Apologies for not posting again last week - I had a few applications to various things due and it was quite hectic. I'll try to post once a day this week, as there has been enough work done in the last week to warrant it. Today, I'll talk about personas - a useful analytical tool that designers use to keep the needs of the people that they're designing for in mind. These are abstracted characters that pull very specific details from real people and real experiences - they aren't real people but are more like an amalgamation of real people. For an exercise yesterday in class, we were asked to identify users [who we're designing for], experts, career helpers, and people that we want to make proud and rank them in order of importance in our thesis. I identified the three most important stakeholders for my thesis as people with spinal cord injuries, medical suppliers and doctors. If you remember back to my early posts about the thesis, one of my goals for the thesis is to make something real, something mass-marketable that will actually help people with spinal cord injuries arrive at that place of quiet determinism, of agency. My choice of key stakeholders follows directly from that. Today, I discuss what I'll need to do in order to develop personas for these stakeholders.
In reflecting on my thesis and trying to rank various stakeholders, experts and users for the thesis in order of importance, I concluded that the three groups that I'm concerned most about in my thesis are people with spinal cord injuries, medical suppliers and doctors/medical staff. I've been very clear with myself from the outset that I want to make real things as a result of this thesis - real products that can help people find this feeling of quiet determination and agency that I've discussed earlier. To do that, I think that I need to appeal to the three groups outlined above to successfully make a product that even has a chance of going to market. Luckily, as far as developing personas for these three stakeholder groups goes, I've had some experience interviewing people from each group - so there is some information that I do know.
People with SCI - The first thing anyone will tell you about spinal cord injuries is that each injury is different. Two people with the exact same injury in the exact same location can have dramatically different rehabilitative outcomes. This somewhat surprising fact makes it difficult at first to imagine developing personas for this group - especially because doing so almost seems tantamount to minimizing and censoring individual suffering, of describing an emotional, psychological and physical trauma in purely general terms that don't capture as much nuance as might be warranted by the severity of the user's experience. Another thing that I'm wary of is perpetuating ableism - I don't want to reduce people with spinal cord injuries to "people in wheelchairs". A lot of my early interviews with people with SCI highlighted how exclusionary the environment still is, even 25 years after the passage of the ADA, to people in wheelchairs, and how people with spinal cord injuries are either hailed as heroes, or disregarded as less than human. A lot of my interviewees just wanted to be regarded as normal. It was only later that I realized that this reflected the ableist mindset of society at large - its tendency to see people with disabilities as less capable.
Most of the people that I interviewed were optimistic. They were dancers, activists, and athletes. As a result, their response to my early designs tended to be very positive, and very reassuring. I do know, though, that there are those people with spinal cord injuries who have been struggling, who don't know how they'll make it through the next day, month or year of their lives. I think that in order to flesh out my thesis and the product offering that I'm developing, I will need to find some of these people and urge them to open up about how they feel about their injury, and what in particular makes them feel that way. I know that it's silly to say this on some level - it seems fairly obvious as to why they might feel depressed or desperate - but I have a feeling there's something deeper than the pure physical and emotional reality of a spinal cord injury feeding that negative mindset.
Medical suppliers - I only managed to interview two or three people from a medical supply company, and it's clear that I need to interview more. I know that these corporations tend to be massive, as they need to be in order to pay for the R&D that goes into product development, patent protection and various legal fees. I have a rough idea of what it takes to get a product from conception to launch - the sheer amount of time and legwork that are necessary - but I'm also in a position where I have an idea that I want to take to a medical supplier, but I have no idea who to show it to. This fact belies my ignorance in a way that is impossible to ignore - and if I'm to fulfill the goals of my thesis, I need to get a move on and contact more of the people who work in these companies, understand what drives their product development in terms of addressable markets, pain points met, and profitability.
I think that it's easy to develop a one-sided view of these companies - that they are either greedy and profit-driven, or that they are benevolent, and that the products that they provide meet real user needs. The challenge will be two-fold - to be able to meet people in the companies who are willing to talk honestly about both the successes and challenges of developing products in the context of a highly regulated field like medicine, and to develop a nuanced persona to represent these companies.
Doctors and medical staff - One the primary ways in which doctors and medical staff differ from one another, from the interviews that I've conducted, are the extent to which they accept and advocate for alternative forms of treatment and therapy. I encountered doctors who were completely supportive of a product design thesis designed to help people with spinal cord injuries - but I also encountered those that were completely skeptical. Longtime readers of the blog will remember when my first co-designing workshop was canceled because a doctor bailed out at the last minute, probably because she didn't understand the value of such a workshop. Regardless, I think that I should do a better job of trying to talk to more doctors - to understand how clinical attitudes towards SCI can differ, and how quickly adoption of novel techniques and methodologies can vary between doctors, and which factors affect this adoption.
I have to confess that there's one group in particular that I should reach out to that I haven't just yet, and that's occupational therapists. One of my services, intended to let wheelchair users make better decisions about ordering wheelchairs, implicates occupational therapists heavily in its conceptualization. I need to finally bunker down and just ask if it's a good idea or not, to see what holes can be poked into the main idea of the service. There's also the Journey app, whose usefulness I'd like to verify with actual experts in healthcare, with the people who help take care of recently spinal cord injured people.