Product design

Healthcare UX: How Design Can Solve Biggest Challenges for Patients, Clinicians, and Institutions


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As a design agency, we are twice as happy when we get a chance to work on products with a purpose, such as healthcare projects. Recently we’ve had a couple of projects in this field and we can say it is both an encouraging and challenging experience. 

Working on products that aim to preserve human health is highly rewarding, but it is not the easiest field for UX designers. Today we will talk about challenges in UX design for healthcare.

Some background

Healthcare industry is being really slow to adopt information technologies. The Nuffield research states that there are at least 10 years of distance between healthcare and other industries in digitizing their processes.

There’s no surprise that in 2021, the year when the demand for digital solutions is higher than ever, healthcare is trending. But we argue that it is not just momentum: it had a big potential even before that.

Investor Kevin Ryan, whose investment activity focuses on healthcare tech, says that the certain backwardness of the industry creates a big pool of opportunities for startups and investors:

…starting two or three years ago, I just felt like both in New York and in healthcare in general, there were huge opportunities because there are so many aspects of the healthcare system that just don’t work well. It’s incredibly expensive, the electronic records are not great, it’s super inefficient. Most of us are very frustrated by this whole healthcare system, which means opportunities.

Ryan hired a team of nine medicine professionals, “doctorpreneurs” so to say, to select the projects to fund. And he’s not alone: other investors turn their attention to healthcare, too.

Telehealth alone shows a striking revenue growth: according to the report by McKinsey, total annual revenues grew 83% in 2021 compared to 2019. This graph shows that telemedicine has taken on a completely different volume of operation compared to pre-pandemic times.

Image credit: McKinsey

There is no doubt that the market is growing fast. But what about user experience? In healthcare, it is quite complicated, to say the least.

Healthcare and user experience

With all that delay in technology advancement of the industry, user experience is even more behind, about 10 years or more. Developers of healthcare tech do not pay much attention to user experience as there is often no competition, so no need to do “extra” work when there is enough demand anyway.

While all the lifestyle and work management apps use everything that can give them an advantage in marketing, design, communication, healthcare software providers don’t have to worry about that.

Main challenges for UX in healthcare

One of the biggest problems for doctors used to be a large amount of paperwork. They had to dedicate enormous amounts of time just to write down the symptoms, diagnosis, prescriptions, and many more. There is no surprise that doctors’ illegible handwriting has become a meme.

Healthcare system digitization was supposed to free a bunch of time for doctors to do their direct work: interacting with patients. However, it turned out that working with software still occupies a large chunk of their time.

By 2016, physicians came to spend about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face-to-face with a patient. Their working hours increased and it led to a large number of burnout and depression cases among medical specialists. To better understand the level of frustration that doctors experience with those new systems, read Atul Gawande’s article Why Doctors Hate Their Computers.

Healthcare software is often aimed at keeping track of many health indicators, more than a single doctor is able to track. However, no artificial intelligence (AI) yet is trusted enough to give professional medical advice. Apps still need lots of human input to function. As a result, doctors are being busy interacting with the app, thus having less time to communicate directly with the patients.

When our team was working on the design for Refera, a dentist referral solution, one of the most important things for us was to simplify the user flow to make navigation as easy as possible. Software for medical management will always have too many things happening on the screen. We tried to introduce some visual hierarchy with an accent color and made an image of the oral cavity for choosing the tooth that needs to be repaired.

Image credit: Eleken for Refera

More is too much

Until digital instruments were introduced in the healthcare system to help keep each patient’s data, much of that information was lost, and those pieces that were saved by conscientious patients could contain volumes of data that are too big for a single doctor to analyze.

One of the objectives of software, along with diminishing the amount of handwritten paperwork, is to keep all the databases on each patient saved in one place. It allows us to keep large amounts of information, but these solutions often lead to the same effect: with an abundance of information, doctors get overwhelmed, and easily miss the most important things.

How do healthcare startups address this situation? So far, the answer is a faster technological advance. When tech tools become more reliable, they can perform more tasks. Nowadays, AI solutions in healthcare are working on harder tasks, such as diagnostics. 

Such tech companies as Kheiron Medical Technologies are working on developing AI-powered software that can detect breast cancer at early stages. Another example is DiA Imaging Analysis, which automates the analysis of ultrasound scans.

