The Differences Between User Experience and Visual Design

By Lee Farabaugh
10:35 AM

Today’s healthcare consumer has many providers to choose from, and healthcare organizations must clearly differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack to stay competitive. As the healthcare environment continues to evolve, many healthcare executives feel the pressure to quickly roll out solutions and applications to support emerging delivery and payment models, as well as meet the unique needs of diverse end users. While this quick-to-market approach rapidly delivers technologies to end users, in many cases, it results in poorly architected solutions that are not adopted by providers and patients. What’s more, if end user adoption is not achieved, healthcare organizations risk having to pay thousands of dollars to either fix the design issues on the back-end or scrap the solution and start over.

With so much at stake, it is important that healthcare executives deploy well-designed, user-friendly technology to ensure adoption among patients and providers. Take busy physicians, for example. They need and want technologies that enable them to focus on efficiently delivering high-quality patient care. Therefore, the ideal electronic health record application should be based on a user-centered design approach that mirrors providers’ clinical workflows.

To achieve adoption, healthcare organizations must seek to develop technology that is both functionally successful and visually pleasing. By making an upfront investment in solutions that integrate user experience (UX) design with visual design during the development process, healthcare executives can boost adoption, thereby helping their organizations realize long-term clinical, administrative and fiscal advantages.

UX vs. Visual Design

Some healthcare executives mistakenly view UX and visual design as one and the same. However, an attractively designed interface alone does not automatically lead to end user adoption. End users who find an application cumbersome to use or information too difficult to find, for instance, simply will not use it, no matter how pretty it is. Before deploying technology, it is important executives understand the fundamental differences between these two design approaches.

UX and visual design each play a different, but meaningful, role in healthcare technology development. Visual design drives the end user’s initial impression of a technology with components such as color, font, photography and graphical styling. Visual design also conveys the organization’s brand identity and—when executed well—creates a consistent image. Although an application’s visual appeal contributes a great deal to overall user perception, it is important to recognize that both visual design and UX design are necessary components of high-quality technology development.

UX design, on the other hand, focuses on the complete experience of an individual using the technology and frames the context of who will use an application and how they will use it. UX design encompasses a number of activities, including visual design. The UX design process should begin before solutions are developed with a comprehensive and scientific research process to identify the specific needs, wants and key tasks associated with the intended end user. These findings are integrated into the interface, and inform visual and industrial design elements of a solution to enhance the specific ways end users interact with an application.

The most effective design strategy for maximizing adoption is to blend user experience methodologies and visual design to create attractive technologies that achieve definitive objectives. When developers architect a new healthcare solution, visual design components are considered as part of the research and strategy discussion, but visual design cannot effectively function alone without UX decision points identified.

A Design Strategy to Maximize Adoption and Minimize Risk

Healthcare executives can view the marriage of UX and visual design much like an insurance policy that ensures end user adoption. The initial investment is typically felt more substantially at the outset of a project. However, the payback comes with the deployment of user-centric applications that, because they are more readily adopted, enhance care quality, increase productivity and help reduce costs—the core business requirements for operating a viable healthcare organization.

Healthcare executives are currently investing millions of dollars to implement healthcare technologies to comply with legislative mandates, improve care delivery, enhance patient engagement and streamline efficiencies. That’s a good thing for the industry, but there’s a caveat: failure to take into account the specific needs of the end user could expose healthcare organizations to unnecessary financial risk.

In order to protect technology investments, healthcare executives must understand the difference between UX design and visual design. Then, to ensure adoption, they must ensure they deploy technologies that incorporate elements of the two.