This is the first in a series of six articles looking at the future of experience design for emerging technologies — including the Internet of Things, robotics, genomics / synthetic biology, and 3D printing / additive fabrication.

Since the dawn of technology, man has had to deal with both its benefits and burdens. The fire that cooks your food, burns your hands; the mills and factories that produce your clothes, pollute your water and air; the computer that processes your data, crashes and send your mission critical records into oblivion.

The technological changes we will witness in our generation are beyond imagination. Over the next thirty years, there is little that humans can dream that we won't be able to do — from hacking our DNA, to embedding computers in our bodies, to printing replacement organs. The fantastic vision of science fiction today will become the reality of tomorrow. Similar to the Second Industrial Revolution in America — when inventions and innovations from electric power to the automobile first became prominent, experienced widespread adoption, and helped shape our modern existence — we are undergoing a period of technological advancement that will alter the way we live our lives in nearly every way.

Myo Alpha Arm and Signal

The Myo gesture control armband. Image courtesy Thalmic Labs.

As we face a future where what it means to be human will be inexorably changed, we desperately need experience design to help frame our interactions with emerging technologies that are already racing ahead of our ability to process and manage them on an emotional, ethical, and societal level. Whether we're struggling with fear and loathing in reaction to genetically altered foods, the moral issues of changing a child's traits to suit a parent's preferences, the ethics guiding battlefield robots, or the societal implications of a 150-year extended lifetime, it's abundantly clear that the future of experience design will be to envision humanity's relationship to technology and each other. 

The coming wave of technological change will make the tumult and disruption of the past decade’s digital and mobile revolutions look like a minor blip by comparison. As we look beyond the screen to the rich world of interactions and experiences that need to be designed, we need to define new areas of practice. Experience design will be a critical to tie the technology to human use and benefit. For those asking "How can we do this?" we must counter, "Why and for whose benefit?".

Rethink Robotics Baxter

Rethink Robotics Baxter enables collaborative manufacturing. Image courtesy Rethink Robotics.

How will this happen? To begin with, the boundaries between product design and engineering for software, hardware, and biotech are already blurring. Powerful technologies are creating an environment of constant change for the creative class knowledge workers. In the coming years, those who began their professional lives as industrial designers, computer engineers, user experience practitioners, scientists, and system thinkers, will find that the trajectory of their careers takes them into uncharted territory as the cross-pollination and evolution of these fields in parallel creates new possibilities for influencing humanity’s progress.

 Silk Pavillion

The Silk Pavillion, a MIT Media Lab Mediated Matter Group project, was created by thousands of silkworms guided by design software. Image by Steven Keating.

Designers have only just begun to think about the implications of emerging technologies for the human condition. We can and should be involved early with these emerging technologies as they develop, representing the human side of the equation. And while we can't anticipate all the possible outcomes, thinking about how these technologies will act within a larger ecosystem and how they might effect people in the short and long term, will be time well spent. 

While this challenge won't necessarily be taken up by or even appropriate for everyone who currently works in the various design fields, for a select few the chance to wrestle with the multivariate, sometimes incongruous inputs required to shape our human interactions with and understanding of emerging technologies, will be exactly the right opportunity.

Over the next five articles in this series, we'll look at:

  • A high level overview of the emerging technologies that will dramatically change our world in the coming decades, including the Internet of Things, robotics, synthetic biology / genomics, and 3D printing / additive manufacturing.
  • Thoughts on the evolution of the design field, as we attempt to influence, guide and shape these emerging technologies
  • Exploration of design thinking and solutions for these new areas, within the context of real world design challenges 

Designing for Emerging Technologies
If you're interested in further exploration of this topic, check out "Designing for Emerging Technologies", coming from O'Reilly Media this December, a project on which I was honored to serve as editor. In this book, you will discover 20 essays, from designers, engineers, scientists and thinkers, exploring areas of fast-moving, ground breaking technology in desperate need of experience design — from genetic engineering to neuroscience to wearables to biohacking — and discussing frameworks and techniques they've used in the burgeoning practice area of UX for emerging technologies.

The article header image is an algortithmically generated artwork, created especially for the "Designing for Emerging Technologies" project by Seth Hunter. 


