i'm johan. i do things with computers. i'm from berlin

Second and third workday in South Africa

I am already back in Germany now but I wanted to write some more about the research trip to South Africa. The first part of the report can be read here.

Clinic in Agincourt

On the second and third day we did more user research, adjusted our system with hotfixes to the latest findings and prepared everything for after our departure.

The user research was the key aspect of the whole journey. It split into two parts: Understanding how the clinic works and testing our prototypes with the people.

For understanding the clinic, we talked to the staff, observed how they work and asked a lot of semi-stupid questions. I sometimes found it hard to jump over my own shadow when we had to bug people with strange and often naive questions. But we really dug deep to get to know the processes, the culture, why and how things work …

Clinic in Agincourt with Sendinel and Nurses and Satelite Dish

When we tested the prototypes with the people we had two things in mind: Finding out about the general skills of the people (Can they use computers? Can they use Bluetooth with their mobiles?) and how well we designed the prototypes (Which way is best to enter a date? Which is the best means to authenticate people?). We had prepared the user research at home with several design mock-ups, process guidelines and protocol templates.

But as usual the planning was more important than the plan itself. We weren’t able to run all user tests and we abandoned the testing protocol sometimes. The important part was to get a feeling for the situtation the users are in and to create understanding.

The most important finding was, that the patients are no good at all as users of our systems since they lack even basic computer skills. People had never seen a mouse before. The problem was not our system but using a computer. I have been watching a lot participants who just stared at the screen without knowing what to do. Even after we introduced them to the input devices they had problems to understand the basic concepts (Moving mouse moves cursor, clicking activates something …)

We concluded that no patient would ever be able to use the system without guidance. Therefore we had to change the target group away from patients over to the nurses who all are using laptops to keep track of the patients data already.

Sendinel team at Agincourt Clinic

Before we went to South Africa one big part of our project was the so-called “Knowledge Base” which aimed to educate people on health-related topics. In the prototype texts, pictures and videos were displayed. We even thought about extending this with videos recorded by the clinic staff which could be played automatically in the waiting room.

We will possibly drop the knowledge base in the future for several reasons. We had changed the target group from patients to nurses thus the patients will never be able to browse the content. In the user tests the patients were not reacting to the shown content in the prototypes and did not understand the benefit of looking at the material. Also the nurses told us, that the general problem with information is not the to it access or distribution of it but creating awareness for it with the people. That is best done by a person and not a machine. And thel ast thing is that there was a TV set in the waiting room which was always running but which got no attention at all from the waiting patients (unlike in Germany where everyone would have aligned to have a better view at the screen …)

All these things led to drastic changes in the system. We were throwing out big parts to concentrate on the core functionality. This was an extremely liberating process as it was decluttering to the core. We hacked some dirty fixes on-spot (Ugly JavaScript is perfect for that) and continuously deployed them for more user tests.

Satelite Dish at Agincourt Clinic

During the stay the technicians were able to set-up the satelite dish and the modem which connects the clinic to the internet. The dish is aiming in a very low angle at a geosynchronous satellite that is somewhere over Washington/USA. To clear line of sight one tree branch had to be cut down. At some point the internet conection was finally up resulting in all the Windows computers starting to run updates …

At the moment (read: 2 weeks after we left the clinic) the internet connection is down and we can’t access our server. We don’t the real cause for that yet but hope to be able to fix it during the next week.

So after three days in the clinic we finished up the work and left again. In conclusion we can say that the research trip has been essential for the project. We were able to test our assumptions and change the system according to the real problems of the people. I’m confident that we will be able to put the last 6 weeks of the project to very good use and to come up with an end-product that will meet the needs of the people (and give us something to write a bachelor thesis about).

[all pictures are from Thomas’ Flickr Set here]