently ‘It’s OK, we do lots of user research where we test our products and how well they work!’ – he was clearly proud of his product and through this research thought they were very well connected to their users. Clearly their plan couldn’t fail? Or could it?
I was less impressed. I was unclear if they understood what the issue was that they were trying to resolve and had made a huge leap to creating a solution that they were then going on to test. Their intentions were honest and good but I wonder if we can do better if we understand what it is products need to ‘do’ to help in the health system.
I also recently read this blog from Mike Fritz at Userzoom that eloquently describes the issue; fundamentally you can create a highly usable (probably very beautiful) application but it will possibly never get used, unless you understand utility.
Having Type 1 diabetes means I understand utility very well. There are hundreds of digital tools/apps available to me, a simple search in the apple app store shows the variety; carbohydrate counters, games, coaching, glucose monitoring. But the truth is, I only use one consistently and that’s an App called Carbs and Cals. It has a clear utility for me; it easily helps me to identify the carbohydrate content of food just by looking at things – no scales, just looking.
I think I am a reasonably activated patient, so why is it that I only use one app and does that make me different to everyone else? I think that the research is starting to show that most of us only use 5 apps that are not native to our device and if you think about your own use (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp) you are likely not to have too much room in your smartphone life for much more than a very special few apps. Despite this the health system continues to see Apps as a potential solution to the challenges faced by health and care systems.
Potentially it’s a classic case of hitting the target but missing the point.
So how could we reverse this? How can we help to make sure technology offers valid usable utility solutions? I believe that utility is the key not beauty; we will tolerate poorer user interfaces to achieve beneficial utility. It’s about what it does to support and help people not whether it was merely a great idea in the mind of someone or has a very smart user interface. The best example for me of hitting the target but missing the point are Apps that ‘help’ people with Diabetes to monitor their blood glucose but require extra entry of information into a separate and standalone app… in the days of interoperable devices why would you bother? No one I know likes them or uses them in a sustained way. Their utility does not stack up.
So, if we are to capitalise on technology how might we do it, how might we find the pieces of utility that really help?
The answer for me lies in where the ideas and solutions arise. If we look to citizens and patients who have real skin in the game they will know where technology has real utility. From this, great designers and developers can collaborate with citizens and patients to create high utility AND high usability solutions. My view is that this type of ideas generation and co-production has the potential to create innovative scalable solutions. But only if we stop thinking the system knows best and properly tap into the ideas and creative thinking that sits behind People Drive Digital. Co-production in the digital development space could have real potential to help but it requires more working together to identify areas of potential utility and then combine these with fantastic design and development. We have the skills and talent – we just need more conversations.
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