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has been a recent target of attack. From the thoughtful-but-over-the-top Huffington Post article to the recent hit piece from Vox, online publications with high visibility are taking aim at the MBTI. While some of the criticisms of the MBTI in these pieces are valid, their inflammatory conclusions are not ("totally meaningless"?!?! Really?) This divisive approach serves to create a chilling effect of embarrassment and self-doubt for the people who use tools like the MBTI to augment their journey of self-understanding.

Since 2010 I've been deeply immersed in studying behavioural aspects of the human condition. A good part of that learning has occurred in applied business tools like the MBTI. In fact, I've become certified in a variety of tools including four of the most popular: the MBTI, the DiSC, the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), and the Hogan System. I did not get these certifications to start a consulting business and leverage the methods for cash; it was part of a massive process of learning about models of human understanding to put into my own, broader work.

What I like about methods devised for a professional environment is that they are designed for acceptance and adoption. Yes, inevitably there are people who don't want their personality to be examined. But the design of these tools is generally geared toward framing constructive and productive conversations about (depending on the tool) behaviours, skills, values, and preferences. Yes, of course people misuse them. Whether the product of a poorly administered assessment, or poor communication around the results, or treating the results as scientific truth as opposed to a guideline, or even the employer over-emphasizing the results and making foolish judgments, any attempt to characterize and make decisions about people can lead to harm. We have all heard stories of a personal vendetta, or a manager who doesn't pay close enough attention, or any other number of incompetencies. The problem in these latter examples is not the very concept and presence of managers, it is how those managers actually do their jobs. So it is with personality tools like the MBTI, tools with tremendous potential to do good, yet also hold the potential to instead do harm.

"Personality tests" have their strengths and weaknesses. In getting educated in so many methods I quickly identified patterns and problems—things I thought were more or less true, that worked better or worse. Ultimately there was no one that I liked best, even if cherry-picking aspects among them. These tools do not represent some scientific truth from on high, nor should should they be treated as such. Yet they certainly have the potential to be valuable in ways that, say, astrology (to use something compared to the MBTI) does not. This should be obvious on its face as the MBTI, for example, claims to reflect the inherent preferences that each of us has. I think we can all agree that we are each born with inherent preferences, regardless of our respective beliefs about the nature/nurture balance in who we finally become. However I think almost all of us can likewise agree that the notion that the pillars of our behaviour and personality being the product of the time of year we are born is ridiculous on its face.

The biggest problem facing our species is not global warming, the world economy, or third-world genocides. It is a lack of understanding of the self and one another. This, indeed, is the root from which the seemingly more pressing problems begin, as we ignorantly and animalistically fail to harness technology we've developed but lack the ability to responsibly use, or to harmoniously co-exist in a multinational world with over 7 billion people. While the hard sciences have enjoyed an orgy of investment, attention, and progress since Copernicus shattered the vanity of our Earth, only minimal time and effort have gone into a "science" of human understanding. One of the more notable examples is the work of Dr. Carl Jung, who was one of the primary targets of the Vox piece. So little work is being done around human understanding and, instead of trying to glean insight and grow from that work, these publications simply burn it to the ground without providing an alternative.

Now, the HuffPost piece did attempt to be constructive in mentioning the "Big Five Personality Traits," which is the scientist's proposal of a correct model for human personality. I've studied this as well, and I agree with the basic premise that, through the lens of hard science, the "Big Five" is more generally correct. The problem is that it is entirely unusable by people in their everyday lives. The "Big Five" offers five dimensions of personality traits each of which is on a continuum from most to least desirable. Very few people will be willing to accept this sort of a personality assessment. Rather than give people language to understand themselves and engage with others in a more aware and meaningful life it puts people on the defensive. As might be expected, most people are low in one or more of these measures. Some people are low in ALL of them!

I wonder how the inherently judgmental nature of the "Big Five" would translate to a professional setting? I wonder whether it could lead to productive conversations about how people work and live together? The "Big Five" may be very useful for secretly evaluating and making decisions about people, judging one more or better than the other. It may be very useful for a totalitarian government to ruthlessly structure its society around. It may be very useful for a eugenics agenda, to weed out those deemed inferior. But it offers little to help solve the biggest challenge of all: helping each of us understand ourselves, and provide a language and framework with which to navigate the complicated world that we share.

