What is Design?
When we think of the word design, many people think of architecture, graphic design, or the consumer products we use every day.
But whether we realize it or not, design is all around us. Nearly everything you come into contact with—from the newspaper you read in the morning with your cup of coffee to the coffee cup itself to the Keurig machine you used to prepare it—has all been designed.
The dictionary defines design as “purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.” However, design is not just limited to the products we use—the same is true of the experiences we have. Ever attend an incredible concert? Design, in part, was responsible. Ever had a terrible experience at the DMV? Design (or lack thereof) played a part.
Why is Thoughtful Design Important?
Humans love order. It’s hardwired in our brains. Whether we realize it or not, we love finding patterns and other ways to help us “translate” the world around us (especially when we encounter something unfamiliar). Although some people are more right-brained and “creative” than others, order, hierarchy, and other psychological methods of translation are still important.
Think about stop lights. Every stop light in the United States has the exact same order and design to it: red on top, green on bottom, yellow in the middle (and maybe a turn arrow thrown in somewhere). While their consistency is merely convenient for most of us, there is incredible intentionality behind their design that is vital for others: Because some people are red-green colorblind, it is crucial that the red lights and green lights always be in the same place. The consequences of inconsistent or thoughtless design would be disastrous.
Good, thoughtful design understands and takes into account the ways our brains process information and make the object of our design as easy to understand as possible. There are many psychological elements that come into play. But when I say that design is psychological, I’m not saying that you should use psychology to “trick” people into coming into your practice; rather, you’re being intentional about assisting them in every way possible, as they are making a life-changing decision and are unfamiliar with the process.
How Can I "Design" My Practice?
Design helps us translate the world around us by making unfamiliar experiences easier to comprehend. This is especially important in the medical field, where the average person may be a bit confused about the medical situation they are facing, the treatment options available to them, and what the process will look like. You also need to factor unique circumstances into the design of your patients’ experience—after all, elderly cataract patients struggling with their vision may have very different considerations and concerns than millennials seeking LASIK or other elective procedures.
As we saw in last edition’s article, good branding is all about telling an authentic and consistent story. Applied to design, this means that every aspect of your practice must be telling the same story to patients.
It’s a well-understood principle in the design industry that the function of any given object should inform the design of that given object. Applied to your practice, this can happen a great many ways. If the goal of your website is to attract new leads through content generation, a blog would be an important component. If you want patients to spend a minimal amount of time in your waiting room, then focusing on staffing and patient wait time would be a vital piece of your practice’s design.
True, most physicians don’t think of “designing” the experience of being in their office, but many do consider the design of their website, their business cards, and their marketing. Let’s take a look at those elements.
ON YOUR WEBSITE
There are certainly best practices when it comes to designing your website with your patients in mind. We’ve all been to websites that were hard to navigate, didn’t perform well on our smartphones, or didn’t seem to have the information we were looking for.
When designing your website, important considerations include:
• Making sure your website is mobile-friendly;
• Organizing information so that it is easy to locate (both within the website and in the top navigation);
• Ensuring that visual elements and typography are organized in a clear visual hierarchy;
• Ensuring that all graphics, images, and other visual elements are consistent with your branding, including a similar color scheme;
• Implementing clear calls-to-action so your patient knows what to do next (as I like to say, is it “idiot-proof”?); and
• Making your website’s content easy to understand. If your homepage is filled with medical jargon, you’re likely to scare people away. Focus on the benefit to your patients, not on the complicated medical procedures you need to get them there.
Remember that less is more. The simpler it is for patients to find what they’re looking for, the better an experience they’ll have on your website and the more positive they will feel about your brand.
IN YOUR MARKETING
Your website is arguably the first and most integral piece of your marketing—chances are it’s the first place many patients will go to find more information. However, your marketing channels are a much more comprehensive picture of your practice. Here are some other considerations to take into account when you take a holistic assessment of your marketing:
• Are you taking advantage of the different platforms available, or are you only marketing in one channel?
• Is your messaging consistent across all platforms?
• Are you considering the different audiences you’re catering to on different platforms? Facebook or newspaper advertisements may be an effective medium to reach older audiences, but are you attracting the younger crowd on Instagram?
• Is your branding visible and consistent on all your marketing?
• Is your advertising measurable? You can’t just expect to throw your marketing out there and hope something sticks. If the most aesthetically beautiful ad that has ever been made doesn’t drive sales, it’s not good marketing; you must have a way to measure the results and make adjustments if necessary.
IN YOUR PRACTICE
If you’ve been to one doctor’s office, you’ve been to them all. They’re all the same: uncomfortable padded chairs cramming people together like sardines, old mangled issues of Newsweek and National Geographic sitting on a coffee table, and more than a few patients who are silently praying that someone doesn’t take the seat next to them.
That’s the typical waiting room. It’s not well thought out. There’s no intention. No personality. Your appointment is an obligation, not a delight. Which waiting room would you rather be in?
Design asks, “Do I want my clinic to feel like every other medical clinic out there? What can I do to make this experience unique and memorable?” What if you could make your patients’ visit the most enjoyable part of their day?
Not only is thoughtful design important when it comes to your website and marketing (both digital and otherwise), but the design of your practice is just as meaningful. As noted in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Poor design may cost you patients.”1 Here are some elements of your physical practice to take into consideration:
• What is a patient’s experience from the moment they walk in the door? Have a policy in place that dictates how they are greeted, what steps they need to take before being seen for their appointment, and sets goals for average wait time.
• Are your hours competitive?
• What is your office forms policy? Do patients have to fill them out in the office, or are they able to complete them online prior to their visit?
• Do you have music playing in your waiting room? If so, what type?
• Do you have an option for patients to pay online?
• What’s the furniture like in your waiting room? What magazines are on the coffee table?
THOUGHTFUL DESIGN MATTERS
As you can see, thoughtful design takes into account the experience of a product and asks “Why?” to nearly every aspect of that interaction. It may seem silly to so carefully consider all the fine details; you may even be wondering, “Does this even matter?”
Think of your last visit to the Apple Store. Every Apple Store is, more or less, exactly the same—from the store’s layout down to the very floor you walk on. Next time you visit the Genius Bar, look down: not many people are aware, but the flooring in all 450-plus Apple Stores worldwide is identical. Not only is it blue sandstone; it all comes from a single family-owned quarry outside of Florence, Italy.
There is little debate that Steve Jobs understood the power of a consistent experience and just why it was so important. And while his hyper-obsessive personality may not be the best example to use, you certainly can’t say he wasn’t thoughtful about the design of his stores.
While you don’t need to be exactly like Steve Jobs, it is important to consider the fine details of your patients’ experience. If the surgeon down the road is going to overlook it, that’s an opportunity for you to set yourself apart.
Although many physicians may only think of their logo or their website when they think of design and branding, we’ve seen that good, thoughtful experience design is so much more than that. By taking a more holistic approach to your design, both in the digital and physical realms, you’ll be able to provide patients with a more thoughtful, consistent, and authentic experience.
Author’s Note: In the next issue, we’ll take design and branding a step further and explore how to market your practice. We’ll cover different platforms, specific marketing strategies, and more.
1. Swartz J. The doctor’s office: poor design may cost you patients. CMAJ. 1989;140(3):320-321.