Evolution of User Experience for life sciences
Since 2017 we have seen the slow and steady adoption of User Experience (UX) within the life sciences. User Experience is an evidence-based design process that centres on the behaviours and needs of users.
The clear benefits of UX offered in the retail and consumer sectors have been slow to percolate to other more complex sectors such as the life sciences. As the benefits of adoption of UX come to be realised, we see steady and strong growth in the R&D life sciences sector.
The retail and consumer services sectors have long recognised the value of User Experience. This early realisation and long-term investment can be seen by their higher levels of maturity over other sectors in The Design Frontier report, which surveyed more than 2,200 companies compiled by InVision (1). The ‘retail and consumer durables’ sector have a combined level 4 and 5 maturity of over 24% in comparison to the health and pharmaceutical industry which currently stands at a combined level 4 and 5 maturity of 14%.
Especially in retail, the correlation between a solid user experience and ROI is direct and easy to demonstrate through unambiguous measures such as conversion rate, and it is simple to track improvements through A:B testing; in fact, the most successful consumer companies today have adopted user experience as a core component of their business. In 2000, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos noted that: “In our first year we didn’t spend a single dollar on advertising… the best dollars spent are those we use to improve the customer experience.” (2)
Such correlation becomes more tenuous in enterprise environments and particularly in life science, where historically the users of the applications were not the end consumers, but scientists, statisticians, analysts and managers. Within this environment the ROI of any UX activity is harder to calculate definitively, as many other factors come into play between the user experience of any application and the commercial success of the company.
However, by 2017 most life science companies were beginning to recognise that the inherent complexity of their industry was being compounded by applications and devices that lacked attention to ‘usability’, and that efficiency savings and process improvements could result from some investment in this area (3). This also came about at a time when employees were becoming acutely aware of the vast chasm of experience between their consumer technology at home and that provided in their place of work.
Many large life science companies began recruiting ‘usability consultants’ with the aim of improving their applications but, partly due to lack of knowledge of this space and partly to the ROI not being proven, did not invest heavily enough for real benefits to be realised. Instead, these UX resources focused on ‘low hanging fruit’ – quick wins with short-term gains, often focusing on aesthetic improvements rather than addressing more fundamental design issues that were impacting the user experience of scientists. This proved to be a double-edged sword; on one hand these efforts did provide solid case studies that demonstrated a level of ROI and paved the way for more significant investments going forward, but on the other hand reinforced a perennial misconception of UX, that it is all about the user interface (UI); the layout, colours, fonts and images displayed to users while interacting with an application or device.....
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