That's where the MBTI is useful. Its four binary characteristics do have a relationship to human preference and behaviour. Is it clean and perfect and "scientifically valid"? No. Is it better than simply following our ignorant human impulses, with no attempt to understand what is going on inside us, or who other people are and how they might be wired as well? Yes, yes, infinitely yes! However, instead of trying to advance the conversation, to evolve from our current generation of personality frameworks into something more complete and correct, writers choose to throw around "utterly meaningless" and "astrology" and claiming it has equivalent merit to a Buzzfeed quiz.

It is hard enough for people to feel comfortable looking at who and what they are, doing the work to understand themselves, put language around it, and feel safe engaging one another in open, honest dialog. The MBTI, for better or worse, is one of the few tools that has some degree of wide adoption and use. It is based on the ideas of Dr. Carl Jung, one of the foundational figures in the field of psychology, and has been developed over more than 70 years. Many people often have some notion of their MBTI type specifically and the model in general, even if over time it has been reduced to "I'm an E-something-something-something." By simply dropping a nuke on the MBTI and reducing it to the level of snake oil you discourage people from taking an interest in who they are. The whole activity becomes unsafe. The fact that people saw truth and insight via the MBTI framework is being used by cavalier columnists to make them feel foolish. We already feel insecure enough sharing our essential selves without the few tools doing a reasonable job at providing understandable language and concepts being reduced to a joke or humiliation.

The hard sciences use a very specific, systematic, analytical process for figuring out the world around us. There is a search for truth and fact that is seductive in its seeming promise of certainty. That is not the correct process for every endeavour; just ask people who are terminally ill how they feel about waiting for FDA approval on treatment that could save their lives. Exploring the self should be an active, ongoing process, one that at this stage in the process is seen as both experimental and emerging. There may come a time for hard science but, like the pioneers in those fields centuries ago, we must encourage openness and participation. We remain at or near the starting blocks in this endeavour and, given the complexity of who and how we are, new approaches should be encouraged to help drive toward solutions that are considered more acceptable through the traditional lens of science.

It just might be that we are afraid. It's the same fear that people often show when getting the "results" of a personality tool like the MBTI. Most of us are insecure. We are scared the rest of the world may realize us for the pretenders that we fear we actually may be. We are afraid of not measuring up to the Jones next to us. That's why the tentative efforts of tools like the MBTI to help work through questions of personality, behaviour, and preference are easy and frequent targets. Science proclaiming understanding and thus dominion over the natural world makes all of us feel a little bigger. Endeavouring to lean into deep specifics of who and what we are in some real and intentional way taps into our fears and insecurities. So it is that looking for ways to assail the modest tools that are available is so seductive and, ultimately, easy.

I believe that nothing offers greater potential to improve our world holistically, and make the most of our lives individually, than a deep understanding of ourselves and each other. It is the missing link in a world where drones fulfill orders, satellites orbit the Earth, and a majority of first-world people can go from making the decision to record a video to sharing it with a friend on the other side of the planet in under a minute. We know how to make the magic but we still don't know how to intelligently use it.

I know the MBTI isn't perfect. But the shallow criticisms being popularly made draw erroneous conclusions from incomplete information and analysis. It should be tested and it should be critiqued, but in a constructive way. There is no common language for personality. Even if the language we have now is incomplete, or imprecise, it represents building blocks toward something more comprehensive. That something isn't here yet, but we should not be cowed into stopping our exploration and attempts to learn and grow in the meantime. Bombastic—and inaccurate—attacks have just that bullying effect: to push our society farther away than it already is from the important and elusive objective of real human understanding.

Give me the author who is critical, but is looking to build and move the conversation forward. Give me the explorer who sees the urgency of human understanding and wants to help pioneer the next and better thing. Give me people with an open mind and an interest in truly understanding themselves. Of all the many things our world "needs," none is more important than this.

