Working at the Intersection of Art, Design, Technology and Mental Health
Last year, I joined the Dr. Katz team as an advisor. From my home office in Portland, Oregon, I focus on the future of our product and user experience. It’s been a return to my roots — while I have worked in design leadership roles at enterprise software companies Microsoft, Workday, and Collibra, one of my first jobs was as a user researcher in Madison, Wisconsin, learning how to listen to and understand people, and applying that to technology.
It’s often said that you can tell a lot about people by the company they keep. It is equally true that you can tell a lot about a company’s values and culture by the people it brings together. The Dr. Katz team includes creative clinicians, designers and technologists, illustrators and videographers, artists and musicians. We create meaningful software alongside engaging content. We solve for core problems around provider access and patient care effectiveness. I believe that what makes this team different is that we work at an intersection where art, design, and technology meets mental health.
Art is creative expression and story-telling. Creators convey their inner thoughts, emotions and ideas, empowering observers to feel, ponder and discover. We have long used art to communicate our human experience. Picasso once said, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”
While it has become common to see artistic illustrations used in consumer apps, this trend has not been as widely adopted in enterprise software, much less clinical applications. We feature more than 50 illustrations throughout the Dr. Katz app, from page banners that provide context and orient new users around the purpose of a dashboard, to thumbnails and status icons that encourage action, such as enabling integration with an electronic health record system.
By including these small touches, we provide brief moments of cheer and levity. We inspire app users to embrace feelings, through an experience that is clean, calm and welcoming. We want the overall app experience for patients and providers to be efficient, but also more reflective, approachable, expressive, and human than what is found in typical enterprise software. Ellen Duda, one of the artists whose work you’ll find across the app, uses friendly illustrations of people and nature to create a safe place where vulnerability is supported. With 10 years of experience as a book designer in children’s publishing, Ellen recognizes the importance of telling a story and conveying feelings with images.
Kehinde Wiley, the first Black artist to paint a portrait of the president of the United States, said, “Art is about changing what we see in our everyday lives and representing it in such a way that it gives us hope.” At Dr. Katz, we believe that it is not just visual art that can instill hope. Original music is used as a key part of educational videos you can watch (or simply listen to) throughout the app, since we recognize that melody and sound helps set tone and enhances content. In this video, which features members of the psychiatric oncology group at Massachusetts General Hospital, listen to the way uplifting music from artist Josh Chamberlain helps set the stage for education made available for patients and cancer survivors. The overall message is hopeful.
Music, in fact, is increasingly viewed as an important part of therapy, too. The right music creates comfort, approachability, and can improve a patient’s mood or help with guided imagery exercises.
We believe that design is actually the art of solving problems. Ellen Lupton, the esteemed author, curator, designer and educator, succinctly notes: “Design is art that people use.” Great design strikes an intricate balance between functionality and aesthetics and this is our north star as product designers. As an example of this in our app, users tell us they love the simple ability to skip ahead to various “chapters,” or parts within videos they watch.
“We don’t have a lot of time and sometimes long videos can be frustrating, so being able to see clearly what’s going to be covered and then jump ahead is such a time-saver,” we heard from clinicians during research. We tested the design of our chapter navigator feature until we heard users repeatedly saying things like, “this feels clean” and “it feels so interactive,” since this is what we knew success would sound like.
As the Dr. Katz app is created, design takes on an important role, aiming to understand people — with our culturally-tailored needs — to create solutions that seamlessly integrate into our lives.
An influence on my career is designer and educator Victor Papanek, best known for his views on ethically-responsible design. “The only important thing about design is how it relates to people,” he said. At Dr. Katz, we consider people throughout the design process. To guide the work as we create and critique our designs, we have put four human-centered design principles in place:
Inclusive — open to all, accessible to everyone, diverse, human
Modern — simple, fresh and current, contemporary, what makes sense
Trustworthy — familiar, repeatable, no scary surprises, plain-speaking
Connected — fluid, interactive, organized, collegial, collaborative, local
In an upcoming blog post, we’ll share more about how we use these principles to guide our work, and how they are inspired by the people we design for.
Technology, much like the field of mental health itself, is constantly evolving in ways that amplify our potential for understanding. The possibilities with generative AI, which we began exploring earlier this year at Dr. Katz, include simpler form pages with increased guidance and prompting. As one example of how this can improve the user experience, consider the busy schedule of a clinical subject matter expert who wants to create and share high-quality educational videos for practitioners and patients about a topic, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Once the video is created and ready to publish to Dr. Katz, generative AI can help our expert by suggesting a concise video title — and much more!
This technology will inevitably transform and democratize the way we comprehend complex medical information and ease the painstaking, error-prone process of clinical documentation. But as is the case with any new technology, it is essential that we design ethical experiences that build trust instead of sowing division and doubt.
Mobile devices, meanwhile, are ubiquitous already and their integration into medication management and therapy is quickly becoming the norm. According to the PEW Research Center, in 2021, 85% of Americans owned a smartphone. According to a study by Insider Intelligence, in 2022, for the first time, US adults spent more time per day with their smartphones than watching television. This is why at Dr. Katz, we design for the mobile form factor first and publish simultaneous updates to browser and mobile applications with a single code line.
The overlap with mental health
It has been argued that a broad, systematic approach to understanding personal narratives is essential when treating patients struggling with mental illness. Understanding the whole problem and person is what guides us at Dr. Katz. We, too, find inspiration from various sources — from art to design and the latest technology trends — and use these combined perspectives to imagine how healthcare software should feel and work.
I am excited to see this multidisciplinary approach, combined with the growing community of mental health experts partnering with Dr. Katz on these solutions, resulting in an effective and quickly adopted solution for patients and providers.
But there is one more thing that makes this work all the more rewarding: I find the mission of Dr. Katz aligned with my journey as a design leader, creative, and as a parent and spouse who has seen the benefits of mental health support on my own family and loved ones. I’ve seen first hand the challenges with provider availability and the difficulties with having trusted information accessible. We all need help at times. I consider the opportunity to help those that are helping others important work.
Thank you to Ellen Duda & Gerre Mae Barcebal for their contributions to this post.