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Design matters

Design matter, lessons from a care home

Do you ever doubt the value of what you do? Me, I push a few pixels around, pick a cool font and agonise over making my text line up. Not exactly saving lives, is it?

Over the last couple of months, I have spent a lot of time in hospital with a loved one. Sitting by their bedside for hours and seeing the incredible work of NHS staff is a humbling experience. These people really are saving lives, or at least trying to make them more comfortable. And that naturally got me questioning the value of what I do for a living.

Fast forward a few weeks; I am trying to navigate the minefield of our care system and find a space in a nursing home. And I’m under pressure because the hospital needs the bed. This is so far out of my comfort zone; I am feeling overwhelmed.

And this is where design matters.

My state of mind and stress levels at placing a relative in care are probably fairly typical. When looking through brochures or websites, I don’t want to be made to work too hard. Firstly, I want to feel reassured that I have come to the right place. Then I want to have all the important questions answered upfront without endlessly searching. Speak to me in a language I can understand. Keep in mind, I'm new to all this, so using social care jargon will lose me. And frustrate me.

Over 24 hours, I looked at a lot of poorly designed materials. There were plenty of smiling photos of older folks enjoying life, but very little clear and concise information on what care would actually be provided. Now, of course, that’s not all on the designer. I’ve worked on enough of these sorts of projects to know we don’t always have too much sway on content or messaging. A lot of people will have been involved in putting these brochures together. Did they all lose sight of their audience? Of how they might be feeling at that point in the decision making process?

Then it got worse. And this one is very much on us designers. Forms. There’s a lot of paperwork involved when you have finally done all your due diligence and soul searching and found a suitable place. To be told the forms can’t just be emailed because they are too confusing and need to be explained face to face means something has gone very wrong! Explaining the form to every single new resident or their family is surely not a good use of resources? Invest a few hours with a professional and have them laid out properly, saving yourself time, human error and money.

These forms were terrible. Aside from being photocopied multiple times, and at such a jaunty angle, they were almost illegible, the instructions were unclear. Areas to be filled out were not highlighted. There wasn’t enough space to write in. I could go on... Apart from being a nightmare to fill out for what was fairly standard information, it didn’t make a good first impression. If they couldn’t even be bothered to provide fit for purpose forms, what did that say about their attention to detail? About their level of care?

Design matters.

Since becoming freelance, I’ve been lucky to work on lots of projects in the public health and charity sectors. I’ve worked on NHS projects for a great agency that genuinely cares about each and every detail - including forms! I’ve worked on campaigns to increase Covid vaccine uptake, tackle youth violence in London, improve NHS staff wellbeing, and navigate mental health in the justice system; it is a very long list. My design has played a part in getting the message across in a clear and engaging way. However, my recent experiences have been a timely reminder of the importance of good design; just how much it matters. And of really thinking about your audience and how they might be feeling at that moment in time. Putting yourself in their shoes. This has been a good reminder that it’s not always about coming up with something highly creative.

Solid design principles, rational thinking and sweating the small stuff will always be the right approach.

Even if that’s just leaving enough space in your boxes for someone to easily fill out a form. I might not be saving lives, but the way I arrange those pixels on a page can have an impact. They can make someone's life a little easier. Getting the design right matters. That’s the purpose of my job.

Anyone else share my frustration with forms?


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