Design, information and diabetes at CIID
"Information is cheap. Understanding is expensive." -Karl Fast, at the 2012 IA Summit
This post is about communication, design, diabetes and healthcare. Im in a place (CIID) with people who see like me about design. I talk about the incompetencies of the tools we have to manage T1 diabetes daily, my colleagues are curious and interested, many are searching for a focus for their own work. Currently I am working with two colleagues in our GUI class to make an app that tracks data. We chose health and yesterday was a day of brainstorming and research about medical apps.
We walked and talked for two hours, I was pushing to build an app with diabetes as the focus. The main thing that kept coming up for my colleagues was that they didn’t understand the disease, it was too fast to jump into building an app for something they didn’t understand, they just wanted more time to understand. Thats understandable. I tried to explain, starting with basics, insulin is a hormone that your pancreas produces. The insulin opens the blood cells so that they can use the sugar in the blood stream. Carbohydrates, when eaten, put sugar in your blood and therefor you need insulin to regulate that sugar. Simple right? But when it got down to actually understanding the management of T1 diabetes it was really hard for them to do, rightfully so. Although my colleagues affirmed that they understood what i was saying, we later discovered that it was actually much more complex than they had thought. Reflecting on this now, I think i saw in them a small hint of the overwhelmed and fearful feeling that we all battle with when trying understand our health information. Like quoted above, Information is cheap, understanding is expensive.
When we returned from our walk and talk and were back at school, I thought what else could i share with them, how could i explain the concept i had for the diabetes app. Mainly, how could i share what i know about diabetes to make them feel comfortable working on a diabetes app. I know that the idea i have is simple, easy to execute, there is a need for it, and it would be part of a larger project that I’m working on i.e. it would be taken to the real world and developed instead of lie in the pit of concept projects. I really wanted to do it.
Back at school i showed them these graphs i have been making to track my blood sugar, insulin, food and carbohydrates. One of my colleagues spent a few hours trying understand and absorb the information that was there. I could see so clearly his brain churning and churning to process the information and have a better understanding of what I was talking about. Both of my partners asked many questions, sometimes the same questions multiple times just trying to get a grasp. They both exclaimed how helpful the visual aid was, to see all the numbers, to see the relation between the numbers. To see the complexity of the information. One of my colleagues has a statistical analysis background and she was excited and inspired by how much you could do with this data. I could feel my endorphins kick in and everything inside me light up. This is what we need! Not developers (Steve Balmer) Designers! designers designers designers! There is just SO much room for improvement, there is SO much low hanging fruit. (Stephen Anderson gives a super good example of dealing with health info…its pretty easy…) So in part i suppose, this post and story is a plea to my colleagues and anyone who reads this to work on making our health systems, data and information more usable. PLEASE.
Working on Line (website will be released next week) i sometimes feel competition with other health start ups, there is an underling feeling of anxiety, that someone else will do it better. But really, actually, whenever that feeling comes up, another stronger and deeper feeling comes up too, and when tears rise up to my eyes (seriously) I just want everyone to make our health care services systems information devices more beautiful, more usable, and more human. We have the tools, we have the smarts, the eyes, the hands and the ability to do it. The competition is good, its what we need. It drives the change and innovation and we are all after the same goal anyways. That is one of the things I love about this field, people are so personally invested that the larger goal overshadows the desire to be rich and famous.
To sum up my learnings….
1. Diabetes is actually very complex, and most people really don’t understand it. This is extremely useful for me to understand, for my own health and for the communication and sharing about what is needed.
2. Visuals are SO useful in explaining complex things. DUH. Duh.
3. I need to figure out how to communicate, share and inspire others to work on health care. There is a huge opportunity for me at CIID to share what I know about diabetes and about the health care system and inspire the incredibly talented and finely tuned designers that i am in school with.
(this is the chart that i showed my partners)