Kajsa Sundeson & Samir Fors of Ocean Observations (@ocean_sthlm | oceanobservations.com), speaking at MEX/15 (London, March 2015) ask whether digital interfaces such as fitness trackers are really helping to improve health. For instance, does monitoring how much someone sleeps create a meaningful difference unless they can be presented with results in the context of their other activities? They go on to look at ways in which data are currently presented and suggest a series of design principles to guide the experience of future digital health products. In addition to this talk, Sundeson and Fors also facilitated a two day MEX creative session on the same theme, continuing a long-standing partnership between Ocean and MEX.
Details and tickets for MEX: pmn.co.uk/mex/.
- The metaphor of the person who fell from the skyscraper describes how most users think about their health: as they fell past each floor they thought ‘this is going great’ – it was only when they hit the ground they realised they had a problem.
- The growth in activity tracking devices has been driven by individuals keen to improve personal fitness, making it one of the most popular 2014 Christmas presents in Sweden. However, it also has potential for mainstream healthcare. One of the benefits includes allowing those suffering from long-term conditions to log personal data on a daily basis, making them better informed about their illness and better positioned to discuss their condition during infrequent (sometimes only once yearly) check-up appointments with healthcare professionals.
- Evolving from simply logging health data to providing actionable insights requires more personalised results. Today’s technology can tell users how many hours they’ve slept, but only provide generic answers as to how they can improve their metrics.
- Activity metrics alone can be a source of anxiety for users, causing more stress than healthcare benefits. Taken out of context, or with too much focus on their individual importance, they can lead to poor health decisions. Users will benefit from digital experiences which combine a range of data into a ‘personalised digital muesli’ balanced to their individual requirements.
- Tracking works when it offers a clear path to improvement through metrics users understand, e.g. run trackers which show users how to get faster and link them with social peers for encouragement. Tracking fails when it presents unclear results, e.g. a ’71 percent of recommended sleep’ metric which actually causes the users to feel more tired.
- It is becoming easier for individual users to access the keys to better, more personalised digital healthcare. Technology will soon allow each user to employ their individual genome information to receive tailored results.
- The availability of more detailed, real time healthcare data for each individual will drive a change in the design of digital services. Instead of responding to issues after they’ve occurred or treating long-term conditions, they could be structured to pre-empt health problems. For instance, Google is experimenting with ingestible nano-particles which communicate with digital devices.
- As the volume of health data, and its possible applications grows, designers must consider the psychological burden associated with constant monitoring. The stress of tracking may outweigh the benefits if poorly designed.
- The common questions about digital health services, like how do we present data on small screens, or how do we convince people to want wearables, need to change. It is more important to ask why should users want these things and what is the true value of the experiences they can provide.
- ‘Healthy’ means different things to different people. Instead of just discrete instructions, digital health services should equip users with enough understanding to make informed decisions for themselves and inspire them to change.
- Users will soon be faced with a fundamental question: what digital interface do they want for their bodies? The answer is unlikely to be the same for everyone and may vary according to factors such as the longevity of each health goal: digital products targeted at shorter-term, specific conditions may require a different experience to those designed for lifetime usage.
- Visualisation of health data remains in its infancy and is currently focused on charts and percentages. There are opportunities to improve engagement by experimenting with new formats, e.g. the Lark app, which adopts a conversational, natural language approach so users feel they are actively discussing their health with the service.