Monday, June 12, 2017

21st Century Liberation – Virtual Reality

My Avatar. I always wanted to come back in my next life as a strong, black woman. 

A caveat to this article, I’ve been working in augmented reality, certainly tried some virtual reality, but haven’t personally taken the plunge into purchasing a VR headset, so much my information is hearsay albeit from reliable sources.

Last week, I had the great opportunity to attend 2 events discussing AR/VR and what some are calling XR (any kind of altered reality). In some ways, XR has been around for a long time (although not the first example, anyone who has used a ViewMaster can attest to this), yet for a mainstream technology, it’s just in its infancy. I will be using XR to refer to all AR/VR/MR in this article.

The topics varied widely from how and when users are engaging with XR, to how XR allows people to be something other than the physical self we are trapped in every day. We discussed the technology and projects people are experimenting with to find the most compelling use cases.

For me, the topics that resonated were about people – how does this change how we learn, how we empathize, how we interact and how we think about self and other? Today I want to talk about the last example, self and other. Many virtual realities, and some augmented realities, allow you to create an avatar, a version of yourself that exists only in this online world. I have never personally given thought to these “personas” and who and what they represent.

The overarching sentiment was that virtual reality lets you be anything or anyone you want. For many people, this is an absolutely liberating experience. The exception to this rule – that I’m aware of – is  Facebook spaces which apparently doesn’t allow for creating a personal avatar who is overweight, despite the multitude of other options for customization.

Back to the liberating experiences; Portland artist Stephanie Mendoza talked about the ability to create a creature who can do and be whatever you want in Anyland. She told the story of a transgender individual who had been bullied. Stephanie showed this (reluctant) individual how to create an avatar on Anyland. After creating an anonymous avatar that represented her true self, the individual felt empowered, emboldened and her new way of being in this virtual world carried over to a new way of being in the real world. There, she also felt empowered and emboldened.

Donna Z. Davis, Director of the Strategic Communication program at the U of O, talked about her decade plus of research in Second Life. (yes, it still exists) working with people who are often house, room or bed bound. She spoke of a 90 year old woman with Parkinson’s who gets to be her younger, vibrant self while in Second Life. Although it’s difficult to leave her home, she meets many people through this virtual portal, reducing the feelings of isolation. In this virtual world, communication is leveled for deaf people who can easily have conversations via text since typing is a common communication tool. With additional examples of a blind person who created a custom virtual, sound-driven environment and a dwarf who created a cute, approachable alligator that people loved which was different than her experience being teased as a little person in the big world. It became clear that VR allows people to not just have a Second Life, but an entirely secondary persona.

It’s really powerful to be able to create an avatar, a representation of that which represents the best in us, or the hidden part of us, or maybe a characteristic we didn’t even know we had until the virtual anonymity allowed us to be what and who ever we wanted. People should be able to create their online presence to fully represent themselves if desired, as fat, skinny, tall or short and, they should be able to create a representation that is their best “self” be it younger, skinnier, furry or feathered, human or other-worldly. In this way, some people are empowered by the fact that they are in the skin that feels right to them.

There is, of course, a flip-side; a very dark flip-side where anonymity allows for bullying, harassment and discrimination. I will leave that for the next article. For now, we will focus on the positive, the ways in which this new technology can give us wings (literal and figurative), help us find our voice, our community and be empowered to be our best selves.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Lucky 13! Steps to get you to the next phase in your career

A friend was recently let go from a company he's been at for 24 years. Wow. Within those big companies you do change jobs and flex with the times, but deciding on the next steps way outside of the comfort of a big organization is a huge deal. Having recently left a job I was at for just 5 years, I'm finding even that shift is a little more challenging than I expected. Change is good, but it can be hard. 

In that vein, I thought I'd write up some of the advice I've given him, based on my own life - switching careers several times, going from entrepreneur/consultant to contractor to full-time employee and back again. 

1) Not sure what you want your next step to be? Volunteer or take a class. It's a great way to get to know an organization, a field of study or an area of interest. See if it's something you want to pour your heart into before making a big commitment. It's also a great way in. I was able to switch from volunteering at a children's museum to a full-time job even though it was a new field for me, because I was a known quantity after a year. 

2) Conduct informational interviews. Everyone likes to talk about themselves and their work. Most people will make time for you because people are generally just nice! Reach out to people you know and the people they know. 

3) Pick a niche and define your personal brand - what do you want to be known for, what makes you different from everyone else? 

