What all UX Designers Can Learn From the Recently-Released UX Toolkit for Life Sciences

by Sheena Lyonnais

posted on 03-23-2018

A new UX Toolkit for Life Sciences (UXLS) is indicative that UX is not only gaining traction in complex industries beyond conventional technology and app design organizations, but also that there is still plenty for UX designers to gain from sharing resources.

The UXLS toolkit, released mid-February, includes six case studies and 10 methodologies that span user research, UI design, and UX evaluation. It marks the culmination of two years’ work involving more than 50 UX specialists from more than 15 pharmaceutical, biotechnology and software companies that are members of the not-for-profit organization the Pistoia Alliance.

While some of the UX methods presented in the toolkit may be familiar to those already working in design, personas and prototyping come to mind, others take inspiration from the scientific side. Though they were developed for working with life science professionals (scientists), the methodologies provide a detailed guide that could be adapted for strategic use across a broad spectrum of disciplines.

Why the UXLS Toolkit Matters

The UXLS Toolkit recognizes that the life sciences industry typically falls behind other industries when it comes to user experience. By creating this toolkit, it hopes to enhance research and development in life sciences—and beyond.

“The potential for good UX design to impact life science R&D is significant – from improving the UX of clinical trials and making it easier for patients to participate, to delivering cutting-edge UX design that supports the ‘laboratory of the future’. UX design should not be considered a remote or niche area, and we hope that our UXLS toolkit enables more companies to realize this potential,” Dr. Steve Arlington, President of the Pistoia Alliance, said in a press release.

The toolkit is based on three iterative stages:

  1. Research – To help understand audience and tasks
  2. Design – Process of generating ideas and prototypes
  3. Evaluation – Capturing user feedback, not just at the end of a project but throughout

UX Approach) This screenshot from the UXLS Toolkit shows an iterative approach to UX.

If you are a UX designer, you’re probably already familiar with these concepts, but what stands out about this toolkit is the emphasis on ongoing evaluation to support all stages of the UX design process. Is this something you are currently doing in your UX practice?

The Four UX Principles for Life Sciences (and Beyond)

The scientific approach is also something to be considered. Take, for example, the four UX principles that the team has established to guide UX designers working in the scientific community. This includes:

  1. Observe in Context – This principle suggests immersing yourself in observation of an environment to truly understand the user’s specific location(s) and conditions in which the solution is used
  2. Factor Complexity – Understand the solution beyond the solution itself. How does it fit into the user’s overall practice?
  3. Examine Tools & Data – Think outside the box and consider all tools used in conjunction with the solution
  4. Innovate – Innovate, but be mindful of a user’s established practices

These principles are data-driven and rooted in observation and iteration. By looking at the user’s practices outside of the solution itself, the principles favor a holistic approach to UX design that takes into account a user’s additional needs and expectations.

How the 10 UX Methods Identified in the UXLS Toolkit Can Help You, Regardless of the Industry You Work In

Perhaps the biggest resource to come out the toolkit are the 10 recommended UX methods and the thorough breakdown of how to approach each one. While each method includes references specific to the life sciences community, they are by no means exclusive to other disciplines.

The 10 methods are:

  1. Task Modeling – Understanding what tasks users want to accomplish before designing solutions
  2. Personas – Understanding who your users are, what motivates them and what their pain points are
  3. Contextual Inquiry – Observing users and “asking the right questions”
  4. User Interviews – Talk directly with users
  5. Jobs to be Done – Understanding what jobs users want to get done so you can design better solutions
  6. Card Sorting – Organizing direct user feedback
  7. Prototyping – Building out concepts of solutions
  8. System Usability Scale – Using metrics to track usability
  9. UX Metrics Using HEART – Using Google’s HEART framework to assess happiness, engagement, adoption, retention, and task success
  10. Usability Testing – Getting your solution in front of users to find out how well it actually works

You might already be using some of these methodologies, but not all of them are standard UX practices. Take Contextual Inquiry, for example. This method is part of the user research stage and involves directly observing users as they work in their unique environment and asking them questions about what they do and why they do it in order to, “uncover otherwise ‘hidden’ insights that users may not naturally think to share.”

Like all the methods, contextual inquiry is broken down into project stage (user research), time frame (1-2 weeks), difficulty (low), materials needed (note-taking materials, for example) and what this method is good for: “understanding where and how users actually work” and “uncovering workarounds, references, and shortcuts.”

It also includes detailed steps on how plan and prepare for the session, run the session, and analyze and report on the session. Plus, there are resources you can download and related case studies you can explore. This is a great resource for making a case for implementing new user research or UX design practices regardless of what industry you work in.

The tool also contains a helpful component to help UX designers understand where each method works best:

UX Method) This screenshot from the UXLS Toolkit shows when to use each method.

Understanding UX

The toolkit shows that all UX designers can benefit from shared and transparent resources.

If this inspired you, have a look at a series we’ve been running on the Adobe Blog that offers a comprehensive guide to UX research and UX design. Written by Christopher Murphy, a Belfast-based designer and educator, the series shares additional resources and recommendations to help you become a better UX designer. Find the links below.

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Topics: Creativity, Design

Products: Creative Cloud