January 13, 2009

Healthcare Reform and Designing the User Experience

In 1993, healthcare reform became a hot topic and has been actively pursued—with greater and lesser results—ever since. NPR’s story How Obama Can Heed Clinton Health Reform Failure delivers sound-bytes that the design community can apply to its practices:

Sound-byte 1: Follow Up by Following Up
According to Sheila Burke, the former top aide to Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, “The Clintons had made this issue a critical one in the course of the campaign, talking about health reform. … But then [they] essentially let a year go by while their task force pulled things together. … You lost the attention of the American public, and you also allowed the opponents to essentially mount a campaign.”

Post-rationalization: When you’re stating intent to take action, especially if it’s a tall order, be accountable in a timely way. Compounding words with action is a no-duh tenet for designers to practice with their colleagues and clients, but it can be easily overlooked (and forgotten).

Sound-byte 2: Getting Lost in Translation is Easy
According to Chris Jennings, former White House Senior Health Policy adviser during the Clinton years, “People aren’t happy with their current health care system. They certainly aren't happy with the costs, but they aren’t willing to trade up or down for anything until they know exactly what it is.”

Post-rationalization: Helping people understand is not only beholden to information or user-experience designers, but to all design disciplines. This is another instance in which the classic Tuftian line, “Make the complex clear” proves sage advice for all involved. With this accomplished, “Beauty will take care of itself” as typeface designer Eric Gill put it.

Sound-byte 3: Make Consuming Information Comfortable
Chris Jennings says of President-Elect Obama’s focused campaign for healthcare reform, “You don’t hear about price controls or premium caps; you don’t talk about new government agencies.”

Post-rationalization: Craft straightforward content and messages. This is crucial not only for the products and services created, but also the way in which they are communicated. Keeping “on topic” is one concern, and selecting both the appropriate quantity and quality of words is another. President Woodrow Wilson hit the messaging nail on the head when he said, “No one who has read official documents needs to be told how easy it is to conceal the essential truth under the apparently candid and all-disclosing phrases of a voluminous and particularizing report….” Reflecting back, it wasn’t easy to present the daunting 1,300-page bill. Communicating a complex concept in a digestible and compelling way, without the “needless parts,” is (always) the design opportunity.

Sound-byte Summary
Besides Keep it simple to keep it “trusted”, the other inherent lesson in these sound-bytes is to put politics aside. It would be no surprise if you heard this before.