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How user experience can save a life

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› How user experience can save a life
  • Published on September 7, 2014

When thinking of user experience design, most people direct their attention to websites and apps. Sometimes the field of industrial design also get some attention, but that is often limited to discussion of kitchen equipment or automobiles. Most user experience (UX) professionals don’t think about the field as being lifesaving. There are medical apps and websites that require UX designs that certain can make the work of a doctor much easier, or allow patients to find their information more readily. A recent New York Times news story makes the case for how a successful user experience design within a hospital helps create more successful outcomes for patients. In most businesses, a successful outcome in the field of app or web design might let a user complete a task more quickly, lead to more online revenue, or increase the amount of time a user is spending on a site. When put in healthcare terms and applied to a hospital, a successful outcome that is the direct result of a well thought out user experience lead to being discharged more quickly, a lower rate of infections, and even a reduced need for pain medication.

When designing an app or a website, the UX principles encourage the building of personas, to better understand the needs of the user, along with what will they be doing, and even where will they be when working with your creation. Are your users working on mobile device, a tablet, or desktop computer? What is the primary reason for visiting the website or launching the app? All these questions are answered as part of the user experience design process before starting into building an app or website. What if the same UX principles were applied to designing a hospital?

The University Medical Center of Princeton applied these same user experience principles when they had outgrown their previous hospital and needed to plan for a new hospital. A model room was created, and real patients were moved into a new single patient room that included a fold-out bed, a bathroom positioned within easy access, and even an easily accessed hand washing station for healthcare providers to use when they came into the room. Patients placed in the model room rated both the care from the nurses and food at a higher level, and required one-third less pain medication. When the new hospital was completed, the model room was put into widespread use across the hospital. According to the New York Times article, patient satisfaction in the new hospital is now in the 99th percentile, which is up from the 66th percentile before the new rooms were put into place.

The user experience research that went into the hospital design found that patients provide the staff with more critical information if they are in a private room, while a well-positioned sink causes the staff to wash their hands more frequently, and a handrail between the bed an bathroom make it safer for a patient to travel without falling. Designing each room as an identical to the others, rather than mirroring the rooms so that each is an opposite of the other was another big factor. While mirrored rooms are less expensive, they increase the risk of medical errors. By following UX design principles, patients are receiving better care.

While the user experience classes at American Graphics Institute may not save a life, they will certainly help you achieve more successful outcomes for websites or apps that you are designing.

About the author

 is a user experience designer, Photoshop expert, educator and author based in Boston. She is the author of more than 20 books on design tools and processes, including Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies, Adobe Creative Cloud Digital Classroom, and Photoshop Digital Classroom. She has been awarded a Microsoft MVP three times for her work with user experience design in creating apps for touch, desktop, and mobile devices.

Jennifer delivers UX training and UX consulting for large Fortune 100 companies, small start-ups, and independent software vendors. She has been hired by Adobe and Microsoft to deliver training workshops to their staff, and has traveled to Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and across the U.S. to deliver courses and assist on UX design projects. She has extensive knowledge of modern Windows UX Design, having worked closely with the Windows team to create educational material and deliver UX workshops to key partners globally on behalf of Microsoft. Jennifer works with a wide range of prototyping tools including Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator, Blend for Visual Studio, and Balsamiq.