The burgeoning of user experience (UX) design professionals was evident to me at the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) Boston Chapter’s annual conference that I and over 1,000 people were privileged to attend at the Sheraton Boston on May 19th!  I rounded the corner to registration just in time to hear the announcer say “please make your way to the ballroom, we are about to begin.”  I had planned to do some pre-show networking but the morning commute was enough of a hurdle, so I decided meeting people would have to wait and there would be plenty of opportunity for it throughout the day.  I picked up my badge along with a “first-time attendee” ribbon and a lime green “I’m Looking” sticker from the stack placed next to the cornflower blue “I’m Hiring” stickers.  How thoughtful!  I proceeded to the ballroom past the people seated in the back and made my way to an empty seat close to the stage.  I’m not shy.

The opening general session was very casual and more of a quick business/housekeeping meeting that I had expected.  Despite its brevity, I learned two important things. Firstly, nearly everyone in the UX profession came from another field so I was in good company as a career-changer.  Secondly, while the practice of UX is still young and in need of championing, practitioners are in high-demand and the work is among the most enjoyable and well paid professions.

Eager to learn, I set off to attend a total of seven information rich sessions focused on research, design and strategy.  Yes, there are many aspects of UX and the different functions became more clear to me throughout the day.  Large companies might have individuals or even teams with titles like UX Researcher, UX Designer (or UX/UI Designer), and UX Strategist.  I’m personally leaning toward designer/strategist.

I met some great people throughout the day who have passion for making people’s lives better through creating more enjoyable experiences for the humans who want or need to interact with technology.  I took copious notes on topics such as machine learning (artificial intelligence), service design (think ENTIRE customer experience) and behavioral economics (motivating people to take action or change their behavior).  The speakers were easy to relate to and clearly demonstrated their experience in way that I could imagine myself presenting someday.

It was midday and I hadn’t made any real connections yet.  There were table talks set up where attendees could opt in to join a conversation around a specific topic over lunch.  This would be the best way to ensure I engaged with the right people so I grabbed a bagged lunch and made my way to the table talks.  After a brief scan of the room…Education…Financial…Research (no thanks, I’d already attended two research sessions that morning)…Agile (maybe)… I sat down at the Healthcare table.

This generous bunch of folks allowed me to capture a group photograph for the #MeetAtUXPA Twitter photo contest—I won!  Free drinks for everyone 😉

In respect of your time, I will briefly share what I learned about the focus that most interests me at present–UX design for healthcare.

Healthcare may be the most challenging space to practice UX design and it can take a long time to see the fruits of your labor, according to those at the table who practice UX research and design for healthcare.  There are three reasons for this complex delay that I picked up on while attending earlier sessions and during our discussion.

  1. Research for human factors and ergonomics design often involves acquiring specific simulated environments and final validation testing is a lengthy process that must meet requirements specified by the Center for Device and Radiological Health (CDRH), a branch of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dedicated to evaluating and approving submissions for new medical devices and software.
  2. It can be difficult to find test subjects due to HIPAA privacy rules and when the patient condition is so rare that the study must be done across multiple regions to find a statistically significant sample.
  3. Software systems for accessing and managing patient information have their own set of challenges.  While you might think that healthcare is a patient-centric environment, anyone who has experienced an emergency room or having to schedule multiple doctors appointments can attest that the system is not focused on the patient experience.  Obstacles to achieving a better experience for the patients include national politics, policy debates, funding sources, lack of competition and lack of incentive for direct care providers to adopt new solutions.

Considering all of the challenges listed above and others that I haven’t mentioned, I would venture to say that practicing UX (and service design) in healthcare is a high risk endeavor, given that if some thing goes wrong it can cause bodily harm, yet with the highest potential reward for those who use the medical devices to save lives or increase a persons quality of life by helping them better manage symptoms of disease.  I’ve always admired medical professionals because I personally wasn’t born with the tolerance for what they must endure.  For this reason, the idea of positively impacting health and healthcare through design greatly appeals to me.

The connections I made during the lunch time Table Talk were enriched by subsequent encounters that day and even an unexpected job lead!  I’m very happy to be a part of UXPA and the UX community at large and I look forward to contributing at every step of my journey.

What is your UX focus?  Please share your focus in the comments, a challenge you face and a rewarding outcome that you hope to achieve.  

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