I am a user experience consultant and this is a story about a heart patient I met recently. She called herself ‘the bag lady’. I meet a lot of people in context of the work I do, but my meeting with the Bag Lady was a little special as it made me reflect on a lot of things I do as a user experience consultant.
I met the ‘bag lady’ while working on a project to design a medical device for people with heart problems. The device is aimed to help patients better manage their health. My role was to make sure the device was easy to use.
Since easy to use is an abstract concept most user experience professionals use methods of interviewing and observations to understand what is ‘easy to use’ is for the target audience. For example something that is easy to use for one patient may not be easy to use for another.
For this project, I talked with heart patients across the country. The patients were selected based on their demographic profile like, health conditions and the role they played in managing their health.
I visited patients in their homes and made observations regarding the medical devices and technologies they used. I asked them questions to understand their comfort level with technology like, did they use cell phones for text messaging or when they had issues with electronic gadgets, who helped them?
I also asked them questions around how they managed their health conditions. For example did they take their blood pressure and weight at home? How frequently did they track their vital signs? Who kept track of their medications? Did they track their salt intake? Etc.
With this background, I would like to move to the interviews in Los Angeles where I was scheduled to meet 10 patients. The first day of interviews was as per routine.
The next day, Jan 18th, we drove to the patients home for the last interview 5.30 pm. It was fairly dark, the streets were deserted and there were no street lights. I called the patient to confirm if we were at the right house.
The patient was polite and welcomed us. Her house was full of stuff. There were lots of electronic gadgets and television sets that seemed obviously broken.
After settling down a bit, I explained why we were there and what we were going to do. I made some observations and started the interviews.
As part of the standard protocol, I asked her to tell me something about herself and she said “I am the bag lady”. I paused, so she said “I am the lady you see on the street that walks around with a big bag and collects stuff”.
I proceeded with the rest of the questions. I asked her about the medical devices she used, medications she had and other questions around the regime she followed to manage her health conditions.
Then I showed her the medical device concept prototypes, she held them, and gave me her explanation on how she thought the device would work. I made some notes and asked her the big question “What are your thoughts about this concept?”
She thought about it for sometime and said “This reminds me of new shoes…there are shoes that I like and there are shoes that I need. This device is more like the shoe that I like.” That did give me my answer and while I was still making my notes she said,
“Can you give me a device that will make me stand up and do a jitter bug?” As she said that she had joy in her face, she imagined this more perfect device that could make feel strong. She was excited thinking about this perfect device and I was excited to capture that moment for her.
In that moment I thought of how beautifully ‘the bag lady’ had separated her ‘likes’ and her ‘needs’. I realized that I had already learned a lot.
Firstly, I realized that ‘the bag lady’s’ need from the device had little to do with the physical object itself. It was more to do with how it would make her feel. Something that get missed when we focus too much on the shape and size of the products we design.
Secondly, she clearly demonstrated easy to use did not equal meeting her needs. While she could demonstrate how to use the device, she did not think she needed it. In complex projects, sometimes ‘easy to use’ becomes an unnecessary distraction from the project goals.
Lastly my biggest learning was that people living on the streets had the same needs as anyone else, especially when it came to devices that could improve their life better.
As I concluded my interview with ‘the bag lady’ I couldn’t help but feel grateful for insights she helped me have. My mantra for the rest of the project was – If ‘the bag lady’ did not need it, it is time to go back to the drawing board.
Ignite Portland - The Bag Lady
Flickr image by flat-outcrazy The Bag Lady Experienced by Sheetal Dube Evantage Consulting Twitter: @SheetalDube A user research story
Flickr image by samwebster , jackace, PhotoBug Designing a medical device for heart patients
Flickr image by bill barber (off for a bit), RussellReno , Old Shoe Woman, GregPC, cammy♥claudia Heart patients who might need them
Heart patients who might need them Flickr image by bill barber (off for a bit), RussellReno , Old Shoe Woman, GregPC, cammy♥claudia
Flickr image by HazPhotos, Thomas Ormston, JR_Paris Learning about their environment
Flickr image by: Alexandre Hamada Possi, M. Ignacio Monge, Kenny Miller Understanding how they manage their health
10 patient interviews, Los Angeles. Flickr image by: bertsmedia
Flickr image by: waltarrrrr January 18th, 2010, 5:30 pm.
Her house. My restless mind. Flickr image by: Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL, Joe Shlabotnik)