Portfolio: Communication is Key
As mentioned previously, I’ve promoted a UX Sundial model that shows how the UX disciplines are centered around the soft skills of Understanding, Definition, and Communication. This is the third of my four portfolio pieces, which addresses my skills around Communication, specifically on digital health projects. (You may want to look at my write-ups on “Delving into Understanding” and “Defining Solutions”, if you haven’t already.)
It’s possible that the UX Sundial model makes it seem like communication activities are separate from the other activities, but in practice, this is not at all the case. There is no understanding of users or business opportunities that is created without clear communication; there is no definition of potential solutions that is meaningful without persuasive communication; there is no delivery of quality products & services that is achieved without comprehensive communication; and of course there is no team leadership possible without effective communication.
Socialization and Alignment
One of my personal tenets is that the discipline of Product Management is fundamentally about socialization and alignment: two specific types of communication. Socialization is the art of creating a shared understanding with other people. This could involve creating a clear understanding of the problem to be solved, making people familiar and comfortable with a proposed conceptualization of an opportunity, or creating consensus around a potential solution candidate. Alignment is also one of the most important professional skills needed to help ensure that the entire team is pulling in the same direction while delivering desirable, viable and feasible solutions — and this is perhaps especially true in digital health, where the domain issues are often deeply complex and stakeholders are highly invested in their work and improving patient outcomes.
At Qantas, our team framed all of our initiatives on a giant wall in the office that represented the end-to-end customer journey for our primary persona. By socializing our activities and vision in this way, we created a shared understanding of pain points, both large and small, as well as unmet needs and innovation opportunities.
Documentation and Prototypes
Models are one of the primary ways that designers communicate, especially in early stages of projects. We are in the business of understanding systems, and oftentimes these are best communicated with simplified models. Coming out of a research activity, I will create persona models, mental models, and customer journey maps — all of them illuminating the most relevant and meaningful aspects of users’ goals, contexts of use, and ways of operating in the problem space at hand.
These days, designers rarely have to produce detailed specifications of solutions, but I can do that, too….
While at St. Jude Medical, I coined the expression: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, an interactive prototype is worth a thousand sentences.” We worked with an offshore software development team located in India, and provided them with design specifications in a waterfall process without a lot of direct touchpoints. I realized that the offshore team could benefit from an interactive prototype that linked the system functionality together and demonstrated individual capabilities in a more visually coherent and integrated way. This prototype became a massive lifesaver that clearly communicated the interconnections between elements, along with the pixel-perfect polish that we needed. It reduced friction in the development process, and we moved faster while having a higher level of quality.
At Ellipsis Health, I have created and maintained interactive prototypes of the patient’s Native App experience as well as the web-based Clinic Portal used by clinicians. Such prototypes allow the dev team to see the overall customer experience, as well as study detailed screen layouts. InVision is a great tool for this purpose. I also regularly create interactive prototypes for new features and put them through their paces with unmoderated remote usability testing via UserTesting.com. When we ran a recent Design Sprint, I created a rapid prototype of the next-generation patient app concept and presented this to users for their feedback. They loved it!
Evangelizing Design Thinking
The approach known as “design thinking” has swept through the world these past few years, as a catchy way of capturing the innovative power of iterative phases of research and design. Fundamentally, it illuminates the iterative power of modeling, prototyping, testing, and refinement that is the heart of design. While some long-time designers got a bit grumpy that yet another set of nomenclature was being sold to business, I thought it was ultimately very positive because evangelism is a key part of UX work— not just in terms of specific research findings and solution candidates, but truly our very existence and value. So, thanks for that, IDEO!
Another aspect of my skills in communication relates to conducting workshops and training sessions. I co-created the very first Cooper U practicum with Kim Goodwin, and later delivered it several times to different groups around the country. One of them was an awesome crew located up in the far north of Whitehorse, Yukon Territories!
I also have a proprietary workshop, “Scenarios for Design”, which received very high accolades from my attendees when I was selected for the Interaction 10 conference. I truly love teaching and sharing what I know: a rising tide lifts all boats. When I’m consulting, I consider it very important to work closely with my clients to disseminate methods as well as outputs: I’d prefer to teach you how to fish, rather than just have to keep catching all the fish for you!
CIGNA is huge: the third-largest health plan in the United States, covering over 13 million lives (or “belly buttons” as they like to say). It’s also a huge organization: almost 40,000 employees all across the United States. While there, I operated inside an IT branch of the organization, which meant that often we were the maverick, technical wizzes creating novel solutions to solve problems faced by the business. As we produced win after win in terms of both products and processes that became de-facto standards in the organization, the Product teams in particular wanted to get in on our secret sauce. So I created a training program that was built around personas, scenarios, and “design thinking”. It opened up some of the power of design for these non-designers who nevertheless were in the position of defining digital products and services. A Vice President heard great reviews from her team about my training, and laughed that someday, she might be reporting to me….
For almost twenty years now, I’ve been deeply passionate about and proud to be working primarily in the domains of digital health, healthcare, and medical devices. I have long advocated for more UX designers to enter this critical field in my public talks and across my network because these domains (unfortunately) still offer up an extremely “target-rich environment” where designers can truly do meaningful good in the world. In my final portfolio piece, “Design Leadership”, I go further into my own thought-leadership and team management capabilities in this domain.