Category Archives: Brad Kaloupek

User Experience: the barrier-to-entry for better healthcare software

As a design team, we have unknowingly become an expert in designing the user experience for healthcare software.

Intended or not, many of our  projects focus on some aspect of the healthcare space. Checklist apps for service providers. Back-office software to eliminate wait times and help veterans. Commercial software for a major healthcare providers patient records and business. Myself and many of our development team came from a company that creates healthcare enrollment software. We understand 835 forms and ICD-10 codes. We understand how to move a user through a 14 page form and make them not hate it… too much. Over the dozen related projects, we’ve accumulated domain knowledge in a space that’s complex and confusing.

And building this software varies greatly from our other projects. There’s never anything easy. Never. Nothing in healthcare is as simple as it sounds. And everyone’s business process is different.

We were reviewing one such project with the design team yesterday when it struck me:

User experience is the barrier to entry for effective healthcare software.

Not just software, the industry itself is overwhelmingly complex. And why? I can figure out my sons medical bills from a minor operation – 4 months later I received 4 additional bills from different providers with no context. And that’s one simple operation. Healthcare systems seems to revel in their complexity. How does any of this benefit the consumer or the user of the software? And how does continuing to design for this complexity help create a positive user experience?

IF the goal of “design” is to take something complex, understand it, and make it simple for the user  – are we doing this? Are we creating a positive user experience, or are we just adding one more layer to the cake.

So now that we’ve recognized the opportunity, where do we go with this thought? Focus back on the user experience. How can we improve their experience? How can we reduce complexity of a complex system? Make it smarter. Make it easier to navigate. Make the experience of completing a form more enjoyable. As designers how can we understand and remove these barriers to entry? How can we create a better healthcare experience through better software?

Always be creating value – Or my evolving role as design director in a start-up.

I have the best, and scariest, job in the world. When I’m doing my job right, everyone else is busy and I have nothing to do. And this isn’t to say there’s nothing to be done, I just haven’t discovered the next design project yet. My job is to insure everyone else is productive & happy, before I worry about myself. My job is to put my self out of a job. And then repeat that process over and over again.

As we approach the holiday season, there’s a lot of change in our office. Like physically: we’re moving furniture to accommodate another 60 friends. And we’re in the process of doing our annual reviews, which leads to a lot of introspection about your year. I could tell you 20 things my team has done successfully this year, but very few I’ve done. My conversation sounds a little like:

“We identified a design opportunity. I gathered the necessary requirements, set the creative direction for the project and delegated to Matt. I backed off & he went full bore and created some amazing logos … “

Did I create anything? Not really, I simply facilitated a member of the team doing amazing work. How much value did I add if I didn’t actually “produce” much of anything?

So my definition of “value” has been changing these past 3 years – from a one-man-band designer to leading a design team. It’s scary stuff as some days, I’m the first one I’d fire. But seriously, as a designer who’s done work-for-hire contractor positions before, you know you must always be creating value. Once you’ve finished the projects you were hired for, you’d find yourself sitting there waiting to be let go… “No more work, we’ll re-hire you in a few months when we need something.” It’s can be really scary shit to not have something tangible in front of you to constantly justify your perceived value. “I’m working on such and such project…”

And defining yourself too narrowly by your craft or what you produce falls into that trap as well.

The shift from execution to strategy leaves you wondering how much value you are creating?

And really, what is “strategy”? Strategy is simply any technique that leads to tangible results. Advertising agencies are based on their ability to convince clients on the value of their intangible strategy. There’s probably a distracting rant built into this line of thinking, but it’s exactly where I find myself. Packaging “intangibles” to generate tangible design results is now part of the value I create.

So what’s my next “project” look like? Last week was an office space redesign. Now that it’s underway, I’ve moved on looking for the next challenge.  Somewhat like captaining open water between the islands that are one project to the next. You can see it on the horizon, but not always sure how you’ll get there and what you’ll find when you do.

Re-thinking app design

Our design team was recently called to re-think the design of our mobile app. It’s grown quickly – so before committing more code, it’s a great time step back and approach the design a little more critically .

The app’s primary function is to capture and stream live video to an audience that can watch it on a desktop. It’s gaining rapid adoption in live sporting events & similar venues. We created two mobile app to serve  Apple IOS and Android, and here lies the problem.

One universal App? Or two distinct platform designs?

So here is our conundrum: Do we continue designing once, and applying the design to two different platforms? Or is there an opportunity to leverage the features that make an “Apple” app and an “Android” app distinct. Each has a slightly different user-interaction pattern, each has a distinct brand if you will. There are pros/cons to how both work.

Apple is pretty static and established – familiar to most of us. There are certain best practices that are prescribed, and icons/typography that is very “iOS” in it’s look and feel. Heck, there are templates you can quickly borrow from, closing down the design process to just arranging the right buttons.