4) Shore up all of your social media to promote and support that brand (I'm xx, expert at xxx, here's my logo, what I'm great at and you should hire me to do X) You can always branch out but people you need other people to sell for you and you need a succinct sales pitch/explanation. For others to be your best advertising, you need a simple clear message and focus. 

5) Put up a website, simple is ok, but some place to point folks who want to know more ( is great, but you may like something more complex)

6) Decide what you want your life to look like. Do you want to work alone, with or for others? Full-time, consultant, contractor or just what comes your way? 

7) Don't be afraid to ask for what you need. Want a 30 hour a week gig? Want to work 4-10's and have Friday's to work on your art? Ask! The workplace gets more flexible every day. 

8) Deal with the business of business. Hire or contract with people who can do the things you can't or don't want to like accounting and legal. 

9) Get liability insurance if you are giving companies advice so they can't come back and sue you if someone gets hurt based on your advice.If you are setting up consulting, figure out the legal stuff (llc, scorp, etc.), taxes (which will help you know how much to charge) - Personally I recommend an LLC.

10) I think people still use pesky paper business cards - again, support your brand ( and many other sites make it easy to design a simple card)

11) Network near and far with people you've known forever and new people. Tell them the 3 best leads/clients/jobs they can find for you. Do the work for them. 

12) Go to other people's LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter etc and see if they know people that you want to know/meet/interview/work with or for. 

13) Try it! Jump in, have fun and be fluid, learning from the process. You may not end up where you planned, but I know you'll find some great opportunities. 

Here are a few websites with more great information, details on starting a business, things to think about, etc. 

Great resources from soup to nuts: 

Oversimplified, but a good starting point:

My coach: (her advice on changing my LinkedIn profile landed me my current gig)

NOLO great info and often free forms:

Those are my thoughts on the subject...let me know your experience and if you'd add any ideas or resources. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Unboxing Boxed Meals

It's January 1. I've had about a week of vacation and my brain is ready to think, do or create!

Starting the new year off with a post on a healthy food option called hungryroot, for those of you looking for quick and healthy meals. What I love about our current economy and the state of our country is that there is a niche food market for just about any need at all. For those of us with food allergies, pre-made meals can be a bit of a drag, always including 3 things you like and 2 you can't eat. Enter hungryroot. Their plant based meals are tasty, under 500 calories and easy to prepare. Unfortunately, to keep food fresh, they are over packaged. Since they are new with a laser focus, the food choices also get monotonous.
image of hungry root sweet potato noodles package
Simple, inviting packaging

Healthy ingredients

The meals consist of a plant type "noodle," a sauce, a small add-in and an optional protein like chicken or falafel. There are also a few plant based sides and dessert items.

The details
In early December, I received one order as a gift (I suggested) and one order as one I placed myself. I didn't realize that the gift order was a specific set of pre-packaged dinners and ended up giving away two of them with things I don't/can't eat. Failure on my part to read the fine print, but maybe a failure on their part for not being more explicit in the teaser email. Other than that, the online ordering process doesn't stand out, which means it was fairly painless.

The orders arrived as expected and were conveniently left on my porch in a cardboard box with several pounds of ice in reusable cloth pouches. The ice packs were great for the first order or two, but will lead to overkill and landfill in subsequent orders. I love mail order items of all kind, but am constantly upset about the waste created. Add fixing that issue to the long list of things I would change about mail order.

One box (with a chicken protein side) sat on the porch for a day since we were out of town. I don't eat chicken, (gift order fail) so I pitched the chicken, but I wouldn't have eaten it anyway after being on the porch overnight. I figured the sweet potato noodles would survive if not optimally frozen, so the whole meal didn't go to waste.

For two weeks I enjoyed a variety of meals that took about 5 minutes to prepare and were both healthy and tasty.

Fresh food ready to heat and eat
The food comes in one tray with separate packs holding each ingredient. The package design is clean and inviting. The food can be microwaved or made on the stove. Since convenience was a factor in my purchase, I mostly microwaved mine and they tasted great! The sauces were unique and flavorful. The falafel made it feel more like a meal. The crunchy chick pea "add ins" gave it added texture.

So, great food, easy to prepare and tasty. The downsides included not feeling full, the cost, and lack of variety. On feeling full -- I often felt hungry not long after eating. I appreciate the limited portion, but needed more filling food. Each meal is about $12 not including delivery (a $40 order gets free delivery). It's not expensive, but it's not a lot cheaper than eating out at my local Thai restaurant.

