01.31.18
Lilly Smith | Interviews

Chain Letters: Briana Como




This interview is part of an ongoing Design Observer series, Chain Letters, in which we ask leading design minds a few burning questions—and so do their peers, for a year-long conversation about the state of the industry.

In January, we examine the intersection of design and tech.

Briana Como
is an Interim Design Manager & Lead UX Visual Designer at 3M Design Health Care Business Group, where she works with cross-functional teams to create best in class user-centered designs. Briana leads the Health Information Systems (HIS) team in bringing to life applications, experience strategies, and user interface platforms across high-profile enterprise software programs.

Briana has over 15 years of experience designing native apps, websites, applications, and data visualizations for a wide variety of industries and users with a focus on goal-directed design and cross-discipline collaboration. Briana tackles tough business and technology problems by creating intuitive, elegant, and functional products.

With every passing year, technology becomes more seamlessly intertwined with the human experience. In your role, how have you seen this affect human behavior?

For many of our users—medical coders, CDI specialists, and other roles—technology in day-to-day life hasn’t carried over to work life. They may manage their entire personal life on their iPhone, but when they log in to work it’s the same VPN and clunky software they’ve always used.

These roles are measured by productivity and accuracy. Many of them have used the same software for 20 years and have developed muscle memory. Sometimes they’d rather ‘code by the book’ or tab through the fields like they’ve always done. They get nervous when we mention a redesign. So, the tension between doing things the same way to maintain productivity and slowing down for a bit to learn something new is constant for these users. Introducing a change in this environment has to be done carefully and with a significant amount of research and validation.

As technologies like natural language processing assist in automating more work, we need to be very transparent in the UI about what the software is doing. One way is to design interactions that allow users to adopt at their own pace, gradually allowing them to shift their behavior toward validating and eventually trusting the computer’s suggestion. Ultimately, when we introduce new features, we want them to be discoverable, intuitive, useful, and effective.
For many of our users—medical coders, CDI specialists, and other roles—technology in day-to-day life hasn’t carried over to work life. The tension between doing things the same way to maintain productivity and slowing down for a bit to learn something new is constant.
What is a new challenge UX designers will have to address in 2018?

As the design landscape becomes more complex and users become more savvy, we need to adjust our design process to work more closely with subject matter experts (SME)—in addition to being user-centered. In 3M Health Information Systems (HIS), our software products serve a wide variety of users, from medical coders and CDI specialists to data analysts and c-suites. Our participants are using our software to make clinical decisions, and as they click through our prototypes they’ll say things like, “Oh what is this funny stuff here?” when we have Lorem Ipsum in an alert dialog. When the screen makes sense to them clinically, we can better understand their mental model and thought processes.

Each group has different goals, clinical backgrounds, and mental models, and each software product has its own value proposition, business & technology constraints, and tribal knowledge. So having a SME to provide a realistic clinical story and respond to clinical questions is invaluable for user research.

The tech industry is known to have a high barrier to entry, which can skew the demographics of the designers making interfaces we all use. If the people making the interfaces don’t necessarily represent those using them, how can designers ensure that the end product is inclusive and accessible?

I think it’s pretty well understood in the UX world that as a designer—or anyone on the product team for that matter—no matter how much you identify with the user, you are not the user. We must conduct usability testing to inform the design and validate solutions.

We have a relatively diverse team at 3M Design. We make an effort to be aware of and remove bias by focusing on behaviors instead of demographics when creating distinct personas. Our design system meets WCAG 2.0 (web content accessibility guidelines) success criteria. When conducting user research we try to cast a wide net and cover a diverse group. This last part can be difficult because our users work in hospitals across the U.S, so we try to reach them in other ways. For instance, some of our coders and CDIs feel unheard—they won’t report bugs or issues because the process is time-consuming and diminishes their productivity. One way we’re trying to solve for this is to provide a simple, streamlined way for them to provide feedback and stay informed.
We make an effort to be aware of and remove bias by focusing on behaviors instead of demographics when creating distinct personas.
Let’s pretend you had the funding to start any project you wanted. What would you develop?

I’ve always wanted an app that can tell me when to start each part of the meal I’m cooking so that everything is ready at the same time. Does that exist? I can handle one recipe, but when I start adding side dishes and each has a different prep and cook time I get overwhelmed. I could see the app having some really cool data visualizations that intertwine the recipes and give you a step-by-step.

As everything becomes “smart,” is there anything you still enjoy doing the "old fashioned" way, and how does that affect your design work?

I’m not sure when I started doing this, but I literally can’t design without scratch paper in front of me. I take about 5-6 sheets of 8.5x11” paper, hold them together with 2 paper clips, and put it right in front of my keyboard, so as I’m working I scribble notes (think ‘A Beautiful Mind’). Once it’s full, I put a new piece of paper on top, and once they’re all scribbled on I shred them and start over. I have Moleskines, Le Pens, an iPad Pro, and a Pencil, but I need this place where the notes don’t have to look nice and I can just write what I'm thinking.

How does a team like the 3M Health Care Group balance being a part of a huge company with the need to comply with so many details and regulations that must come with designing for health product and services? UX Designer Sarah Doody

First of all, 3M is a big company—70 countries, 5 business groups, and 24 divisions. The Health Care Business Group (HCBG) has 6 divisions, and each product within can vary greatly in its goals, requirements, users, and regulations. So I asked the rest of the HCBG team to weigh in. Thanks to Stephen Hooper, Kristen Sewell, Matt Zabel, Amie Winkel, and Poeuth Pann for their thoughts.

Our human-centered design process keeps the focus on understanding and designing for the patient. We collaborate very early with internal stakeholders and business partners to lay out challenges, and we work jointly with Human Factors, Quality, and Regulatory colleagues throughout the design process, using formative usability testing to inform the design and summative usability testing to validate solutions.


I find a lot of inspiration in music, and it’s a critical part of my design process. Here's a recent show: Rayland Baxter at the Turf Club...


...and Glass Animals at the Palace Theatre.

Next week Briana Como asks Dian Holton, deputy art director at AARP: You mention on your website that you can concept 100+ solutions to solve a problem or visually tell a story, but have trouble editing down solutions. How have you learned to overcome this, and what strategies have worked (or not)?


Posted in: Chain Letters, Technology


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