It’s really exciting to be able to design a new digital health device! Particularly so when this device could help people with their health and well-being. To do so, it is important to understand who the intended users are for the new device – their expectations and preferences – and in what context and settings the new device will be used. Understanding all of this is the first step towards designing a new digital health tool relevant for end-users to include in their health journey. In this blog, I will describe how this process can be successfully conducted by referring to the Living Laboratory design methodology (1).
It is important to identify who are the key stakeholders involved in developing such a tool. The stakeholders will include the intended end-users, a software company, the project developers based in a University, and potentially specific stakeholders who provide funding to support the project. It is preferable that both public and private institutions are represented as well as an academic setting. Once the stakeholders are identified, they need to be engaged in developing the new software tool. Their level of engagement may vary according to their role as a stakeholder. However, client end-users stakeholders should be considered and where possible involved at all stages of the project’s development.
Involving the stakeholders during the project’s product development cycle should be done in an iterative way. Stakeholders should be able to review the product and provide feedback at sequential stages of its development. At each stage, the researchers should assess the feedback, and make changes to the product design in response to the feedback. The Living Laboratory methodology promotes the idea of repeated consultation and product development. Ideally, this consultation should begin at the ideation stage, where the presenting problem, need or challenge is explored, and a range of potential solutions are identified. Further consultation rounds focus on choosing the path forward regarding the technology style to be used and clarifying constraints such as time and finances, and exploring in detail the end-user needs, preferences, and context requirements for using the intended tool.
The next step is to look carefully at the technology and how to best put in the user’s needs and preferences to the design of the technology. This involves appraising what the technology offers regarding customisation and personalisation features. For the project’s success, a reasonable budget also needs to be decided as this impacts the degrees of freedom possible with the integration of more advanced features into the software. Project timelines for producing deliverables are also critical and affect the level of detail pursued and achieved in the final design of the software tool.
Prototype development (sometimes known as proof of concept) should then commence. The various stages of development should be presented to the consultation group meetings so that stakeholders can provide feedback and recommendations on the prototype at each of its stages of development.
The Living Laboratory methodology allows for a range of methodological approaches to be used. These approaches may include focus groups, qualitative interviewing in-house, alpha and beta testing, feasibility and usability studies, and of course, progression toward conducting an effectiveness study. The approaches used should be carefully chosen to meet the specific needs and expected challenges of the project. For example, the particular needs of end-users could require that focus groups work better than one-to-one interviews. For that, the nature of in-house beta testing could include specific recruitment of staff persons who understand the needs of the intended end-users.
The methodologies used with the project should always reflect the central tenet of co-creation: focusing upon the intended end-users’ needs and preferences and incorporate ongoing consultation with the various stakeholders into the design process (see Figure 1). The principles of the W3C guidelines (2) should be considered and integrated into the consultation processes. These principles relate to optimising how perceivable, operable and usable the tool is, and how its sofware can best be intergrated into the intended setting and context (2). Undertaking iterative consultation helps ensure that the final digital health product will best suit the end-users’ needs, be acceptable to the end-users regarding how it is presented, and also be enjoyable to use.
This approach to the methodology contrasts with any more simplistic approach of a single round of end-user consultation utilising a constructed questionnaire. Often for client end-users, they will benefit from having the opportunity to express their thoughts, feedback and recommendations about the product being developed over several sessions. This may be due to their own health needs such as fatigue, fluctuating physical symptoms, or cognitive challenges. It may also be due to needing to gradually learn about the technology tool itself regarding the design capabilities and opportunities.
In summary, the Living Laboratory provides a framework for bringing the real world into the design space. The consultative process does take time, but the benefits from doing so are essential towards producing a digital health tool that will fit well in the real world and optimally meet the client end-users’ specific needs. I am really excited to undertake this product development as part of my PhD project with the ARC Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living.
- Evans P, Schuurman D, Ståhlbröst A, Vervoort K. Living Lab Methodology Handbook 2017. Available from: https://u4iot.eu/pdf/U4IoT_LivingLabMethodology_Handbook.pdf.
- World Wide Web Consortium, Web Accessibility Initiative, (W3C WAI). Cognitive Accessibility at W3C [Internet]. 2021 [updated 2021. Available from: https://www.w3.org/WAI/cognitive/#cognitive-accessibility-in-w3c-standards.
ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living PhD scholarship recipient
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Editorial review by:
Dr Shariful Islam, Senior Research Fellow (IPAN)
Kevin Hoon, Hub Manager