Long story short: This was a large project that involved working with several digital product teams at the National Cancer Institute. Each of the product teams wanted user feedback due to having users use their products in unintended ways that impacted their work. ** I was a part of a two-person team that conducted user research with doctors, cancer researchers and patients, and provided recommendations to help make research and education tools for patients and doctors easy to understand and navigate.

Process

The goal of this project was to have digital product teams at the National Cancer Institute sign up to have their digital products go through a round of user testing, and collaborate with our research team to receive feedback and design recommendations. Each individual project started with a meeting with product stakeholders to understand their needs and their users. Due to dealing with medical topics, more research was done to understand the context of how products were used. After that, we would do an informal evaluation of the site to see what possible usability issues could be explored during testing. For example, when working on a site for dietary supplement information, I reviewed issues related to search functions and results.

After that, I would work with my colleague and client to develop an interview script and tasks to see how users would navigate through using each tool. In the testing lab, we’d set up equipment to record users’ actions during their interactions on desktop and mobile.

For example, for the dietary supplements tool, I’d asked about:

  • If users understood how to use advanced search
  • When users looked up information on supplements, why, and how
  • How well they understood the information presented on each supplement
  • How quickly they could find the information they were looking for on a supplement

For a project on collecting dietary information for trial research, I reviewed the site to understand the different ways that users could enter their information, and asked users about how well they understood what information they were being asked to enter. Based on stakeholder needs, I focused on easy-to fix issues, as well as larger issues that would need longer-term plans to address.

Results

During testing, product teams would watch research sessions and contribute to identifying problems and brainstorming about solutions. As a part of presenting possible design solutions to teams, I would start by brainstorming and sketching with a colleague, based on the feedback we received during testing.

For the dietary supplement tool, I worked with my colleague to brainstorm new search and search result screens (above). I then came up with lo-fi wireframes to be a starting point for their team to start working on.

For the dietary information collection tool, I made lo-fi wireframes for specific elements that the product team wanted design feedback on, including the stepper, search results, and date displays (below).

Lessons Learned

  • I learned a lot over the course of working on this project, but the main lesson I’ve internalized is the importance of real empathy. This often gets used as a buzzword, but it’s necessary when you’re working with people that are greatly impacted by the products you help build. Working with people that are battling cancer means that you are getting feedback on products that can impact their lives. That requires demonstrating respect and understanding in even the smallest details as you’re doing research. Knowing how to listen becomes critical, as well as understanding that their experience being a participant means that you are impacting them as well.
  • The importance of user advocacy. Advocating for changes means more than arguing over button colors; it’s about recognizing how a product can potentially help or harm its users, and still being willing to advocate despite limitations. User needs and business/organizational limitations can be a challenge to balance, so it’s important to think of creative solutions that can address the core of potential issues.
  • How to work within strict limitations. The limitations that come with government and healthcare regulations make it a challenge to come up with design solutions. Different teams have different resources and needs, so working with those teams requires a deep understanding of their short and long term goals.