About Dirk Knemeyer
Dirk is a social futurist exploring the intersection between technology, society, and the human condition and a founder of Involution Studios. He has written over 100 articles for publications like Business Week, given over 50 speeches and presentations including keynotes in the United States and Europe and at venues like TEDx and South by Southwest, and served on 15 boards spanning media, healthcare, and educational organizations.


Recently on The Digital Life podcast, Involution's Jon Follett sat down with Creative Director Juhan Sonin to discuss the Health Axioms card deck and designing for behavior change.

The Health Axioms are 32 recommendations that put you in touch with habits to improve your health, life, and well-being. The sometimes surprising, always practical axioms nudge you toward the healthiest life possible. These are one small part of a global movement to shift the health care system to one of: non-invasive personal diagnostics, highly specialized clinicians that work closely with patients and their families, and self-monitoring, self-empowered patients. Getting there is equal parts smart technology, healthcare reform, and everyday common sense.

Sonin describes how personal experience launched his involvement in healthcare design and technology, when he realized that his health was not as perfect as he'd thought. Despite his own fascination with the latest gadget, however, he reminds us that simple behavior change still plays a vital part in our health. The Health Axioms "help people cut through the BS and focus on clear actionable advice that will hopefully have impact on how we interact with the healthcare system and our bodies. ... Each card has a single idea on it. One specific behavior that we should concentrate on like 'Move more,' or 'Get more sleep,' 'Take baby steps,' 'Exercise is medicine,' 'Food is medicine.'"

Juhan has distributed hundreds of decks nationally (and internationally) over the past few months and shares some of the feedback and ideas coming in, along with plans for the future (and a sneak peek at a few of the new card topics).

So, blend up that green smoothie, tie on your walking shoes, and listen while you move!

Utopia in our Pocket
Watch this presentation.

This past March, Involution's Dirk Knemeyer spoke at TEDxDenisonU as part of a series entitled “Real Utopias: From Dreams to Practice.”

In “Utopia in our Pocket” Dirk proposes that, thanks to the proliferation of the smartphone, we can start to think about radical changes that will fundamentally shift the way we live for the better. He charges his young audience to consider how they can participate in exploring and leveraging technology for truly meaningful change in our world.

About TEDx
TEDx was created in the spirit of TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading." The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.

About Involution Studios
Involution designs and builds exceptional software for innovative and visionary companies. We deploy small and experienced teams to create applications that are highly usable and appropriately beautiful. Our client list includes Apple, AstraZeneca, McAfee, Microsoft, Oracle, PayPal, Shutterfly, and Yahoo. For more information please contact or +1 617 803 7043.

Jen stands and Dirk sits

Designer Jen Patel stands to discuss a workflow diagram, while post author Dirk Knemeyer sits deep in thought.

As far back as I can remember, when it was time for my mind to think, it was time for my body to pace.

Not just any thinking, mind you: hard thinking. When a conversation required me to incorporate important new information into my thesis, to solve new problems that at first seemed non-trivial, I was most successful and most comfortable on my feet, stalking around like a caged lion. When I was a young associate, physically dominating small meeting spaces with my movement would have been unacceptable, from a relationship-hierarchy perspective. So now, free to roam regardless of the situation, I am far happier as well as more effective.

Lately I think about my pacing in a more sophisticated way thanks to Juhan’s drum-beating about the dangers of sitting on the job. Now, for we Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, sitting is what you do at a desk job. It is, after all, called a desk job. But with our increasing awareness of the health risks associated with sedentary work and the meteoric rise in popularity of standing desks, we’re starting to think about this differently. The problem is that the situation is framed in a binary way: sitting is bad, standing is good. Yet, that isn’t completely true. Given a choice between sitting all day and standing all day, standing is better. Yet either sitting or standing all day is bad for you. We really should be doing a lot of moving with some sitting, some standing, and some lying down.

To further complicate things, it is unlikely that any one specific posture for working produces the best results for any of us. Take my pacing example: long before anything but sitting was acceptable for knowledge work, I knew very clearly that there were some tasks for which I needed to be up and moving. At the beginning of this year I got a standing desk. Mine is the kind where you push a button to raise or lower the work surface. So, when working at or around this desk, I am going up and down depending on how my body feels and/or depending on the task at hand. Because once I tried working while standing I quickly realized that there were some tasks for which I simply needed to be sitting if I wanted to do them better or faster or both.

