Working with the NHS on digital design principles in health

What does ‘good’ digital design look like in health?

Perhaps not a question you ask yourself much, beyond thinking whether you like a font or particular image on a website you’ve commissioned.

But it’ become a recent obsession for some in the NHS, and for good reason.

The Digital Health Design Network

At the end of 2017, ARK Comms were invited to join a group of digital design experts called the Digital Health Design Network, kick started by Nicola Gill in the NHS Widening Digital Participation (WDP) team.

Nicola is a passionate advocate of health equality, and her work in the WDP team aims support the millions of digitally excluded people in England who don’t have the skills to get online and benefit from digital health services and information. (There are some great overviews of the WDP’s work on the NHS Digital Transformation Blog, and on the Good Things Foundation blog, who are key partners in delivering WDP’s work.)

Being invited to join the network was an honour, and we’ve hugely enjoyed debating digital health with design, UX and service design experts from across NHS Digital, Government Digital Services and partner organisations like ourselves.

But more importantly, we’ve been inspired by the overall aim of the network – to develop some guiding design principles for digital health services. The work stems from the wider work of the WDP, and the realisation that ‘digital inclusion’ is just as much about building consistently accessible and usable digital services as it is building an individual’ skills to use digital.

Nicola Gill says “The WDP team at NHS Digital is committed to ensuring the digital health products and services we are developing are accessible and available to everyone – particularly the most vulnerable and excluded.”

“Those that need it the most should be able to benefit from the convenience and choice that digital health technology can offer.”

Defining good digital design

So back to that initial question – what does good look like when it comes to designing digital health products and services? Beneath the skin of this deceptively simple question lies a core truth about design in the context of health.

Whisper it, but design isn’t about looking pretty (per se).

It’ about making something useful. That is, making something that helps people understand and take action, and that supports the health and wellbeing of the user. Of course, something that is useful can be pretty – and aesthetics can and do inform usefulness – but not everything pretty is useful.

This sounds obvious but it’ really important for anyone involved in commissioning digital health products and services, including pharma.

Think again about that patient website a pharma team commissions (or any digital product for that matter). What criteria would you use to discern it’ value and usability to your patient group? Be honest, is it a subjective finger in the air, I-like-that-colour-pallete type decision or do you use a set of robust user-centred design principles to inform that judgement?

Watch this space

We think the NHS digital design principles will be a great reference point for anybody involved in developing digital health products and services in future, including pharma.

As Nicola Gill puts it, “Digital inclusion starts with good design. We hope that principles and best practise guidelines that we are working on will influence and inform digital health design across the NHS and beyond”.

It’ been a pleasure being part of the team drafting the design principles. They are being honed and tweaked as we speak, and will be embedded within the NHS over the coming months.

Look out for them. And in the meantime, if you need help understanding what good looks like, get in touch!