The company offers variety in mixing sauces and vegetables, but at the end of the day, its a lot of veggies with sauce, something I want 1-2 times a week not every day. The coconut carrot cake bites, however, should be a regular staple in my cupboard. Delicious overload.

Looks good enough to eat!
This brings me to the expiration dates. The food needs to be refrigerated and lasts about a week. Again, given the minimums for free shipping you end up with about 4 meals to eat in 7 days and that's a few more zucchini noodles than I'm up for, personally.

So, would I order again? Yes. Will it be a regular staple? Probably not. But it was fun to try and great to know it's there when I get in a food rut.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Customer Experience 101

Getting back to the work-a-day world on this blog. The last 6 months have been enlightening:  getting situated in a new position and feeling the difficulty of changing a work culture from the inside out. To follow are some of the things I've learned in this shift.

My organization is a 100 year old, conservative workplace. Customers have always been somewhat important, but the huge shift in the health insurance landscape from  plans mostly offered through a job to a free for all marketplace where average citizens have to decide between networks, deductibles and a dizzying array of benefits, is changing the game.

In 2014, I moved from being a Sr. Usability Researcher on a web team to a Customer Experience Manager working with the entire organization. In many organizations, I'd be a Design Research Manager or just a Research Manager, but Customer Experience is our buzz word of the day.

To assist that change, people like myself who are trained to integrate what we call the voice of the customer, more readily have a voice in the process. We help balance what the customer wants, what technology can do and what the business needs.

But, change is hard; really hard when you still have a culture and a bottom line that lean strongly towards doing what we've always done. The only issue is, and the realization comes from the top, that bottom line isn't likely to change if we do what we've always done. So, we try this new approach, but again, change is hard.

In my ongoing efforts to work with groups in the company to help them understand what the customer is thinking, feeling and doing at any given time in the process, I've learned a few things. So here they are, in no particular order.

1. Assume you are speaking a foreign language. Speak carefully and define your words.
This goes both ways. I use words like "personas," "journey maps," "usability testing," "recruit" - most of which have little context or familiarity to my colleagues. Much like "actuarial," "claims integration," and "stop loss," are foreign to me.

Sometimes it feels like we are literally speaking different languages. Take the time, upfront, to define your working words and those of your team mates. User acceptance testing (UAT) and usability testing are really not the same thing. (for those not in the industry, trust me this is a point of contention and too detailed to explain here) Discuss. Educate. Learn.

2. Enthusiasm and persistence go a long way.
If you come in to a meeting believing so strongly in what you do, others will start to follow. Eventually. You may even squeeze the necessary budget out of them. But first, you need commitment. You must unequivocally believe in the strategy you are setting out for the project. And you will probably have to believe it, explain it and sell it to at least 5 stakeholders. But do it.

3. Align yourself with a change leader.
I couldn't do my work without my amazing manager. What I excel at is making sure we put our customers first, that we focus on empathy and understanding our end user is not necessarily a person who sits in a cubicle all day thinking about health insurance (what a surprise). What she excels at is politics and moving money and resources around plus not taking no for an answer. She is firm and elegant in her "sales pitches" and has done more for this type of work in the organization in the last year than I think has ever been done.

4. Then find your every day champions. 
Once my manager has helped teams understand the need to put the customer first, I start working with those teams. Those teams usually have at least 1-2 people who have either done this type of work in another setting or are just general advocates because they are forward thinking and see the value. Align with those folks as the project gets started. When the project is wrapping up, let them be advocates for this type of work with internal case studies and have them tell their colleagues the value (hopefully) of your work.

5. Share your successes and use failures as lessons learned. 
To the point above, be loud and proud about progress made with your customers and in the organization. Use data and anecdotes to share the impact of thinking about how a project will work for people outside of your four walls before launching a product or service that everyone inside your four walls is convinced is simply awesome.

For those of you also initiating this change, does this resonate for you? If you are in another industry, are there lessons learned here? Let me know your thoughts and good luck changing the landscape. Listening to customers should make us better organizations and even increase the bottom line.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Best and Worst, Part II

This evening, I've been struggling with Chase's bill pay center which is still pretty klugy. 
I decided to send them an email suggesting the simple possibility of being able to sort by Payee because most of us want to know the details of who we paid not, "oh, who did I pay that $74.36 check to?"

Shortly after submitting the email, I got a return email. Wow, that's service! Not so much. I logged BACK into my Chase account (for the umpteenth time tonight) where I found an awkwardly written form letter. Not only that, but there's no way in that 60 seconds you actually got my feedback and "documented" it in that amount of time.