Image credit: DiA Imaging Analysis

Uniqueness of technology

Many software products in healthcare rely on a unique technology. This creates an unbeatable value proposition, thus leading to the negligence of user experience. When users have no choice because they need the technology, the better design won’t do much for the product. It just doesn’t pay off.

Hard to test

As it often happens with product companies, when there is very little investment in design, there will be even less investment in UX research. Less attention to the research means less testing, and less testing means poor user experience.

Specific challenge of the healthcare industry is that recruiting doctors for usability testing is more complicated than recruiting regular users. There are many hospital regulations, bureaucracy, and heavy workload of medical workers. Healthcare products invest largely in functionality testing, while usability testing is an afterthought. 

Long development cycles

In healthcare, digital products are often developed slower than in other industries: there has to be new technology or a proven idea, then it needs to comply with all the regulations, go through all the bureaucratic processes… And often these are the products that are vital to human health, so that the launch date has to be as fast as possible.

Proper UX research and testing require time. In many cases, after a round of testing, the product needs to be modified and tested again. With high in-demand products, nobody wants to waste time on those parts of the design process that don’t relate directly to functionality.

The dark side of metrics

When digital products enter the healthcare industry, their efficiency inevitably starts being measured in quantitative metrics, such as time of response or number of patients served. However, in such a delicate sphere as healthcare, sometimes metrics can do more harm than good.

As Chris Keiss, healthcare UX designer, states, strict metrics always bring Goodhart's law to play. For example, if a doctor’s performance is evaluated based on the number of patients that they can consult in one day, they will likely try consulting them faster than normal. Naturally, this approach can lead to less attention given to each patient.

Image credit: sketchplanations

The need for quantitative metrics can be argued upon, but in healthcare, the price of introducing such metrics can be too high. We may think that the only metric that matters is the health of patients, but it is very hard to calculate objectives, especially given the relatively short product design cycles.

We discussed more on why both quantitative and qualitative metrics are important in our article about UX design KPIs. In Eleken, we think that user experience specialists have to adjust their measuring principles to the industry specifics.

Designing for doctors, patients, companies

The situation in healthtech looks similar to the classical “good-fast-cheap” rule: you can’t have all three at the same time. UX designers have a hard time balancing the needs of doctors, patients, and companies. Often they have to prioritize one group over the others.

As the market grows and the competition increases as well, there are more and more solutions aimed at providing the best user experience to patients. It is paramount in the world where patients can choose between different software providers.

One of the modern healthcare solutions, Lively, a startup for health savings accounts, is applying a consumer-first approach. The founders Alex Cyriac and Shobin Uralil tell that the idea came from their personal experience. Naturally, the product that they build puts user experience in the center.

Image credit: Lively

Final thoughts

Complexity of products, low-competition technologies, neverending bureaucracy — the obstacles on the way to user-oriented healthcare software are numerous. In the healthcare industry, the stakes are high and user experience is not the highest priority. 

Yet we are optimistic about the future: with the rapid growth of the healthtech market, the demand for good UX design will grow, as well. In 2021, we’ve had a chance to work with healthcare products that take user experience seriously — and this is very encouraging. We hope to see more human-centered design in software aimed at preserving our health. Curious what it looks like? Check out our list of human-centered design examples.

Masha Panchenko


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Product design
min read

The Definitive Guide to Design Thinking vs Design Sprint

To the untrained ear design thinking and design sprint may sound confusingly similar. And it’s nota completely wrong assumption as these two concepts do have a lot in common. However, if you are going to build a successful product you definitely need to comprehend the difference between these two methods. 

As a design agency focused on SaaS, we understand the importance of up-to-date methodologies for modern businesses and how using user-centered approaches such as design thinking and design sprint can elevate your product’s success. In this article we would like to walk you through the differences and similarities between design thinking and design sprint methods and also help to understand where each of them is best applicable. 

Once again, what is design thinking?

Design thinking

There’s been a lot said and written about design thinking since it became popular in Stanford university in the 1980s and a decade later introduced by creative agency IDEO to the business world. Design thinking is best defined as human-centered design methodology that includes empathy and creativity in order to generate solutions that stand out. This methodology for discovering and solving problems helps product teams to drive innovations for the global market

Design thinking process consists of step-by-step stages that lead you from defining the problem itself to finding the best possible solution to it: 

Empathy phase is when you listen to the needs of your target audience, which helps you understand their perspective.
Definition phase is for you to use the insights from your users to understand the problem and ensure that your solution addresses the correct challenge.
Ideation phase. In this stage you unleash your creativity and generate possible solutions to the problem.
Prototyping. During this stage you create a working prototype to embody your idea.
Testing.You test your prototype to reveal what works and what doesn’t.
You can repeat the ideation, prototyping and testing stages as much as needed until you find a creative and practical solution to your problem.

