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Designing for healthy behaviours

Over the last year I’ve been holding lectures on how to design for projects with the components healthy behaviours + data gathering. This text is my reflection on working with products for healthy behaviours. You can find an abstract from one of my lectures at the end of this blogpost.

Get Personal About Health

While users today are more educated about data gathering products, the struggle with designing for healthy behaviours is that health is not one thing. According to the WHO, health is the total of “my physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Health involves factors, of which only a few are measurable with sensors, all leading up to the perception of well-being. 

As I work on consumer focused products which have a rich data component, I don’t start from “everyone”. I start from specific use cases that come from users' perspective of wellbeing.  To discover this, I engage with real people with user research methods and get personal about what their life is like. 

“ What is wellbeing to you, what do you want to achieve to get healthier and why is this not the case today?“

Once a potential user's needs are identified, I hunt for where it could overlap with the next potential user’s need. In the case of the activity tracker, one such overlap is that time and length are captured and they are beneficial for both the couch potato an the marathon runner. An adaptation of data presentation to different types of users will make a huge difference; a similar type of activity data is workout metrics for the competitive runner, and inactivity reminders for the couch potato. 

When combining healthy behaviours + data gathering, health often points towards the creation of products for fitness. One reason for this is that activity is trackable with a minimal user engagement (just wear the sensor). Another is possibly that products for fitness don’t have the same oversight as medical devices. We simply can’t say that A or B is healthier than the other because it would require a medical professional to make such a statement today (the technology around AI and diagnosis and detection is, however, maturing at great rates).  

From Measuring Activity To Designing For Healthy Behaviours

It’s easy to make changes that show us instant results, like taking those extra steps and seeing your step counter go up. It’s hard to make changes where results, and goals, are achieved over longer periods of time, like taking medication or losing weight. 

Unfortunately, to go from moderately healthy to healthier, a person needs to make changes. And stick to it over time. This is an interesting design problem, because sticking to a change is often the hard part. Each user’s motivation to make a change will be different, and the carrots and sticks that they need will vary. In each project where we encounter this make-a-change problem, the goal is often to find something measurable to track. The model at a high level is to create appropriate incentives to repeat a new habit, make the habit actionable, and making the action measurable so it feeds back to the incentive. Making the change tangible to the user.

Why Healthy Behaviours Are Interesting

So why are healthy behaviours interesting when it’s so complex to design for? Because, there is so much promise in the field of healthy behaviours + data, as it continues to deliver on what the step counter solved: To make a barely noticeable change instantly measurable

Take small preventative actions today to avoid life changing actions tomorrow. While these are difficult products to design, there are understandable user values.

The reasons why we should address these hard problems:

  1. It’s just getting started. This field is accelerating, and the foundation you create today will continue to become more and more robust.
  2. It reveals something. The user will learn something about themselves, and we will find more opportunities to design for new experiences.
  3. There are real problems to be solved. From health management tools for individuals and their loved ones, to work tools for professionals.
  4. It gets smarter with AI. The concept of what a “tool” is and what it does is shifting from physical to digital to omnipresent. From what happened today and how it impacted the user (Wellbeing AI) to drawing conclusions on what diseases a patients test results points to (AI Doctor).

DOWNLOAD ABSTRACT

This abstract is from one of my latest lectures at the IoT conference (Lund, Sweden). The talk is about what it means to be a human in a connected world, and how to take a human-centered approach when designing and developing products and services in the area of health.

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Kajsa Westman

Design Strategist

Let's talk about designing for the future

kajsa@topp.se
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