I don't expect that they will personally respond to every query, but I'd love a friendly, readable, relatable email in return, not a choppy form letter. Perhaps tomorrow I'll hear from a human rather than a bot, although th
is letter was "signed." When I check a box that says "contact me" I don't mean send me a form letter. 

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to 
contact us. I certainly understand your concern as you 
would like to be able to sort your payment by payee name 
as well as have a year end summary of your transactions. 
Allow me to submit your suggestions. 

First, I appreciate the time you have taken in expressing 
your concerns. At Chase, we hold our customer feedback 
very seriously. I have documented your suggestions and I 
will forward them to the Customer Feedback Center. Because
of comments such as yours, we gain more insight as to what
our customers want. This center is in place so that we can
share your experience. We use this feedback to determine 
ways that we can implement changes in order to improve the
customer experience.

Please let us know if there is any other way we can assist
you as we always strive to provide excellent customer 

Do you have a kudo or a criticism about communication from a company? Do tell.....

Best and worst of Customer Experience

Within the last 24 hours, I have had a great and a not so great digital customer experience. The great was a helpful email from AT&T. My iPhone4 met it's demise on a tile bathroom floor Thursday evening and Friday morning found me with a shiny new iPhone 5S.

A few days later (could have been sooner), I got a helpful email. It started with this "hey, we know you and thanks for your business" type of message which I appreciate.

Thanks for choosing us again. Let us help you discover what your phone can do.
The email continued with some helpful suggestions on where to go for more information. The only frustrating part was that I didn't remember my password and they use those absurd questions such as "your childhood best friend" - which I failed. I KNOW my childhood best friend but did I use her first name or first and last? It is case sensitive? Whatever the answer, I never did get it right and had to do a full password reset. Sigh.  

My contacts were transferred and my voicemail is set, but I appreciate that they wanted to get me started. Again, my only issue is that this was a almost 4 days after I bought the phone.

We hope you're enjoying your new phone. To make sure
you've got the basics covered—from setting up your
phone to managing your account—we've provided some
helpful tips below. If you have any questions, just visit
us online
First things first
If you haven't already, here's how to:
• Transfer contacts
• Set up voicemail
Get to know your phone
Explore your phone's features at the
Device How-To Center with:
• Video, interactive and step-by-step tutorials
• Troubleshooting tips

Get the How-To's

 (posting in 2 parts since Blogger seems to be having formatting issues)


Monday, September 2, 2013

Customer Experience - It's not 1950 Anymore

My work and focus is shifting recently. Although it's always centered around the needs of the "user," I've started thinking more about the customer in general. What is their total experience over the lifetime of a product, digital experience, or service?

This has, in turn, made me an even more discriminating and impatient consumer.

Case in point. I heard about an amazing place in southwest Washington where you can rent an old trailer from the 50s and stay there for the night, weekend or week - similar to a B&B, only cooler! Sign me up! But wait, it's not that easy.

The website has great images and a cute look and feel to it. Being very used to booking reservations for everything from Airbnb to a Hilton Hotel online, it seemed only natural that I could do that here. After searching the entire site, I gave up and called. Ok, so they are old school. Old trailers, no online reservations.

One of the nice things about a phone conversation vs. online reservations, is that you find out things you never thought to ask. I found out the trailer I wanted sleeps 6 (unnecessary for us), but they all have kitchens and bathrooms. I put a reservation on a trailer and felt good about it. I did put it on hold it followed up by a few rounds of phone calls (one surreptitious one since I was standing with the person I was trying to surprise with the gift of a weekend) before finally giving them my credit card. At the time of that conversation, I also decided to change to a slightly less expensive, smaller trailer that fit our needs.

After thinking about it for a few days, I realized that I never asked if the new trailer I reserved was available any time other than early October, which seemed far away. I called back (catching someone directly this time), who told me my reservation was still for the larger trailer. After much back and forth we found a date open with a smaller trailer (2 MORE weeks out than I wanted it).

Attempting to be a savvy customer, I asked for a reservation number. "We don't do that." I was told. Really?? Ok, then can you email me a receipt? "We don't do that either." Incredulous I ask how they can run a business like that in this day and age. The woman assures me that my "card" -whatever that is, is now on the date for that trailer. At this time, I picture a huge wall with plastic laminate pockets for every day of the month and every trailer they have. Hopefully, they have a big office.

It's true that everyone adopts and adapts at their own pace, but at some point and time, businesses need to grow and change and keep up with the times. Even without an online reservation system, there should be a simple, easy way to at least guarantee a reservation with a confirmation code. It's just good business. It's not 1950 in the rest of the world.

