Show me what you’ve got: More than a prototype

This post will make sense as a standalone, but, if you prefer, check out It’s just a prototype”: When my asthma app dreams came true and died seconds later to get the full story.

A few years ago, I got an e-mail from a guy named Yang. Yang is an engineer who works in health technology and does cool things that help people with heart failure. He’s also super, super nice, and I could feel the gratitude he felt for me—a patient sharing my thoughts on my asthma and health tracking—and the thoughts I shared. Yang did things right: he did not come to me with a product he’d created and asked “Hey, can you try this and see if it’s good?” He came to me, and my friend Stephen in the Bay Area, with nothing but an idea. He wanted to make sure he knew what, exactly, patients wanted in an app.

Asking what patients feel is important before you’ve even written some code? Before you try to present me a prototype or a mock up? Before maybe you even have the faintest idea what you are doing? It doesn’t make you look unprepared: it makes it look like you care to actually address the challenges we are dealing with, it shows us that you want to create something for me, for people with asthma that is actually useful for us. For me, the openness (lack-there-of) of the Canadian information regarding air quality, pollen counts, and so on, was a barrier in using Yang’s system to its full potential—when I chatted with a couple of guys from MemoText (more to come), developing asthma apps for clinical use, they shared the same frustration. This information is simply not open access and a huge frustration to developers who want to do good for people. Fortunately, this information is more openly available in the United States, so Stephen was able to harness the full power of Yang’s software, which also learned a person’s asthma over time, and was able to offer predictive alerts when the external conditions might have been indicating a worsening of asthma control.

Stephen and myself both gave feedback to Yang. If we said “Hey this isn’t working for me,” or “Hey, you should maybe add this?” Yang would figure out how to get it done (with the exception of the Canadian data above, because nobody has yet to be able to pull that data for an individual project). I have to mention, too, that Yang’s asthma tracker is his side project: he’s working on it for fun because he wants to. He wants to understand asthma as much as he can, to make something that works better for us with this disease. When I was in Palo Alto in mid-September, Yang jumped in his car for the 30 minute drive on a day’s notice, to meet myself and two other Canadians with asthma that he’d never met before, just to hang out. Of course, we spent a lot of time discussing asthma, and what we felt our needs in a tracking solution were. Yang listened intently: despite that we are Canadian, he wanted to understand how his platform could be better used within our country, too.

Yang’s platform is still in beta, running on a mobile website. But instead of asking for information before he did the release, he did it the right way—“backwards” to how most app publishers do it. He wants to do it right, not fast. I’m happy he came to me with nothing, because it means he is designing for me, the person with asthma. I’m happy he’s not rushing to get an imperfect app on the App Store just because he can. It’s because of this I can tell he’s genuinely trying to make the best possible app he can, and not just trying to get something—anything—out there.

THIS to me is good design practice: being passionate, taking your time to create something amazing, and making sure it fits the needs and wants of the people who you’re designing for before you even start. I’ve dealt with a lot of people developing apps who come to me through my website, and the process Yang has engaged me in has been—by far—my favorite to be a part of.

So, I’ve got nothing to show you now, either. But, I know Yang has more in the works than the people who spoke about their beautiful, trend spotting, data combining… drawings. And I know that, even if it takes years, there are things being created for us, with us, being done right

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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