Design thinking

Focused on listening to users, understanding their needs and applying that knowledge in creating solutions for complex problems, design thinking has proven itself as a method that withstands the test of time. In fact, design thinking methodology was also a ground from which a new approach of design sprint has sprouted. 

What is a design sprint?

Design sprint

Design sprint emerged around 2010 in Google Venture that invests Google money into startups. And this is exactly the case when the origin best explains the essence and the main purpose of the concept.

It’s not a secret that responsible investing is more than just handing money to potentially successful startups. It is also a mentorship in order to help new companies grow. So Jake Knapp and his colleagues from Google Ventures came up with a rocket fast method that helped them validate startup ideas and train them to grow. It was the design sprint. 

Design sprint is a five-day process for cross-functional teams based on design thinking methodology that aims to validate a business idea, design or redesign product.

Design sprint

Design sprint process is very intense but interactive. It consists of five main stages:

Map. This is the stage where you set the goals for the whole sprint. Gather all available data on the problem statement, customer profiles, and any other relevant information from previous rounds of user research. Map the user journey and define the project scope. Don’t forget that the design sprint addresses only one specific problem. 

Sketch. In design sprint model the ideation process is often conducted in a form of sketching workshop. During the workshop, you create hypotheses and assumptions based on gathered data. In this stage you generate ideas and define key success metrics.

Decide. Team members vote for the best idea. It can be done through open discussion or silent voting.
Create a prototype of your solution. Choose what you will build based on your team's skill sets and time constraints.

Test. Put your assumptions to the test with real users. Find out if the potential solution works.

After these five main stages you evaluate findings with stakeholders and users. Identify areas of improvement for the next iteration or release.

The design sprint methodology lets you achieve an optimal solution to a business challenge using the least amount of time and resources.  Among successful products created thanks to design sprint are Slack, Twitter, and many more. 

Companies using design sprint model
Companies using design sprint model
Image source: SprintCube

Design sprint is still the most popular among startups. But it doesn’t mean only early stage companies can use it. The beauty of Design Sprint is that it scales well regardless of team size or company. It is a simple framework that allows you to cut through complexity and get right to business. 

The biggest fans of this method often compare it to the cooking recipe - that’s how precise, clear and fast its steps are. You can take the design thinking philosophy and toolkit and apply it to the product through a design sprint in just a few days. 

Now let’s take a closer look into design thinking and design sprint similarities.

What design thinking and design sprint have in common?

A Design sprint is a process that integrates the learnings from other methods like Agile, Lean Startup, and Customer Development, but mostly design thinking. You won’t be completely right if you say that design sprint is one of many ways to do design thinking. 

Just like design thinking, design sprint is a highly collaborative approach to ideation, innovation, and problem-solving. Both methods are performed by cross-functional teams and help them answer crucial questions through design, rapid prototyping, testing and instant feedback from users.

At the first glance, the processes of design thinking and design sprint don’t seem close. But in fact their stages (even if named differently) overlap or have similar purposes.


As you can see these two methods are similar in many ways but there are differences between design sprint and design thinking too.

Design thinking vs design sprint: key differences

The main difference between the two is that design sprints are used to solve specific problems, whereas design thinking is applied for general ones. Design thinking is more of an overall philosophy for approaching problem-solving, while design sprints are a method for creating a prototype with limited time and resources. Let’s compare these two approaches:

Design thinking vs design sprint: main differences

Considering all the similarities and differences, it can be confusing which one to choose for your project. 

When to use a design sprint and when design thinking?

When to use a design sprint and when design thinking?

The key is to understand the difference between these two methods and apply design sprint or design thinking where they are most effective.

You will need design thinking most when you notice an opportunity that can change people’s lives for the better. This methodology focuses on thinking outside of the box so it can provide a truly innovative solution. 

Use design thinking when the idea for the product/service or any complex problem is raw. The methodology will help to define the challenge itself and find a creative solution to it. One of the main advantages of design thinking is a deep understanding of your audience. Insights coming from users lead to more successful and long-lasting projects. Apply design thinking when you want to create game-changing products and have time and resources to invest.