Lucky for them, they have a bit of a lock on the market as they are the only place I know of like this, so cancelling the reservation was not really an option. Now, I sit back and wait, though you can be sure I'll be calling them every few weeks to be sure we have the Spartan Mansion waiting for us on October 18!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Testing out Online Testing

I recently had the opportunity to test out some of the remote, unmoderated tools now being offered for user testing. Although I am an avid spokesperson for in person interviews, I also realized that setting up and running 1:1 interviews is time-consuming and expensive. We don't always test things we should because it takes too much time and money. That's where the beauty of the unmoderated, remote sessions come in.

For this experiment, I was actually able to schedule testing using two different tools concurrently with one-on-one interviews. This made sure that the team didn't lose any time or information during the process, and also allowed the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each process.

I spent several weeks looking at a number of online tools. The ones I landed on are and


Loop11 allows a quantitative stab at user testing. You set up a series of questions and tasks. After each task you can ask survey type questions of the users. You can invite up to 1000 participants to view your website and subsequent tasks. You can choose demographic criteria, but the more criteria you choose, the more expensive the test is and too many criteria makes it impossible to recruit. Setting it up is a little tricky. Loop11 could take a lesson from Survey Gizmo and allow you to more easily move your questions and tasks around. my 200 person tasked with a relatively broad demographic cost around $800. Each project is $350 if you do them without a yearly package but then you add on the recruiting costs.

Conversely, encourages lower numbers, I tested only six individuals, but successfully recruited six Human Resources representatives which I wasn't sure would be possible. That particular demographic was not available on Loop11. charges around $35 per recruit and  the test cost no more than a few hundred dollars.

It's important to remember that you have a lot less control of the distribution of demographics when using the online tools, but the flipside is that you don't have to spend a week writing a screener and paying for that in both time and money.

If you think about a typical recruit for 1:1 moderated sessions, 5-10 individuals at $150-$200 apiece plus remuneration, a typical study usually runs at least $3000-$4000. Selling the online tools as a cost-saving measure is an easy win. But what about the results?

Both tests were relatively easy to set up. Loop11 allows you to work directly in their interface prior to collecting payment. This was definitely a trickier experience since I had to put in starting URL, success URL and any questions I wanted to ask on each landing. I found it difficult to keep track of and the numbering system doesn't differentiate between tasks and questions so your whole study runs together. (Ideally, each task would have a letter, and then associated tasks/questions might have a number like A1)

User was frustrating because I couldn't set up anything in their online tool until I paid and it took weeks to get through our organization's red tape to be able to set up payment. So I had to set it the test protocolup in Microsoft Word and then cut and paste when we were ready.

The results are where you need to pay the most attention because the output is significantly different. Loop11 delivers much more quantifiable information. You survey/test hundreds of individuals and get large amounts of feedback on your site. We asked questions like whether people thought the site was easy to use or cluttered. In return, Loop11 graphs the responses that were delivered for each question. Loop11 also has heat maps which are great for the team to see a gave us great insight into where participants are focusing. Not only do you see the successes, but you also begin to see the other places on the page where participants clicked. Loop11 also provides click streams, but our beta was not set up in a way that this was valuable. In the future, I would push for better test URLs to be able to track the click streams. Without a live site and discrete URL's for each page - that is difficult. If you want to jump through a few more hoops, you can get audio and video from a collaboration between Open Hallway and I ran out of time and energy and decided I didn't need video from 200 people. You also get a limited amount of information about each participant. I did find myself wanting a better way to export the graphs of feedback data in some way other than through a screen capture. There may be a way, but I didn't find it. delivers raw video along with demographic information, browser information and other key statistics for understanding your participants. The videos I got back were no longer than about 12 min. and I was able to watch them all and take notes within about 90 min. After you take notes in the area provided on the website, you can click a button to export and immediately get a spreadsheet outlining all the demographic data, the answers to the 4 written, open-ended qualitative questions at the end of this test as well as all of the notes you took as a researcher. It's a pretty sweet way to see everything all at once and the dream compared all of the cutting and pasting many of us do after a series of interviews. Because this is a much smaller set of participants, the data is clearly not quantifiable, but in some ways it is a bit richer.

Both of these tools have significant merit for use at the right time in development. seems like a preferred tool for when you have very focused questions and want to understand some limited and specific behaviors on your site and make sure people are finding what they need. is probably closer to a real world, 1:1 moderated session. You are provided with conversational feedback that is valuable a little further forward in the process when you're still making decisions and trying to see how people think when using your site.

