HxRefactored 2014: "Health is hard; let's go shopping!"

Finishing up a long week away from home waiting for my flight home from Toronto – can’t wait to get back to the Northwest. Will be getting up bright and early tomorrow for one last skiing day with my son at Crystal! Gonna be awesome.

It was a week well spent, though. In particular, HxRefactored 2014 was a great event; my keynote was fun (well, fun for me at least) and I got to attend a bunch of really great sessions that were super-relevant to the work we’re doing at HealthVault. Last year’s Refactored conference was great, but this year’s more explicit combination of design and development was even better.

Given the focus of the audience, I chose to spend my session talking about the challenges that real-world health data present for building great, simple user experiences and code that doesn’t blow up. Things that seem simple just aren’t, and if you build with a limited understanding of the domain, at best you’re going to end up with something kind of useless, and at worst you may actually hurt somebody.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should give up and just accept crap --- it just means you have to do your homework and recognize that if it really were easy, most health apps would be awesome already (they are not).

Health data is sucky in a number of ways:

  • Measurements are often not precise and can vary significantly from reading to reading.
  • For many types of data (e.g., diet), just capturing it in the first place is really cumbersome.
  • Different systems are incredibly varied in how they represent equivalent concepts.
  • Structured data is often unavailable, making automated computation really hard.

There are great strategies for handling all of these --- but it takes a very thoughtful designer to take the variability into account without allowing their interface to become a disaster --- and a foresightful developer to write code that doesn’t randomly get confused and throw exceptions.

Anyways, I’ve posted my slides here… but frankly without the voiceover I’m not sure how useful they’ll be. At least for those at the show that couldn’t read all that grotty XML from the back rows, now you have something to do on Saturday night. You’re welcome! Mobihealthnews also put up a pretty good article about the recurring conference theme of data challenges.

By far, my favorite session as an attendee was towards the end of the show, a combination of four shorter presentations under the umbrella of “Designing for Behavior Change.” We were introduced to:

Anyways --- thanks as always to the Health 2.0 crew who do a great job with these events. Looking forward to next year!