Android has a greater variety of interactions & gestures to control an app. It’s design theory is being cemented by Googles new Material Design principles which relies on layering and interactions to engage the user.


So given the opportunity, we did a quick design charrette – 3 designers for 2 days.

One designer looking at a “universal” interaction pattern. The other two each focusing on a platform specific design – pulling forward the best interaction patterns of each platform into the design. The designers went heads down and spent some weekend time playing with different concepts. We set the primary goal to explore consistent navigation patterns. Secondary goal was to streamline some of recording tools that had begun to take over the capture screen and overall, make it easier to use.

This was an intentionally fast design & decision process – we probably could have iterated for several weeks, and incorporated more meetings & testing. The short-burst approach gives you multiple creative designs, each from a different perspective. All are quick studies, so no one’s super attached to “their” idea. All are high-return on their time investment, without the diminishing return for a long design cycle.

For my role, it’s simply to clarify and facilitate good design. Give each designer direct feedback and help clear up any questions about which direction they should be pursuing. Before we present, I’ll wrap it all together in a quick keynote presentation. The presentation primarily helps reminds the team the project goals before we jump into looking at designs. If you don’t have some clear goals or success criteria, it’s too easy for a group to get distracted when reviewing a design. The presentation shouldn’t be too  formal, it just enough to keep everything in one place & present each design in a consistent light.

We had 2 reviews: first a quick review as a small team, giving direct feedback that could be quickly acted on. The second review as a larger group of developers & product owners, with the goal of leaving the meeting with a design direction.


As most exercises, there we’re elements of each design that had promise. One of our team captured an excellent profile view, while another focused on highly-legible navigation for the user.

Another unexpected result was how much our team thought about animation. I credit Material Design for getting our heads moving further in that direction. One of our team took the time to animate a concept for the record button as a quick movie we presented. The animations really helped convey the design.

Next steps

We agreed on a hybrid approach: There would be brand elements that tie the apps together. Both apps would have the same user flow & functionality. However they’d have separate interaction patterns that each user base is familiar with. There was no need to teach an iOS user how Android works, or vice-versa. And each app design is free to take advantage of it’s platforms distinct way of doing things.  And this speeds up development.

From here, our process gets iterative again. Smaller increments of work with light user testing in between. And working closely with the app developers; often times our developers are the first to introduce us to a unique interaction or possibility native to the platform.

Thanks for tuning in, I look forward to sharing the results when the next generation of hit the app store.

Successful software starts with a Design Assessment

Lack of a cohesive product design is the quickest killer of a software project. If you have an idea, you need a design assessment before you ever write your first line of code. And here’s why.

0) What is a design assessment?

sparc SDLC 2

A design assessment is a 3-4 week pre-development process that gives perspective to an entrepreneur’s idea prior to building software.

This process focuses on understanding the goal/vision and working towards being able to show it through a prototype. Often an entire project is too detailed for this short of a timeframe, so we focus on key user-flows. Identify several key features users need, and work towards flushing those out.

A typical assessment can be as quick as 3 weeks with these key phases:

  • Discovery & Research
  • User Experience Design
  • Prototype & Deliver

A typical SPARC assessment team needs the following roles, with one person fulfilling several roles:

  • design strategist
  • user experience designer
  • visual designer
  • UI developer
  • requirements expert
  • project manager
  • software engineer as a technical consultant

One of our most successful assessments was for GWIG – Go Where I GO. GIWG is a product that allows a user to recommend a business to a friend. During the assessment, I filled the early roles of Strategy & UX, with our commercial services Director acting as PM & light requirements. Later into the assessment, we scaled the team with another designer, Matt Brooks, who invested in the idea and began taking the early user flows and adding visual design detail to them.

One simple strategy when working with a new client – keep the assessment fun & make the process painless for them. During GWIG, we added characters from the movie old school to the prototype. Having Gordon Pritchard tell the story was a lot more interesting than a John Doe. And as designers, a good sense of humor was a great motivator.

1) Tailor the results to the Client’s needs

We’ve done dozen’s of assessments this past year. Each assessment has a different goal the client is looking to achieve.

  • For a entrepreneur with an early stage idea looking to raise capital, we often deliver the assessment as a pitch deck for them.
  • For an established product looking to re-design, we deliver detailed requirements & design comps at the results.
  • For a client looking to go straight to development, we create a clickable prototype in HTML. By using production-ready front-end code, the prototype is also first step of development.

In each scenario, the results are tailored to match the clients needs.

2) No wasted effort

When we pitch clients a design assessment rather than jumping straight into building a product, we occasionally get some confusion of if this is an extra step.

One is “What, you don’t want all my money upfront?”

The second is “I don’t want to pay for an extra step, I want to start now.”

