The Rest Is Noise

First published January 30, 2017


We’ve borrowed the title of Alex Ross’ work on 20th-century music history to explore the effects of visual noise on user experience (UX).

Think about your hospital’s electronic medical record (EMR or DMR for digital). Think about your state or government’s ehealth websites for registration. Think about your community’s latest app for tracking fitness goals or sleep patterns. If you’re a patient, think about your blood glucose-monitoring diary on your smartphone. How user-friendly do you find them?

That’s the science of User Experience.

If a cafe can create a great user experience through design, why can’t an EMR do the same? Urban Espresso, Coffs Coast. Pic: The Medical Startup

How easily can you find the window you need?

How many sidebars and banner ads pop up or urge you to sign up for something?

If you’re a clinician, how many windows must you enter details and click through before you reach your patient’s details, let alone their blood results from this morning? How irritated do you feel when an alarm byte rings because there are too many dings and sound-effects distracting you from achieving your intention?


When does click-inertia lull you into a false sense of security, so that when another pop-up brings an alert about a patient’s low blood sugar, you idly click and miss it?

How many Windows Explorer tabs must you switch through before you find your Radiology Results window again?

How do tables versus graphs in your app aid or confuse your patient or doctor?

These are some of the issues that a user experience designer must work through and solve when building a tech platform, particularly in the critical stakes of healthcare.  And, just like testing a hypothesis in a clinical trial, an appropriate user population, ideally with randomisation, should be included in the beta-testing, trial and feedback process.

Goals of Optimal User Experience:

  • minimise click-weariness

  • minimise visual noise

  • create a seamless process with inbuilt security

  • make the experience as pleasing for users (patients, loved ones and clinicians) as possible. (We’re going to aim high here; the real word we’re shooting for is joy.)

Look at the world outside of medicine. It’s no coincidence that visually-centred apps like Instagram, Canva and Pinterest are exploding in popularity. The earliest humans first told stories through hieroglyphics and pictures.

And remember, nearly 15% of the world is illiterate. Many are in developed countries.

It is difficult to optimise the UX for everyone in healthcare, but remember, simplicity is just as relevant here as anywhere else.

And perhaps, with machine learning and AI poised to help efficiency, maybe clinicians’ tasks will be filled with less of the mundane and more of the art of medicine.

By the way, did you know that the CEO of Pinterestwas aiming to study medicine?

How do you use human-centred design thinking in your startup or project? How are you testing and evaluating your project’s effectiveness? How are you learning about UX, particularly as a non-tech person? How about as a tech designer learning about healthcare? Comment below or contact us to share.  Sign up to our mailing list if you’d like updates on posts.