Design sprint is like a mini rapid version of the design thinking method. Some even call it a design thinking sprint. It works best when your problem or idea is already defined. Design sprint is highly business-oriented. It effectively answers a straightforward business question:`Will this idea work on the market?`

Design sprint is especially useful when you are limited in time and resources as it lets you validate your idea in just one week. Design sprints are also very effective when you suddenly receive some market insights in your niche and want to test if they are applicable to your product or when you face a blocker and need to break through with a decision.   

You can surely use both design thinking and design sprint especially if you work on a big project. Combined, these methods give even stronger results. 

Got inspired? Come talk to us about your digital product design or redesign! Our team is eager to implement your ideas using both design thinking and design sprint. 

Product design
min read

Education Workflow Automation: How to Design a Solution for Universities

If you ever had any contact with universities, you know how bureaucratized these institutions are. The reason for this is not just mean administrators. There are many state regulations that don't allow to just “simplify” the processes. While we can’t impact the laws much, there is something that we can do to diminish the exhausting effect of bureaucracy: automate some manual processes.

As a UI/UX design agency, we are all about simplifying workflows. Edtech with its large amount of data was a challenge to us. However, our experience was positive and we’d like to share some thoughts on automation and education here.

Why is edtech so hot?

Education industry has been on the rise since… Well, a long time ago. And then 2020 came with new demands for distance learning and education in general: in times of crisis, people feel the need to take on new things to stay afloat.

There is no surprise that edtech startups started mushrooming during the pandemic.In 2020, these startups raised three times more in the financing rounds compared to 2019.

$ raised by edtech 2012 ($0.4bn) - 2020 ($11bn)
Image credit: bakertillygda.com

The industry has become more attractive to investors. If we take a look at the last week’s news on Techcrunch, we see education startups raising more than $10 million funding. Here are some examples: StudyFree, Educate Online, Edukoya

The majority of edtech startups seem to be software for e-learning, but there are plenty of products with a different focus, such as education workflow automation. For instance, our client Enroly, a product specialized in CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies), visa, and arrival process of international students, raised £1.5 million in 2021.

These are some of the reasons why the world has turned its head to products related to education. However, the need for education automation surged even before the pandemic. Education industry has its own problems that need digital solutions. Let's take a look at them.

(Some) Challenges of higher education industry 

Lack of students

In recent years, universities experience a steady decline in the number of enrolments. A survey from Inside Higher Ed states that “admissions officers were very worried about filling their classes this year and most did not fill their classes by the traditional May 1 date for the following fall’s class”.

What are the reasons? People start valuing higher degrees less, they are not willing to go into debt for that, foreign universities enter into competition for the students worldwide, and overall demographics are not very optimistic. Many universities struggle to meet their enrollment goals.

“Marketization” of education

The phenomenon of so-called “student-consumer” is not new to higher education. Since the very dawn of European universities, professors appeared to seem more like a service provider rather than a mentor.

Nowadays, students are becoming more demanding again. Also, more and more private universities and colleges appear, and they have to prioritize income to survive. Government-funded universities have to compete with private ones, and all that under constant cuts in funding. In these conditions, it becomes hard to keep the same levels of quality and attract enough students.

New education formats

Nowadays, universities are not only competing with each other. Their competitors are also online schools, degree and non-degree, private coaches and mentors, and foreign universities that are keen on having students from all over the world.

Traditional universities are slow to adapt to the demands of the lifelong learning trend. Not only because they often don’t have extra funding, but also because being official institutions, they are tied with bureaucracy. All the processes take a lot of time.

Managers spend on administrative tasks 8 hours per week (on average)
Image credit: Formstack

According to the Formstack report (majority of respondents work in education), 25% of managers spend half of their working time on administrative tasks. The same report states that 62% of business administrators already use workflow automation tools, but there is surely space for more automation.

But what is workflow automation exactly? Simply put, it's an automated algorithm that gets work done instead of manual tasks. Let's say you want to buy a product, but it appears   not to be in stock. With workflow automation the system automatically sends an email to the address you've entered when the product is back in stock instead of the sales manager calling you directly.

The same example can be applied to a university: when a student sends a request about a program when the call is not open yet, an automated process would be to notify them when the next round starts.

