Cigarette smoking and the ROI of Design Thinking

Analogies have been a major part of how we explain usability, user experience and/or design thinking to audiences and clients (and potential clients). Many of these analogies involve automotive technology ( see e.g. Crash-test dummies and the Usability of EHRs ).

During many of these conversations we sometimes make up some analogies, that are worth sharing. This week during a conversation regarding the ROI of Design Thinking, Usability research and user-centered Design with Lawrence Wolpert, Director of Usability Services at the MedStar Institute for Innovation 's National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare (We promised him that we'd give him credit for inspiring this blog post!) somehow the long-term effects of cigarette smoking got related to the Return on Investment (ROI) of Human Factors in healthcare.

A little background: One of my first jobs back when I was in college was working for a psychological study of adolescent cigarette smoking. We were doing surveys, and other research to try to find strategies to convince young people NOT to start smoking. One of the major outcomes of this line of study was a better understanding of the reasons that the young people smoked. We found that they were not thinking about the long-term negative effects of smoking (Everyone knows that smoking causes cancer) and were instead focused on the short-term benefits (some social, some physical) of smoking.

Adolescents are not thinking about the lung cancer that they will likely die from when they are in their 60s (or sooner). We recommended that anti-smoking campaigns focus more on the short-term immediate negatives associated with smoking--Bad breath, yellow teeth, the smell, and the monetary cost of smoking, etc.

Usability professionals, old and new, know about the long-term ROI of doing user research, design thinking and/or user centered design. Designing to match the mental models of your uses, for their needs and workflows can save a LOT of money. Development costs are reduced, training and documentation cost are also reduced.

It is way easier to support a program or system that makes sense to it's users, so associated costs go WAY down. In Healthcare the ROI is also measured in lives - see How bad UI killed Jenny

Developers are not thinking about the issues that they will likely have to deal with when they produce software systems using an Engineering-centric Design paradigm. So we recommend that Usability campaigns focus on the more short-term immediate positives associated with Usability, Human Factors, Design Thinking, User Experience or whatever they are calling it this year.

When writing up this post, I came across a great quote from Dominira Saul of Akendi,

The money spent on marketing bad designs, building bad designs, supporting bad designs dwarfs the money people are willing to spend to ensure that the design of their products support user needs, and are effective, efficient and satisfying to use.

Let's fix this!