The best thing I found in doing this is that the feedback was corroborated across platforms. The team was afraid of that we would get one set of feedback online and one set of feedback in person. I'm happy to report that both the online users (not typical users of our service) and the 1:1 participants (known users of our service) all had feedback that lined up and pointed in the same direction.

For our organization, I hope to be able to use these tools in the future to be able to include the voice of the customer more consistently and for a lower cost; not at the expense of talking with individuals 1:1, but in addition to that as touch points during the development process that keep us agile.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Invisibility Cloak

Superpower Day. If you had a superpower – what would it be? How would you use it?

I love today's question. Although I'm not sure how it relates to healthcare, it is a fun topic to think about.

When someone grants you a wish you should probably wish for world peace or world hunger. In that vein, my initial response, given the topic, would be to have the superpower to simply lay hands on a person and have them feel healthy again. I would have the power to take away disease, disability and illness with the touch of a hand.

However, ignoring altruism, I personally think it would be fantastic to be invisible. This definitely stems from my desire to really know and understand people. If I were invisible, I would have the opportunity to be anywhere undetected and be able to see and hear what people really do and not rely on self-report or less than realistic lab studies.

You could also say I'm nosy. It would be fascinating to have the opportunity to "spy" on people. Not to get them in trouble but just to see what they're really like when nobody's around. It would definitely make me an in demand researcher/ethnographer! There is a great movie called Kitchen Stories where a researcher sits in a very high chair in a man's house to observe him. His placement is less than unobtrusive. Invisibility would grant access and allow me to view the most natural behaviors.

When I'm in a store or in a crowded place, I sometimes wish that I could be invisible. I would love to be able to shop without the hassle of talking to salespeople and engaging in meaningless conversation. I just want to look at the merchandise. Assuming my invisibility was formless, I could bob and weave through a large crowd without having to feel smooshed and suffocated by the tall and large bodies around me. (At 5 feet tall I have been to Oktoberfest and felt totally overwhelmed by the crowd and the large people in it.)

So hopefully I get to stabs at a superpower, one where I have the opportunity to heal and the second where I have the opportunity to observe and from those observations really begin to understand humanity.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In sickness and in health

Today's task:Quotation Inspiration. Find a quote that inspires you (either positively or negatively) and free write about it for 15 minutes.

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.- Mark Twain

America's Health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.- Walter Cronkite

Health is not valued till sickness comes.- Thomas Fuller

The quote by Mark Twain simply made me laugh out loud and I had to include it. Although he did not live long enough to see the Internet (1835-1910), I imagine the quote is truer today than ever. We have a wealth of health information at our fingertips, but it can just as easily be misinformation.

Walter Cronkite's quote is a tough pill to swallow (pun intended) but I believe he is accurate in the description. Healthcare is seen as nameless and faceless. Big corporations, private organizations all of whom are trying to capitalize on the almighty dollar. It may seem that way from the outside, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that there are many caring people trying to do the right thing on the inside.

But I really want to spend a moment or two on the last quote, "health is not valued until sickness comes." There are a few reasons why this quote is important. For one, it underlines how critical it is to participate in preventive care. It is only when we break a leg that we realize how easily we walk, drive or kick a ball every day. It is only when diagnosed with diabetes that we realize what an easy time we had eating whatever food was available at whatever time was convenient assuming our body will do the job of regulating our blood sugar.

The opposite is true as well. Sick people or people in pain forget what it is to be healthy. This weekend I actually had some respite from pain I've been in for about 18 months now. I had forgotten how many things I just chose not to do or participate in because it hurts all the time. I had been putting off the simple act of repotting some plants because getting the bag of dirt out was simply too difficult and too heavy. What a joy it is to not worry about pain or injury with every twist and turn of the day.

So the message from this quote is to celebrate each day, particularly if you are healthy. Be smart about staying healthy. Eat that apple a day, be smart about the food you put in your body and be smart about getting exercise. Get those preventive screenings, wear sunscreen and wash your hands. Breathe deeply and be thankful.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Health Time Capsule

I have been woefully absent at blogging. I decided to try the opportunity to join a blogging challenge this month to get me motivated. Since I saw BJ Fogg speak earlier this week, I have to "facilitate my behavior change" with "tiny habits". At the very least, I will read the topic for the day. I hope to respond to at least 50% of them. Right now, let's focus on today. If you're interested in taking on this challenge yourself please go to Health activist blog challenge.

