At the beginning of the semester, our group was presented with the following problem: How might we redesign the clinical approach to nutrition to incorporate parents and provide optimal nutritional support? We were tasked with bringing nutrition to the forefront of care in the pediatric cardiac ICU at Texas Children’s Hospital, where patients’ heart conditions often make it difficult for staff to promote patients’ transition to bottle/breast feeding post-surgery and infant growth. A focus on including parents was important to our problem owner, so we identified them as an important aspect of our problem and a guiding consideration for our solution. Throughout our evaluation of the problem situation, we were careful to let our assigned problem and the stakeholders involved define the solution, rather than entering the problem with a solution in mind.

We conducted observations at the hospital and interviews with patient parents and came away with the impression that parents wanted to be involved in their child’s care and were often willing to ask questions and offer insights. Parents knew their children on a more nuanced level than the hospital staff, and we could capitalize on their expertise in our solution. In order to direct parents’ attention to nutrition and empower them to pose nutrition questions in the hospital setting, we determined that offering parents a real-time update on their child’s nutrition plan and growth could be a pointed goal for our solution. While in the hospital, we were also able to evaluate our resources for our solution. We were particularly drawn to the hospital’s brand new bedside portal screens, which would allow hospital staff to display medical information during rounds and use the touchscreen interface to navigate. We identified this “existing solution” as a point of possible entry for our own solution.

Over the next few weeks, we prototyped a nutrition dashboard according to what nutrition information the doctors and dieticians identified as important. When asked about what information should be displayed on the nutrition dashboard home screen, both the doctor and the dietician emphasized growth charts and nutritional goals as key elements of their own clinical decision-making tools as well as resources for parent reflection. We designed the prototype with a familiar-looking layout, to minimize barriers to usability. We also incorporated things like an ICU glossary, which we felt would empower parents to understand their child’s care plan and have the vocabulary to ask valuable questions.

Through prototype testing, however, our team learned an important lesson about designing for a specific audience in the healthcare setting. One of our parent testers, after expressing excitement over the endless possibilities that he saw in our prototype, solemnly amended, “I don’t think I’d want to show this to my wife.” We were confused. He and his wife were active and concerned parents. We were so sure this would be a great resource for the both of them. “This growth chart here,” he continued, “This would hurt her. The doctors here know my wife and I pretty well. We know our child is not going to be the size of a healthy baby, but the doctors know that reminding my wife of that would make her upset. I don’t like to compare my baby to other babies. She’s my baby.”

It was then that I realized that creating something for an audience is an iterative process, and although we did not have the foresight to predict this parent’s critique, it was our duty as product designers to ensure that the needs of the user, not just the “client,” were met. I understood then that user experience designs, especially in the healthcare setting, deal with nuanced human factors. In order to build an interface for patient parents, we have to feel their experience, value their input, and adapt accordingly. In the final version of our prototype, we changed the World Health Organization growth chart to a personal growth chart, which compared the baby’s growth to their own past weight/length measurements. For parents, their child is key, which is why we chose them as the focus of our solution in the first place. Physicians are the experts in medicines, but parents are the experts in their child.

As the end of my senior year at Rice University approached, I struggled to find an answer to that dreaded question: “What do you want to do after graduation?” Once you reach your twenties, people seem to think that saying, “I don’t know,” is no longer acceptable. A concise answer is always preferred. My answer (“Something in healthcare probably, but also focused on the humanities; I still want to be creative and make art.”) didn’t satisfy most people. The prospect of creating a unique solution to a healthcare-related problem in the Medical Media Arts Lab course at Rice excited me — this class was like a mini version of my dream job, even though that dream job didn’t even have a name. My introduction to user experience and user interface design has led me to pursue an apprenticeship in product design with a company who specializes in healthcare applications and solutions. I am more excited than ever to take the lessons I learned with my team and our friends at Texas Children’s Hospital forward into my career. I will always remember that patient-centered design should be just that — centered on the patient.