Humanising technology with empathy: a lesson from our work with the Mayo Clinic

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It’s not easy to tell someone they may be genetically susceptible to a potentially devastating illness.

But this is exactly the position we found ourselves in when we began working with The Mayo Clinic, one of the US’s most respected healthcare providers, on the customer experience of their product Mayo Clinic GeneGuide.

It’s a web app that accompanies a saliva-based genetic test, giving patients their results and access to education on what their results mean.

The enormous challenge here is that only 11% of qualified physicians can read and understand genetic results. But - and it’s a big one - the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations required 90-95% comprehension of the results delivered by the tests.

So where do you start when you need to communicate something incredibly difficult and technically complex?

You start by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

In fact, patient empathy was the missing ingredient in this project. It was this understanding that helped us crack the brief.

Customers didn’t just need educating about the facts of the matter - gaining their trust was just as vital a part of the journey.

That’s why we developed lifestyle and ancestry tools that patients could access in the six-week wait between sending off their saliva test and seeing the result.

Then, to ensure a clear understanding of the outcome of the test and what it might mean for each patient, we developed an innovative customer experience blueprint that was used by all
stakeholders on the project.

The result was a client with highly engaged and educated customers. A clear narrative won the day, as it always does.

We’re in the empathy profession … and so are you

As we found in our work for The Mayo Clinic; to build a clear narrative into your design, you must first practice empathy.

This skill isn’t just critical for designers or marketers.

As Bernadette Jiwa so perfectly puts it on her Story of Telling blog;

“Today, every one of us, from accountants to designers, CEOs to Astronauts, are in the ’empathy profession’. No business or brand can thrive without understanding what it is their customer wants. No leader can create meaningful change without seeing the world through the eyes of her colleagues. No innovator can create relevant solutions unless he understands the challenge his invention helps someone to overcome.”

Empathy is good for business, too.

Bernadette goes on to say, “understanding of the customer is why Apple’s packaging feels like a gift. It’s the reason Instagram became unstoppable and how Lululemon amassed a cult following.”

This is why we believe it’s so important that your digital products aren’t a bolt-on to your brand, but a part of your overall brand strategy that puts your purpose at the heart.

Innovation doesn’t start with your product. It starts with your customer.

How about you?

Do you have any techniques or practices that help you put yourself in your customers’ shoes?

Best wishes,


Danny SomekhComment