No User Guide Needed: 10 Secrets of Great Health Care Design

By Rhett Woods | January 3, 2017 | Rally Health

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We were really pleased when Sarah Martin, an Assistant VP at Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, talked about using Rally recently — not just the fact that she loves it, but why.

“Rally’s very intuitive to use,” Sarah pointed out. “Big buttons, very colorful, you’re really able to understand how to use it without a user guide. I mean, who needs a user guide for Facebook or Twitter? It’s the same exact thing.”

That basically sums up our entire approach. Simple, user-friendly design is at the core of the Rally® experience and it infuses everything we do, whether you’re checking in to your daily activity Missions or signing up for your health plan at open enrollment.

When you look at some of the health care websites out there, they’re really confusing. They overwhelm you with text, there are no clear directions, they’re hard to navigate, links are sometimes broken, and none of it is personalized to the user’s individual needs. In some ways, the broken experience of most health sites is a reflection of the fragmented system that they’re a part of, but that’s little consolation to the hapless user who is just trying to choose a health plan or find out how much it will cost to visit a particular doctor.

At Rally, we wanted to make the health care experience simpler, so that people can find the information they need on the first try. In fact, we wanted to go beyond that: We wanted to help Rally users take simple steps that could help improve their health over the long term. To do that, we had to make products that people could not only use, but wanted to use, because they’re easy, accessible, and fun.

We’ve spent years refining our approach, starting with our wellness platform Rally EngageSM, next with our doctor search tool Rally ConnectSM, and now with Rally ChoiceSM, which helps users choose their health insurance plans and other benefits. There’s been a lot of time, work, and thought put into making these products. Here’s what we’ve learned.

  1. Keep it simple

Yes, this is a design mantra, and for good reason: It works. You see this most vividly in our signature Health Survey. That’s where most people get started on Rally, and it’s the centerpiece of our user-friendly approach. We get to know our users as individuals by asking simple, straightforward questions, with big, readable buttons for the answers. Plus, there’s just one question per screen. You answer, and then zip along to the next question. It’s so easy a child could do it, and this is why we get over 95 percent completion rates in a single session.

    2. Make it colorful

Never underestimate the impact of color on websites. The smart use of color can literally brighten up a user’s experience, as well as make different functions of the site easier to find and comprehend.

For some reason, there seems to be a rule that all health sites have to look the same. When you look at the vast majority of medical sites, you see a lot of dense, confusing text on a plain background. Talk about cold and clinical! From the beginning, we designed the Rally palette to be fun and modern, with lots of attractive, warm colors like oranges, yellows, and reds, and cool-looking illustrations.

Then think about how you’ll use those colors. On Rally Engage, actionable buttons and CTAs (calls to action) are rendered in green, to give a sense of “positive action,” rather than boring medical blue. When you look at your Health Profile, red, yellow, and green color codes give you an instant sense of where you’re at with your weight, diet, stress, and other health factors.

It’s also important to make accessibility a priority, since “good” design is only good to the extent that everyone can make use of it. So at Rally, we designed all our colors while staying mindful of the fact that not everyone sees color the same way.

    3. Plan to iterate

You’re not always going to hit it exactly right the first time out, so make revisions part of your plan. For starters, you’ll quickly learn that certain things you thought were fine need to be improved — everyone does. But don’t stop once you’ve gotten things polished. Too many sites launch and then never change again, even as their user base grows and develops new or different needs. Users get tired of seeing the same old content and the same old functionality every day. Listen to your users and clients constantly and evolve the product as you go to make it more relevant and responsive.

For instance, even though our Health Survey is very successful, it turned out that some users who speak English as their second language were having trouble with some peculiarly American idioms that popped up in the questions. One of the questions included the phrase “making ends meet,” which is familiar to people raised in America but was confusing to some others. So we took that feedback and scrubbed the content one more time to remove idiomatic expressions like that.