This analysis is purely intuitive and based on my own patterns for work, but I strongly suspect that most people, like me, would do best if they were allowed to change position and movement levels while working. Now, in truth, there is very little that I do better while simply standing. But there are many things I do as well standing as when I’m sitting and, given the health benefit of standing at least some of the time, they just make sense to do in that posture.

Designer Ben Salinas prefers to stand while working much of the time.

Over time I’ve come up with certain task characteristics that form my own criteria for deciding to stand, sit, or pace while doing. Perhaps my list will help you to think about your own relationship between work and physicality.

When I Stand

  • Tired and losing focus while sitting. Shifting to a standing position returns some crispness to my thought, at least for a time.
  • Writing something that requires very little critical thinking, such as responding to e-mail.
  • Reading or just surfing the web without a research component; that is, I have no need to take notes and use what I am consuming toward some future publication.
  • Reviewing deliverables from others that do not require really precise and careful review.
  • Playing computer games, to give my body some physical benefit when I am otherwise just wasting time.


When I Sit

  • Trying to do something that requires both thought and physical output, such as writing seriously or visualizing something.
  • Reading when attention to detail matters and/or I really want to enjoy it, not just consume it.
  • Carefully reviewing the work of others.


When I Pace

  • Deep thinking, trying to dislodge intractable problems or deal with hard/bad news.
  • Talking on the phone, so long as it does not require note taking or crisp attention to details.


This list is probably not complete, but it gives you a sense of the diversity of postures that are best for me in a number of different situations. Looking across them, we can distill this list into just a few simple patterns:


  • I stand when the work is casual or unimportant. The standing does not detract from the work itself, and is better for me physically.
  • I sit when the work requires note taking, attention to detail, and the crafting of physical output. In these cases standing would result (for me) in demonstrably inferior work so I sit instead.
  • I pace when trying to really got my mind to work at its hardest, particularly with just-introduced problems and information. I also pace while on the phone because when I’m sitting and talking on the phone I get bored and inattentive.


Most knowledge workers still sit all day at their jobs. For your health, if nothing else, I encourage you to get a standing desk—one that goes up and down, so you can change your posture as the moment requires—and figure out the relationship between your physical posture and activity and the best ways you work. Your body will someday thank you.

NPR Health Axioms Story

Involution's Health Axioms are grabbing the attention of the health innovation community.

NPR Health Blogger Nancy Shute posted her impressions of the Health Axioms recently in If A Picture's Worth 1,000 Words, Could It Help You Floss?

After getting her own Health Axioms in the mail — with a personal note — Shute called Involution's Juhan Sonin, one of the creative minds behind the deck. She had spread the cards on her desk at work and watched her co-workers' reactions, which ranged from "Health tarot cards!" to "But who are they for?" Not surprisingly, Sonin was frank in saying that the decks reflect a first-release "primordial ooze stage" and that he hopes to get feedback and ideas from a broad audience. Given the number of responses already posted to this one article it's clear that people want to talk about health and want to be heard.

Shute lets the cards speak for themselves by including several images from the deck, summing them up as not Crazy Eights but having their own "geeky charm," even with Manga-style illustrations reminiscent of "Soviet propaganda posters (but in a nice way)"(!) She let colleagues bring them home, reporting both delight (from a 10-year-old) and shrugs of indifference (from teens). She was puzzled by two of the axioms ("Know Your Numbers," "Who Is Your Wingman?") and demonstrates how quickly these two became worth the small effort of reading the card backs.

Read Shute's blog post. Check out the Health Axioms. Let us know your thoughts.

Learn more about/order Health Axioms.

About Involution’s Health Design Practice
For almost 10 years, Involution has been building software for health companies of every shape and size, from household names like AstraZeneca and Walgreens, to research leaders like the Personal Genome Project and Partners HealthCare. We also work with the most exciting and progressive health startups. We’ve made digital healthcare our top focus.

