This week we’re going to introduce the first post of a series on driving user experience (UX) design in the life sciences and healthcare based on the crucial element of persona. A persona is a stand-in for a real user - it’s a detailed description of an archetypal user, attempting to capture a bit more about them than just their job role - to understand a bit about their motivations, cultural filters, likes and dislikes, etc. Personae allow us to think like the user and become advocates for their needs. We name our personae and talk about them as if they were real people - because in a sense, they are. We drive the construction of these personae by interviewing real users or surveying the marketplace.
Image Source: Tobias Schumann
In this series, we’ll briefly construct and explore the personae for both biomedical research as well as healthcare IT.
Biomedical researchers are one persona we encounter a lot. These are folks who are accessing data on the web from other researchers or from public biological databases.
They could be generating hypotheses, which means they are coming up with questions which they can answer. For instance, they might be looking at DNA sequence data from tumor samples and finding genes in a pathway that are often mutated. This would generate a hypothesis that this pathway is related to the development of the cancer.
Or they could be testing an existing hypothesis, which means they have an idea of the answer to a question and they want to see if it’s right. For instance, they might have observed that several patients with a particular mutation respond favorably to a new treatment. Now they want to know if this is a real effect across a larger population.
Biomedical researchers have varying specialities and levels of expertise. Some may be interested in a particular disease area or biological concept. For our purposes, one of the most important characteristics is how much experience they have with informatics and statistics. Some researchers are used to viewing and understand tables of numbers and statistics - they want quantitative results. Others are more interested in understanding the broad patterns or highlights of a data set - they want qualitative results.
In healthcare IT, the most common personae are those you think of most often in healthcare - doctors and patients.
A doctor is concerned with using an electronic medical record with maximum efficiency - as few click or screens as possible to get the work done, with as much return on value - from the patient's complete medical record, easily navigable, to unintrusive decision support, to easily accessible additional information like the latest research or genomic medicine that relates to the patient in front of them. This is not simple: the doctor persona views minutes spent in front of a monitor and keyboard as time spent AWAY from the patient - as detrimental to care. So a clean user experience and intuitive navigation that doesn't get in the way are essential - are not often found.
For the patient perspective, the personae are as varied as people themselves, but for our clients the focus is on engaging patients in their care - in reporting and tracking medications, or understanding how their clinical trial participation impacts them and the larger picture, to meeting exercise or weight loss goals to improve Type 2 diabetes.
With such diversity of potential user experiences, as software developers we know that our clients' vision of the software we're building, when combined with a detailed understanding of the personae served, will make for software that is both useful and usable.
Stay tuned for future posts on design by personae.
- A collaboration post by Will FitzHugh, Andrew Evans & Leslie Power.