• Design It Better! 10 Principles for Connected Health Products

    A few weeks ago I presented at the Wireless Life Sciences Summit with Don Jones of Qualcomm (who one of the West Wireless Health Institute’s founders) and David Haight a VP from AT&T. I applaud the dedication of the West family for funding the institute (they committed another $20m that day I was there), but I’m struck by the vast gap between current wireless health offerings and the products and services the industry needs to provide to be adopted by customers at scale.

    Just look at the health monitoring products from Intel, Philips, Honeywell, Vitalnet, and MedApps. They are miserably complex, expensive, geeky, and medicalized. This industry has much to learn about creating the kind of compelling and life-altering experiences that are regularly achieved in the consumer electronics, gaming, and social media worlds. Let’s get on it, people!

    Before my talk, I jotted down ten design principles that I believe are essential for the connected health industry to blossom and have the impact we all intend:

    #1 Create enchantment

    #2 Make it glanceable

    #3 Be subtle

    #4 Be social

    #5 Give it away

    #6 Opt for opt-out

    #7 Tailor your services

    #8 Game on

    #9 Use emotional engagement

    #10 Cordon off complexity

    Let me flesh out each of these with some examples.

    #1 Create enchantment

    Giving extraordinary capabilities to familiar objects – making them enchanted — is a useful strategy to drive acceptance and adherence. By leveraging established patterns of use, you eliminate a learning curve and make it easy for people to adopt these devices in their everyday routines. If a connected device is as ordinary as a pill bottle or a bathroom mirror, it has the potential to replace its “dumb” predecessor as new default.

    #2 Make it glanceable

    Data displays should be persistent, unavoidable, and, ideally, ambient or glanceable. Most people don’t have the discipline to proactively visit websites, self-report daily information, and scrutinize graphs. Mobile apps are no better at aiding regular use, and suffer from added complexity as menus multiply. At Ambient Devices we learned that it’s useful to encode and obfuscate private information when displays are more public.

    Like a single-pixel web browser, the Ambient Orb glows a color to reflect online information

    Ambient Bus Pole fills with light to show the wait time before the next bus from a block away.

    #3 Be subtle

    A gentle touch is the best way to charm people into action, whether maintaining a routine or changing behavior. Devices and services need to take advice from Miss Manners to avoid being voted off the island. For instance, any type of audible signal should take its time to escalate from noticeable to insistent. Remember to be charming because it’s difficult to tolerate bad manners day after day.

    #4 Be social

    Build sharing into the service. At Vitality we have a bias for using nonprofessional caregivers. Family members and buddies are cheaper, often more responsive, and don’t come with the same liability overhead or work-flow-integration issues. Example: video monitoring is one-way and Big Brother-ish (yuck!), but teleconferencing is two-way and social (fun!). No one wants to be monitored; everyone wants to communicate. Make data-sharing  two-directional and reciprocal.

    This facebook app allows comparisons of medication success without revealing a medication name or condition

    #5 Give it away

    Free is adopted thousands of times faster. If you want to change the world, find a business model that supports giving the product or enhancement to every customer. Likewise, make connectedness a standard feature, not an expensive extra. Seat belts and headlights aren’t an option on cars; they are mandated. Wireless technology shouldn’t be an option on glucometers, BP cuffs, or medication packaging.

    #6 Opt for opt-out.

    Humans have a lot of inertia, so make your service the default. We take the fries that come with the happy meal. We don’t miss the portion of our paycheck that gets automatically deducted our 401k. For rapid adoption make your service the default — where energy is required to opt-out. Inertia will then be your friend.

    The GlowCap is given away by the pharmacist with your prescription inside.

    #7 Tailor your services

    Customizing services for different types of people is essential for at least three reasons. People feel more engaged when they know their service is personalized to their needs. Also, it’s less complex for people to configure and contend with fewer choices. Finally, for service providers it’s less expensive to offer a subset of services to each customer.

    Vitality profiles each customer to find areas of activation (hot spots) to prioritize services.

    #8 Game on

    Point systems, leader boards, merit badges, and other signs of accomplishment are surprisingly engaging even to those who don’t play games. Add these kinds of game dynamics to your service to motivate better performance. For instance, the SmartGuage dashboard on the Ford Fusion encourages good driving behavior. Compelling games feature fast feedback and are almost always perfect meritocracies. Best of all, games are risk tolerant. Forgiveness is immediate — just try again.

    #9 Use emotional engagement

    Like a dog waiting to be walked, devices should be disappointed if you don’t use them, or pleased when a job is done well. Humans tend to lavish attention on things that exhibit almost any sentient cues. Clifford Nass at Stanford found that people use the same rules when interacting with technology as they do when interacting with other people. We anthropomorphize technology by instinct (remember the IKEA lamp commercial?). If you want to be noticed, be cute. See my post on neoteny.

    #10 Cordon off complexity

    Internet-connected devices don’t need buttons. Move configuration interfaces and preference-setting to the web or phone, and keep the complexity off the device itself. Little screens and buttons on little device, begone!

    The web can be used to configure services on any internet-connect device

    At Vitality, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved working with AT&T on the cellular version of the GlowCap system. We’ve concealed the technology, focused on user experience, and embraced a business model of free to the consumer in order to grow fast.

    This would be a good set of principles if the goals were to sell a better consumer electronics device, but our aspirations are much higher. We aim to have a meaningful impact on the health of large populations of people to avert a crisis in healthcare–so high adoption rates of connected health devices are imperative. And the best path to achieve this is through thoughtful and inviting design.

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