GET Conference Logo

GET Conference
April 30, 2014
8:30 AM to 5:30 PM (EDT)

Ballroom at the Hotel Marlowe
25 Edwin H Land Blvd
Cambridge, MA 02141

Involution Studios is a sponsor of this year’s GET Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts next month. Organized by, the Conference is planned each year to coincide with World DNA Day, which celebrates the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, as well as Watson and Crick’s 1953 conclusion that DNA molecules have a 3-D double helix structure.

Topics covered by GET Conferences have included:
• Omics such as personal genomes, microbiomes, immunomes, and metabolomes
• Sensors, including health and environmental sensor technologies and self-tracking
• Policies covering access, sharing, governance, privacy, IP, and so forth
• Data and IT platforms, visualization, modeling, applications, and tools
• Traits and measurement, interpretation, and new products and practices
• Medicine: preventive, predictive, personalized, and participatory

In its fifth year, the GET Conference will bring together leading thinkers to discuss how we measure and understand people and their traits. This event explores the frontiers of understanding about human biology and serves as an annual forum to debate the technical, commercial, and societal impacts.

About is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to make a wide spectrum of human biological information accessible and actionable to increase biological literacy and improve human health. We support the Personal Genome Project and produce the GET Conference.

About Involution’s Health Design Practice
For almost 10 years, Involution has been building software for health companies of every shape and size, from household names like AstraZeneca and Walgreens, to research leaders like the Personal Genome Project and Partners HealthCare. We also work with the most exciting and progressive health startups. We’ve made digital healthcare our top focus.

How did a workshop with Involution take the Personal Genome Project from “a bunch of ideas” to the creation of the award-winning Open Humans Network?

The Knight News Challenge: Health asked innovators to present solutions that harness the power of data for the health of communities, with a strong focus on civic participation and solution building. Among the seven projects that will share more than $2 million is the Open Humans Network.

The Open Humans Network proposes an online system that helps match people willing to share their health data with researchers who would benefit from access to more information, all with a focus on exploring new standards for open health data.

According to Madeleine Ball PhD, of the Harvard Personal Genome Project (PGP), the Open Humans portal will comprise three components: a personal page that will allow participants to set up their data profile, a public data explorer enabling people to explore and use data compiled from participant profiles, and a set of design guidelines for researchers looking to use a collaborative data sharing model.

Jason Bobe, PGP Executive Director, envisions “health discovery as a collaborative effort through the creation of a portal populated with research studies pre-screened for data-sharing practices, participants willing to share their data, and public data results.” Since its inception in 2005, the PGP has promoted a research and discovery model that selects participants who are comfortable with public sharing and the potential for re-identifiability—a practice called “open consent.”

The Open Humans Network project will involve collaboration of several studies including:

  • Harvard Personal Genome Project (George Church, Harvard Medical School)
  • American Gut (Rob Knight, University of Colorado, Boulder / HHMI)
  • Flu Near You Research Participants (Rumi Chunara, Boston Children’s Hospital / HMS)
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Study, (Eric Schadt, Mount Sinai School of Medicine)

Mapping the PGP Ecosystem
To reach a goal like the Open Humans Network, the PGP first had to have a clear view of its own organizational functioning. To gain a better focus, they called upon Involution Studios’ expertise and objectivity.

In a daylong exploratory workshop, Invo designers helped the PGP staff to map their organization, roles, and objectives. They were able to completely re-conceive their organizational model to separate their member recruitment efforts from the data collection and sequencing, and keeping the focus on their member relationships.

Involution Studios designers mapped the PGP organization and constituencies.

From this work came the idea for, a service and website that facilitates third-party researchers and others who can access the PGP database of genomes and medical histories. Members will be able to see how their data is being used to contribute to the advancement of science and medicine. By providing the PGP with the tools and expertise, Involution was able to serve as the catalyst for a new, organizational model that has now garnered the Knight Foundation’s recognition.

Learn more about the winners of the Knight News Challenge: Health awards.

About Involution’s Health Design Practice
For almost 10 years, Involution has been building software for health companies of every shape and size, from household names like AstraZeneca and Walgreens, to research leaders like the Personal Genome Project and Partners HealthCare. We also work with the most exciting and progressive health startups. We’ve made digital healthcare our top focus.

