Four days, a room-full of designers, and one wicked problem

A guest post by UX Boot Camp Alumni Raphaelle Loren



The Context

It’s not every day that you are given the opportunity as a designer to craft a company’s user experience (UX) from scratch. Cooper’s UX Boot Camp this past month was just that: Cooper’s teaching duo (Teresa Brazen and Izac Ross) led a group of twenty-five participants into the design of a young startup’s UX to expand their offering beyond the technical solution they’re developing — while teaching participants the required UX design tools along the way.

Beyond the science

The young startup is called Emessence. The founding team is working on a new blood test to accurately measure disease activity in Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This life-long, degenerative disease is still poorly understood and extremely difficult to manage, so for patients and physicians alike, this test represents a promising glimmer of hope in the dark, obscure world of MS .

While the founders of the young company are focused on developing and proving the science, they are also aware that they have to go “beyond the blood test” to create “stickiness” with their users and find ways to create additional value for their business. Not an easy challenge, so they partnered with Cooper to craft new UX solutions.


A second chance at a wicked problem

The fascinating thing about the design process is that it can take you to new solutions, even when facing a familiar challenge.

When I first read the description of the challenge, I had ambivalent feelings about what the experience might stir for me personally. I am a designer, marketer, and entrepreneur and have used UX tools and methods for almost a decade. I’ve focused my practice on digital health and more specifically I spent the last three years working on a decision-support application for MS patients and their physicians. This last episode of my career started with the collaboration UCSF researchers and physicians on the MS Bioscreen and took the form of a startup (MIRA Medicine) to take the concept of the Bioscreen into a broader platform.

After putting my heart and soul into it, I was compelled to close MIRA — but that’s another story. What matters here is that I was concerned that my prior knowledge of the challenges with MS might limit my ability to be creative, and that I might have a difficult time letting go of that prior solution, in which I had invested so much.

At the same time, this Boot Camp seemed like an excellent opportunity to give back to the MS community, since I had spent so much time learning about what the disease meant day-to-day for patients in my prior work experience. I spoke with neurologists, observed consultations, interviewed dozens of patients, and even frequently attended MS patient support groups. The more I learned about this disease and fathomed its sheer complexity, the more empathic I grew with the MS community, which is tight-knit, supportive, caring, and very committed. Given this context, I was eager to share my hard-earned insights to Emessence through this Boot Camp.

Keep calm and carry on

Four days are not a lot — yet it’s amazing just how much a team of motivated people can accomplish in such a short period of time.

Together, we:

  • Learned about a complex domain
  • Conducted research interviews to learn more about the challenges of managing MS day-to-day
  • Developed a design target: a persona, who represented patterns we heard in research
  • Created a design vision
  • Crafted a first rendition of an interaction flow, complete with wireframes and/or more polished designs
  • Put together a pitch of our concepts to Emessence

We worked first as individuals, then in pairs or groups, and finally for the last 2 days, in teams of 4–5 individuals. It’s always very interesting to see how things shake up when people have never worked together. Fortunately, our team “clicked” because we had a nice balance of skills and talents, coupled with a good amount of humility and respect for each other’s experience and abilities.

This wasn’t a given: the 3rd day of the workshop brought its fair share of doubts, as it was our first day as a final team. Most of our success depended on our collective ability as a team to collaborate productively from that moment on. A good team is able to get over humps quickly so that great work can happen. And on the 4th day, our team really came together.

The composition of the teams were left to the participants and each team focused on daily challenges for MS patients, including tracking and behavior change, communication with their (sometimes complex) care team, staying atop of relevant trends in medical research and treatment options, and finding and learning from MS patients with similar disease profiles.

The clear advantage to having each team focus on a different aspect of the challenge is that it avoided “tunnel vision”, or the collective ability to dismiss good ideas that are outside of a narrowed scope. In this case, each team really explored different directions, and it was fascinating to see how the very same discovery and design process could lead to such a variety of ingenious solutions. For instance, one team explored the use of smart watches for passive tracking and symptoms monitoring; another proposed to create an app to enable better information sharing between patient and physician, while a third focused on providing daily disease management and emotional support through the use of Artificial Intelligence.

And now what?

We designers work for impact — that’s the real currency by which we judge our work.

Cooper’s UX Boot Camp was very hands-on and the ultimate deliverable was a mobile interface design.

Therefore it made complete sense to use the single focus lens of UX for teaching. However, implementation into a business is a much more complex story. So how can this learning experience be taken a step further?

Emessence business model relies on the physician ordering the blood test, so the role of the patient might seem tangential. However in order to capture value throughout the value chain, putting the patient at the center of the design process was an opportunity for the Emessence team to take a new perspective on their business and explore further what ecosystem of secondary products/services they could provide to fulfill their business objectives. In other words, this provided another lens for the design of their business.

Taking an initial concept and transforming it into a full-fledged solution ready to go to market will require a wider
set of design tools than what we were able to explore in a few days. Marrying this initial UX perspective with more abstract yet incredibly valuable design tools including:

Service Design methods such as “customer journey mapping” and “service blueprinting” adapted to Startups by live|work at The Service Startup.

Business Modeling (such as the famous Business Model Generation tools including the Canvas) to place some of these new ideas into the constraints of the business:

  • How does this get translated into core capabilities that need to be brought together for this solution to be implemented?
  • Are these additional capabilities something the business wants to specialize in or outsource?
  • Have new constraints become apparent that we should take into account and iterate on our design?
  • What are the implications on the business success overall?

All in all…

In only four days, the Cooper team shepherded a room-full of participants into forming new levels of collaboration, learning or honing new skills, and crafting novel solutions to a pressing challenge in an ambiguous context. Certainly a tall order, but the design process does not disappoint. We all worked very hard, but we also had great fun along the way!

It will be exciting to see how Emessence might incorporate some of these solutions into their product roadmap.

On a personal note, these four days were highly transformative, as I was able to reconcile my professional past and future chapters there. It provided the opportunity to turn the page on MIRA Medicine in a productive way, and start fresh with a positive contribution– thanks to the design process.

And as welcome bonus, I made new friends and professional connections along the way.

Raphaelle Loren is a French designer and entrepreneur, based in SF Bay Area. Follow her at @rloren

The Editors

Learn more

Subscribe to our mailing list and stay up to date on our latest thought leadership and learning opportunities.

Connect with us

Want to know how we can help your company drive real business progress?

Let’s talk

Stay up to date on our latest thought leadership and learning opportunities