“One of the things I love about working for this company is that we actually get to evolve and iterate,” says Rally Creative Director Jess Tschirki, who has been instrumental in creating the Rally look and feel from the beginning. “We get to see how users are completing these actions. The checklist we normally go through is, ‘Could this little thing be simpler or easier to do? Is it intuitive? Is it understandable at first glance? Could I give this to my mom, who still communicates via fax machine, and have her understand it?’ ”

    4. Build it for everyone

That leads me to a great point: Those of us who work in tech or design have to be really mindful of our backgrounds and remember that we’re designing for a wide range of people, not just the tech elite. Your users may lack easy or fast Internet access, have older-model computers or phones, or have disabilities or chronic health issues. Especially in the health care space, it’s important to be very aware of that and make sure the experience is the same for them as it is for a tech-savvy person with the latest smartphone who wouldn’t think twice about ordering their dinner from an app.

    5. Ask one question at a time

We follow one important guideline at Rally: Ask just one question at a time. This means no long, scrolling forms or complicated questionnaires to fill out. In our Health Survey, for instance, we ask just one question per screen. Like, ‘Do you have a primary care doctor? Yes or no.’ Then the next screen comes up. ‘Do you smoke? Yes or no.’ And so on. You can swipe through the questions super fast without ever feeling bogged down.

It’s the same with our doctor search tool, Rally Connect: ‘Are you looking for a doctor, hospital, or treatment?’ You pick one and then move on to the next question. Good design means never overwhelming the consumer with questions. Instead, guide them on a directed path. It speeds things up and makes everything much simpler, too. As mentioned above, our Health Survey completion rate is a phenomenal 95 percent, and I am convinced this approach is a key reason.

    6. Favor icons over text

Throughout our site we use icons and illustrations to help guide the user. Our icon style is based on internationally recognized symbols, like signs for “don’t walk” or for wheelchair access, which help people when they’re travelling around the world and don’t speak the language. If you land in Istanbul and you don’t speak a word of Turkish, you can look for these modern glyphs and still find the bathroom or taxi stand. Icons are a core navigation element at Rally because we understand that not everybody has the desire or ability to navigate using alphanumeric lettering. Instead you can interpret the site visually and start using it right away, without a user guide.

    7. Prioritize your information

On most health-related sites, users are presented with a bunch of of text blocks, with embedded links to more text. How are they supposed to know where to start or what’s crucial or not? It’s overwhelming. On Rally, we make the priorities clear. The crucial stuff is right there in the center, with big colorful letters or symbols. The secondary or tertiary stuff is below, or maybe a click away, so users know right off what’s important and what isn’t.

    8. Move with purpose

This is a subtle thing, but throughout the Rally experience, we often use a sliding, left-to-right movement from one screen to the next. Swiping on mobile devices is common, but we also use it on our desktop version. We do it because a left-to-right sliding motion creates a feeling of momentum that actually encourages the user to finish whatever it is they’re doing. Maybe it’s because the left-to-right movement mimics the way we read, at least in the Western world. To that point, some of our international versions are different. Our Arabic-language version is reversed, for example, with movement from right to left, because that’s the familiar direction in that culture. But there’s a system to the design.

    9. Play games

We use game theory techniques that are proven to keep people motivated. Point systems and progress bars are great ways to encourage people to take action. When users take our Health Survey, which starts the process of personalizing their Rally experience, there’s a persistent progress bar on the bottom of the screen that lets them know how much they’ve completed. This not only lets them feel a sense of satisfaction at what they’ve accomplished, and relief that they’re that much closer to the end, but the idea of completing the progress bar also provides a subtle motivation to finish. We use little touches like that throughout all our products, and the results are clear. Over and over again, our users talk about how simple and fun it is to use Rally.

    10. Design like you work at Apple, Amazon, or Netflix

In our view, it should be as easy to get health care as it is to buy music online, where with just a couple of clicks, you can see an entire song list, lyrics, and discography. Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, and other great tech companies have made it incredibly easy for users to get what they want — why shouldn’t it be the same for seeing your health records, scheduling an appointment, or figuring out the little things you can to do to keep yourself healthy?

Thinking like these big companies can lead you to all kinds of new and interesting ideas. At Rally, for instance, we ask ourselves, “Why can’t you check out of a hospital from your phone, like you can check out of a hotel? Or schedule a doctor’s appointment right when you need one, just like you call a car from Uber or Lyft?” I’m not saying we’ll be offering those features anytime soon. What I can guarantee is that we will continue to think through each and every element in our quest to make Rally as easy to use as the best sites around.

Rhett Woods is Chief Creative Officer at Rally Health.


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