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Posted: 13 July 2022
By Liz Roberts, Product Manager at GripAble

Learning to think like a designer

How does user-centred design differ from more traditional consulting methods? In this post Liz Roberts, Product Manager at digital health start-up GripAble, shares her perspective.

Patient using GripAble device with therapist
GripAble's digital rehabilitation service helps people recover upper limb capabilities after a stroke or trauma.

If someone had asked me a year ago if I understood user research, I would have confidently said yes. After all, I spent eight years working for a best-practice research consulting firm in Washington, DC, leading multiple projects, managing a team of researchers, and conducting at least 1500 interviews with healthcare professionals from around the world. So when I made a career change to work in user research and product management for GripAble, a small health tech start-up in London, I felt confident that I had all the skills I needed to be successful.

I was only partially right. Yes, a lot of my skills – interviewing, analysis, project management, communication – were directly transferrable.  But, when it came to applying these skills to developing technology products, I realised I was missing something fundamental: I could understand why something was a problem, and highlight potential solutions, but I didn’t know how to make sure those solutions would actually work for users.

“I could understand why something was a problem, and highlight potential solutions, but I didn’t know how to make sure those solutions would actually work for users.”

In the summer of 2021, GripAble hired Panda to support a critical discovery project looking at how we might make it simpler for our users to set and track therapeutic goals. Their task was to help us answer that question, whilst introducing some user-centred design skills and processes at GripAble. Luckily for me, that meant a lot of time spent with Al learning the user-centred design ropes!

We began by understanding the problem. We talked to users and clinicians to see how they experienced GripAble, and how they thought about setting and tracking therapeutic goals. This was familiar territory for me, but it was great learning how to map user jobs, needs and pain points out visually in Miro.

Then, with Al’s guidance, I used all that information to build an Insights Library – not just quotes or facts to support my understanding of a problem, but a living resource that helps turn what users say into actionable opportunities, providing a vital link between what we’ve learned from user research and what we are building.

For example we discovered that having a clear goal is valuable to users not just because it gives them something concrete to aim for, but because it gives them a platform to monitor and discuss their progression with their therapist. Regaining hand and arm function might not be linear or even easy to quantify, but by helping patients set goals we can provide them with a path towards something they really value – hope.

So we designed our solution to make goal setting and tracking a collaborative activity, with questions designed to get therapist and patient talking about what’s possible, what needs to be done and how well things are going. The emphasis is more on the rehabilitation journey than on the target itself. And crucially we’ve tested these journeys with patients and therapists, incorporating feedback into each iteration.

This ongoing connection with our users is what makes the solution work. This is what was missing from my days as a consultant in Washington DC. And this is how we we intend to continue designing our services at GripAble.

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