A truly powerful electronic healthcare record (EHR) encompasses more than just passing information between the physician and the patient: It should be a tool that benefits the physician’s efficiency and, most importantly, the patient’s health.

Involution Studios is working with the University of Missouri, with Jeff Belden, MD as project lead, to design and write an eBook that offers insights into design and usability for these complex software systems. We have physicians, designers, and developers all contributing their wisdom — approaches that work, some that don’t, coupled with examples that you can see, touch, and play with. We’re not writing a how-to-guide, nor are we designing one EHR to rule them all. The EHR Style Guide is a reference to bridge the gap between software and the medical domain. The guide is for us software junkies, designers, and developers committed to the future of healthcare.

High Stakes Software
After blasting our way through policy and wrangling support for a more digital practice, it is often far too easy to get something, anything out there that remotely resembles an EHR, and then filling it with data is an arduous tedious task that no one wants to do. Somewhere in there, there’s room for design and development. Details fall between the cracks, get lost in translation, are swept under the rug, pushed down the pipeline, or worse, rerouted. But it’s just software, right? When a patient’s health is at the very end of that pipeline, the stakes are higher.

EHR Medication Timeline

An EHR Medication Timeline

Bridging the Gap Between Software and Domain
Too often it feels natural to scoff at the oft-heard marketing cliche, “the customer is always right”. We've been bombarded with one too many buzzwords, answered one too many questions, and responded to one too many complaints. While we may be experts at design and software, our users may not be — but they are experts in their fields. For the users, software should be straight forward to learn and use. For us, the designers, developers, and architects, it never is; but the truly powerful tools are the ones tailored to those using it day in and day out, to do their tasks with ease. It’s not impossible to bridge the gap between software and domain.

Beautiful design and code go a long way in usability. But what good is all of that, if a physician can’t prescribe a medication in the time it takes them to write it out? It’s imperative to build the EHR to help perform tasks and perform them well. Use real data, real scenarios, real workflows, and give it to the people who will be using it the most. Talk to the physicians, talk to the nurses and work with them, and bridge the gap. Who wants to spend all their time producing something that doesn't actually work in the real world?

Taking time to learn the human factors and domain factors may take time away from the design and development process, that’s not readily available when it’s an all-out race to get functionality out to hospitals. Attention to detail here, however, makes a world of difference to the physicians and nurses who use the product day in and day out, and to the patient whose health is paramount.

EHR eBook

The Interactive Medication List Chapter

The EHR Style Guide is written with all this in mind, so that designers and developers can use it to build an EHR that doesn't just serve the functional requirements, but rather, the people who use it.


Contributors on the EHR Style Guide: Jeff Belden, MD, Richelle Koopman, MD, MS, Joi Moore, PhD, Catherine Plaisant, PhD, Nathan Lowrance, Juhan Sonin, and Jennifer Patel

Involution Principal, Jon Follett, editor of the upcoming book "Designing for Emerging Technologies" recently spoke with Jenn Webb, O'Reilly Radar's online managing editor and Mary Treseler, editorial strategist, on the O'Reilly Radar Podcast. In the podcast, the group discussed the challenges of understanding the disruptive power of emerging technologies — such as genomics, robotics, synthetic biology, and connected environments.

Over the next thirty years, there is little that humans can dream that we won’t be able to do — from hacking our DNA, to embedding computers in our bodies, to printing replacement organs. Because of this, we face a future where what it means to be human will be inexorably changed: Today, technology has already raced ahead of mankind’s ability to deal with it emotionally, morally, and socially.

To truly enable people to take advantage of these new technologies it is critical that multiple disciplines evolve and work together in cross-pollinated teams of scientists, engineers, and designers. It will be important to have people interested in not just the "how" of the engineering of technology, but also the "why" of implementation.

It’s abundantly clear that the future of experience design is to envision humanity’s relationship to technology and each other. Now more than ever, we need experience designers to help define the parameters of and sculpt the interactions between man and technology — not only in creating interfaces that make these technologies understandable to users, but also in making policy at higher levels.

To hear this discussion on the O'Reilly Radar podcast, listen to the audio below.

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