Our response is: you’d have to do this anyways. A design and requirements session is required before you can get started building software. It’s part of the process. The only difference with an assessment is we’re compartmentalizing these elements before jumping into a development cycle. It’s expensive to have a development team sitting around waiting for work, it’s even more expensive to have developers building the wrong thing.

With a design assessment, you’re only paying for the part of the process you need now. All of the work is transferable to the next phases of the project.

3) Design is the first step in visualizing your product

When Charlie from GIWG first approached us, he had a napkin sketch of a logo and an idea. He left a lot of room for us as designers to listen to his goal, and design the user experience around those goals. He also appreciated our take on simplicity in the UX. Once we moved past wireframes and began layering on elements of visual design, he was able to begin seeing his vision come to life. It’s incredible what a good collaboration of vision & design can produce.


4) Results you can take on the road

Most entrepreneurs test there idea by discussing with others. There are many components of a solid business plan, but being able to see the final product flushed out is the strongest litmus test. Nothing elicits feedback like being able to see yourself using the finished product.

5) Constantly test your idea and iterate

Design assessments are never meant to be the finished product. Through discussing with others, or living with the prototype for a short time, you’ll see it’s strengths and weaknesses. The design decisions you arrive at during the assessment are not meant to be final, so don’t treat them as such. They’re simply the first iteration – a first testable version of your product that you can learn from and improve upon.

In the 12+ assessments we’ve done, we’ve never gone straight to code with a finished design. We’ve continued to iterate & improve on the original design. It’s this cycle of learning & improving that creates a successful user experience & well designed product.

To Conclude

Using the design assessment process to visualize that idea brings the short-term results of being able to visualize the idea, build a relationship, and test that idea. And the long-term result is better quality software and an easier development process.

Using Keynote during your design process

keynote screen design

Using keynote as an organizer for your thoughts during the design process:

  • Create an outline or screen inventory towards the story I’d like to tell.
  • As I’m working through the wireframes, I’ll record my thoughts as bullets into the keynote
  • Formatting your thoughts – keep it simple, go high level then break out specific UI elements.
  • Most importantly – always be ready to present your ideas, at any stage in the process.

Formalizing designs in a presentation has it’s advantages:

  • Keeps you focused
  • Keeps the audience focused
  • Is portable – can be emailed later w/out lengthy explanation
  • Is progressive – once begun, you can simply layer increasing information on top of the first presentation.
  • Is repeatable – once done, you can leverage the same presentation style for other projects.


Pro-tip: I work almost exclusively in Adobe Illustrator when wire-framing. It works great for layering increasing detail/resolution on the design from functional wireframes to final designs. Since the most recent Keynote software update, Keynote has issues copying vector designs from Illustrator directly to the page. Before you copy an element from Adobe Illustrator, outline the text (Command + Shift + “O”) in Adobe Illustrator, then copy to Keynote. It adds a step in the process, but is quicker than going between Illustrator > Photoshop, and the Keynote/PDF you result with is high quality with a smaller file size. Small file size is key if you’re uploading multiple version to Basecamp or sharing in email. 


Always be ready to present

I think part of being a good designer is to constantly look back and analyze your habits: where or from whom they came from. Think back to the art director who taught me to do one more iteration. Or when I learned to create one more design that makes you uncomfortable. Most often I trace many things I do well back to my first year of architecture studio and the design habits that I carried forward from there.


Always be ready to present.

One of the habit instilled early on was to always be ready to present. period. A teacher will walk by your desk after you’ve been up all night, and in a casual manner, ask you what you’re working on. easy right? Not always. Sometimes it hardest to explain what’s seems to work in your head, much less have the “work” in a state where you can show it to others. There is always a very messy series of iterations before the final design starts to emerge. Failures are great to learn from, even if you suddenly need to present your failures to others.

These days, our design team works in an Agile software development environment. It’s loud and chaotic. And priorities shift daily, sometimes hourly. Staying focused is hard. Being able to switch gears and talk about a design to co-workers or a client is essential. Sometimes it’s a keynote presentation, or PDF post to basecamp. More often then not it’s walking a client or developers through a raw illustrator artboard. The process & the failures & where the final work is starting to emerge. I’ve been able to observe in our junior designers: it’s these agile, micro presentations that get you comfortable talking about your ideas in any audience.

Encourage feedback through presenting.

Showing your work should always have a goal – some question you’re looking to have answered a little more complex than “do you like it”. A goal to present “something” by close of business with the client/team helps keep you accountable. We use basecamp a lot for this. It keeps the process of presenting work informal & conversational. It also gets the designer out of their heads-down mode and forces communication. Most often designers would be happier without feedback. The simple act of posting a design is huge for both parties: For the client, it adds transparency and let’s them participate in the design process. For the designer, if gives them pause to collect their thoughts; A chance to articulate thoughts & “finish” something, if only for the day.

In the end, it doesn’t matter the state of the project, the size of the audience or how you deliver your thoughts. As you design, you should always be ready to present.