Today's challenge Health Time Capsule. Pretend you’re making a time capsule of you & your health focus that won’t be opened until 2112. What’s in it? What would people think of it when they found it?

This is interesting because I think we are on the brink of some major changes in the next 100 years. the medicine we have today as well as the way it is managed will likely change significantly in the next 100 years.

Representative artifacts for the time capsule include: photos of cancer survivors, list of support groups, and iPhone with health apps? (I'm really not sure how that would work, but this is all in theory), printouts of health websites, journals of people with long-term illness and some over-the-counter medications. Also included would be a health insurance card and a paper folder with medical records, maybe many paper folders for one person representing the disparate connections. and of course a copy of an explanation of benefits showing just how confusing the system is.

Medicine today: We are still looking for a cure for cancer. We are looking to understand Alzheimer's and dementia. We don't understand diseases on the spectrum including fibromyalgia and autism. We don't yet have a convenient way to manage diabetes. Maybe it's my age, but most people I talk to these days have some type of issue. Many friends have struggled with breast cancer, some have succumbed to other cancers and many of us struggle with a variety of serious diseases as well as annoying ones such as allergies and headaches. The US is only beginning to understand the value of alternative medicine. Western medicine does not have all the answers and things like acupuncture and other complementary care are just beginning to enter more of a mainstream consciousness.

Healthcare today: I have one word - paper. We have far too much paper for a system that relies on multiple points of view and multiple inputs in order to make a successful diagnosis and accurately manage care. Again, we are on the brink, with some offices using Personal Health Records but very few of them connecting to others. Patients still need to wait far too long to access their own personal information.

Health insurance is another issue that has finally entered the limelight. Far too many people go uncovered or do not have care that adequately covers their needs. I'm no socialist, but I really think that basic needs like food and water and healthcare and shelter should be available to everyone. those who have should help to cover those who have not. Not by handing out a dollar on a freeway ramp, but by the system taking care of everyone. Right now, there is a major struggle, with individuals believing that a government mandated service is "unfair". Isn't denying access to healthcare unfair?

Medicine in 2112: When somebody opens my time capsule in 2112, I hope that this myriad of diseases has been cured. Of course, I can't be as naïve as to think that we won't have other diseases in its place. I hope that we will have found some astounding insights into biology that really help us understand these bodies we inhabit and how to best take care of them, and yes, possibly even alter them so that they feel healthy and strong as often as possible. I went to a conference several years ago on living to be 500. Although I'm not sure that is yet an idea our society or planet can sustain, I love the idea of living a long and healthy life. If we are going to live to even 100 or 200, we need to make sure that the quality of life follows along.

Healthcare in 2112: By then, I hope late-night talkshow hosts (Will there still even be late-night talk shows? And will we watch them through the glasses that have all of our streaming video by then?) are laughing at the paper that we used to push in "the old days". A personal health record is a given. From the day you are born your health is tracked on a tiny chip, maybe an embedded chip, but at least a chip that is with you always, or perhaps you have some kind of identifier that allows cloud access to all of your information because we have also solved some of the major privacy issues. The PHR allows you understand and have insight into your healthcare, you can have a dialogue with your providers, and any EMT who finds you knows quickly and easily how to access your health information. your healthcare providers, whether or not they are in the same system, can even talk to each other!*Gasp*

I'm no science fiction writer, and maybe these goals set the bar too low, but to me, if even a few of these are true 100 years from now, we will have made some amazing progress.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Barnes and Noble Nook review - tablets still seem to be in beta

Wow, it has been a while since I've commented on this blog. As you may or may not know I had a stint up at Microsoft for several months and then landed a full-time position as the senior user experience researcher at Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield here in lovely Portland Oregon.

After adapting to full-time work again, I intend to add some blog entries since I've had some interesting experiences with technology recently.

Most recently, I got a Barnes & Noble Nook tablet as a Hanukkah gift. Actually, I was sent some money that I put towards the new tablet. I spent a lot of time looking, mostly at the Kindle fire and the Nook trying to decide which one to purchase. (Also note, if you are looking at these devices, there is a Nook color and the Nook tablet. Be sure you get the one you're looking for.)

My first decision was, what do I want to do and how much do I want to spend? I already have two laptops plus a work laptop, so productivity is low on the importance scale.