Workflow automation systems not only save managers time, but also resources. For example, our client Enroly helped the University of Greenwich implement the automation software in their workflow, which helped the institution retain   an estimated revenue in excess of £3 million for the academic year.

Education automation workflow. Where to start?

Universities are highly complex structures with thousands of processes. Some of them can be automated, while many can not (and should not). Don’t try to solve all the problems with one product. To succeed, pick a clear focus.

  1. Study and evaluate what is already there: databases, document management systems, manual and automated processes, and such.
  2. Analyze the findings and prioritize: workflows that occupy most time and resources; workflows that are used more often and by many people; workflows that cause the biggest problems and need optimization.
  3. Conduct deeper research on priority workflows: talk to users, build a customer journey map, find the most challenging moments, define objectives.
  4. Build a roadmap.

After that, you will realize what the process of development will be like and what resources you will need. Developing workflow solutions for education, just like any other product, goes with design thinking. However, there are a few aspects that are worth a special mention.

1. Security

Typically we don’t think of universities as the most likely target for hacker attacks, but they happen indeed. In 2021, a ransomware attack hit a university in Spain. Even though the university is public, there was no other option left but to pay the ransom.

Accidents related to security hit hard on reputation. SmarterSelect, for instance, thought  it's fine to store personal data of about 1.2 million students on Google docs, until the data got leaked. What this teaches us is that security should be the priority for every industry, be it banking, education, or fintech.

2. Compliance

To develop software for higher education facilities, you can’t just follow the same steps of any other product. There are many legal laws that regulate the work of education. Failing to comply with them would lead to the product being absolutely useless for universities, no matter how functional and usable it is.

Let's look at Enroly as an example: after occupying the UK market quite fast, they can’t just go out there and offer their services to the Australian and New Zealand market. They have to find out the regulations and make necessary adjustments for the product to fit a different bureaucratic system.

3. User experience

There may be various reasons why the design of software made for universities is so user-unfriendly, but let’s just face the fact: usability is quite low, from the apps that administrators use, to the systems made for students and even websites.

Whenever I need to find an example of a messy, hard-to-understand website, all I have to do is to google some university pages. This method never fails: in a matter of minutes, I find a perfect illustration of perplexing structure, abounding information, and overwhelming layout. Go and try when you don't believe me, but I warned you.

In big institutions, such as universities, people who make purchase decisions are often not the ones that will use the product in their daily work. Often, a product has to be attractive to the decision-maker, and actual user experience becomes less of a priority. However, the Formstack research we referred to previously, found that “ease-of-use” is almost twice as challenging as price in the process of adoption of workflow automation tools.

Education Workflow Automation adoption challenges

As a UI/UX design agency, we always promote usability as the cornerstone of product design. However, it is not only about making users happy. When the usage of a product is easy, it makes people complete tasks faster and ultimately leads to better productivity. That is something that should motivate those decision-makers to buy products with good UX design.

So, what makes a good education automation workflow design?

Let’s take a look at Enroly once again and how our company helped them improve user experience. This is a story of how small changes make a big difference.

Some of the most annoying things for users are when we need to find an item in a long drop-down menu (I  already have chills down my spine from the thought that one day I’ll have to scroll 60 years down to insert my birthdate). 

In the case of Enroly, it was a list of filters, long and devastating. To make it easier for users to find the thing they need, we grouped the items by meaning. (Also, we added a calendar date entry instead of the drop-down list, as you will see later).

Education Workflow Automation design Enroly - before redesign
Education Workflow Automation design Enroly - after redesign

Note the little three-dots buttons at the right. They are a great life hack when you want to make a screen less clogged with information. In this case, they save two clicks of opening/closing a card for editing. Now all the actions can be done without leaving the list.

In the updated version, we added colored tags that mark the most important - student status. All these small changes work for the main objective of the workflow automation platform: reducing the time spent on repetitive actions.

Education Workflow Automation design Enroly


Final thoughts

Edtech has been growing fast. I have been doing my Bachelor’s degree when there was very little automation. In just a few years, when at my Master’s, it became common for universities to use digital systems where each student could do (almost) all the administrative requests. In my first university, the administration lady was the real ruler of the faculty. In the second one, I can’t even recall their name because I barely ever saw that person. So many things could be done online, at any time.

It’s amazing to see how much time and effort software can save for education workers and students. We want more workflow automation for universities, and we want it to be user-friendly, finally. If you have an awesome edtech SaaS product and want it to have a superior user experience, contact us!

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