My ideal device looks like this:
  • really portable: six or 7 inches like the e-readers
  • under $300 (trying to be realistic)
  • easy to read and download books and magazines including library loans
  • easy to check e-mail and use the Internet (Wi-Fi only is just fine)
  • great access to apps-ideally working with my iPhone, but that means paying Apple premiums
  • access to TV/movies
I am generally underwhelmed by the tablet market and particularly this crossover reader/tablet. They seem to do a little bit of everything but not a lot of anything. I have to say I really like the reading experience on the Nook. The UI is really nice for looking up words or highlighting-this is where I found the Kindle failed miserably putting me in unending loops. I also really liked the contrast on the screen over the Kindle.

However, downloading library books was a crazy experience, more unending loops and syncing with absolutely no feedback, although I guess that's more about the library website and less about the Nook itself. I also realize that at this premium price of $250 I will have to take out a lot of library books to make it worthwhile. I am still trying to figure out if a paper magazines that I subscribe to will allow me to download digital versions for free. I certainly hope so…

I compromised on apps and other functionality to retain a small footprint, a lightweight device and something in a "reasonable" price range.

I downloaded A copy of Real Simple magazine which looks beautiful. The only thing I realized is that I very often tear pages out of magazines with recipes or book recommendations or other interesting tidbits, and with the e-reader I can no longer do that and I'm not sure I can even print from it. I also have not figured out if there's any way to read the books that I have downloaded on my Nook on my iPhone. I don't imagine always having the device with me and would love to read when I have the chance. Although, the reason I got the tablet is that reading on the iPhone is a pretty painful experience. And I love to read.

The touchscreen is somewhat touch and go. Some pages are optimized which is nice, but the targets are still really small, somehow even worse than the iPhone, and it seems to take one or two touches to actually get it to register. or, it may just be that the Wi-Fi is relatively slow and it's loading but I don't realize it. I spend a lot of time watching the green bar go across the top as it downloads pages.

What I miss most is the ability to have many different apps. The store is extremely limited, which I only learned after my purchase. I have started bookmarking sites, but once you've gone apps you don't want to go back.

The final thing that comes to mind is the e-mail program. The iPhone very kindly lets you read e-mail and then mark it as "unread" so that when you view it on another device you realize you still need to answer that e-mail. Unfortunately, the Nook does not have that option. It's an option I make frequent use of, and definitely miss.

And, if you are purchasing this or any other tablet, I highly recommend a case that you can use either in vertical or horizontal position. I love that I can prop up a book and read it sitting all by itself on the table (especially given ongoing back problems). But you will also want to be able to watch a movie or video propped horizontally. The only case I have found for this device is the Tasume Case. I returned the one I purchased my purchased the device and will be ordering this one.

So, there are a lot of things I would like it to do, and many things I'm not sure that it can. my plan is to use it and adapt to it as best as I can. Heck, if in six months I don't like it, there's always eBay.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Patient Experience

My book group just finished reading A General Theory of Love. We seem to be a bunch of psychology nerds and fascinated by the human condition. The general theory is about how important human connection is and how intrinsic it is to our core being. The author's compose lengthy prose on the limbic system which allows mammals (unlike reptiles) to have complex interactions with their offspring. Oversimplified, we seek attachment and based on what we experienced as children, we may have healthy or unhealthy love attachments as we age. We seek connection.

Towards the end of the book, the author's discuss the loss of connection in healthcare from a 1990 New York Times article:

I wouldn't demand a lot of my doctor's time, I just wish he would brood on my situation for perhaps five minutes, that he would give me his whole mind just once. I would like to think of him as going through my character, as he goes through my flesh, to get at my illness, for each man is ill in his own way...I'd like my doctor to scan me, to grope for my spirit as well as my prostate. Without such recognition, I am nothing but my illness.

I have personally done multitudes of interviews with patients and this is one of the best quotes I've run across. What patients want, in addition to and perhaps beyond healing, is to be seen. It is important that they feel cared for and connected, not just like another in a long list of issues for the day. The book goes on to quote a 1994 article in the Lancet which advocates that even if doctors don't care, they should "act" as though they do. Many patients who desire compassion are now turning to alternative therapies.

So, why bring this up on this blog about user experience? It hearkens back to the user experience, but a piece that we often neglect. We talk about technology and how well it works for people, we talk about product design and whether or not it is intuitive and we test web sites to be sure people can easily navigate their way through. But, we often forget to "design" or review the human component, the most variable, least understood component of any system. Whether you are a physician, customer service rep, retail clerk or barista, remember that at the end of the day it is you who makes or breaks the customer experience. Be patient, think about how you might feel in the other person's shoes. Take a deep breath and grope for their spirit, I can guarantee you will both be happier in the end.