UX Design: maximising the value of scientific software in life science R&D

New industry research inspired by a Pistoia Alliance initiative

Since March 2016 I have been involved in an exciting new Pistoia Alliance group called User Experience for Life Sciences (UXLS).  It’s a collaborative project looking into UX for scientific software in Life Sciences R&D.

executive briefing document for the UX for Life Sciences project
Heads up executive briefing document for the UX for Life Sciences project

We are a dynamic bunch of User Experience Designers and professionals, with a passion for improving the experience of using software for scientific research in life science R&D.  (See more about us in my post about our recent face-to-face workshop).  My latest work, as leader of the Communication Team for the project, is to write a brand new industry report.

Our new article in Drug Discovery World

The report sheds light on the status of UX in Life Science R&D

I collated and analysed data on the internal UX design capabilities of nine global research-based biopharmaceutical companies, who are each represented in the UXLS project team.  These nine are all in the top 15 international companies ranked by revenue in 2016 (as listed in Wikipedia).  I combined this with further secondary research from business and Forrester reports to get the full picture of the state of the UX design operation in life sciences.  The result is a brand new paper, which has just been published in Drug Discovery World magazine; a quarterly business review of drug discovery & development.  Title: “UX design: maximising the value of scientific software in life science R&D“.

Sketchnote to sum up the article

The article is for business leaders in R&D life science

In the article, co-authored with Katrina Costa (Communicator and Senior Scientific Engagement Officer at EMBL-EBI), we paint a picture of how UX is currently applied by life science R&D organisations.  We felt there was a real gap for this information, because if you are curious about UX design for drug development, you may find it hard to learn more elsewhere. Generally, when pharmaceutical companies report on UX activities (if they do at all), they focus on external-facing products for customers, the clinic (healthcare) and marketing. So internal UX work, for designing digital products for internal scientific research processes, usually goes unremarked.

Scientific software often delivers poor user experience

As R&D scientists well know, software for scientific research can be frustrating and time-consuming.  It rarely lives up to the usability and delight that you get by using your every-day applications and websites.  The ultimate result of this is less happy scientists and hence less productive scientific research work.

The reality is that pharmaceutical companies aim to hire the best scientists to solve extremely complex problems – like discovering a new drugs – but provide them with sub-par software that is hard to use, slow and unattractive.  The science may be cutting edge, but the UX is often poor.

Ironically, the same companies that invest in UX for their external products may not see the need to do the same for their internal scientific software, which has an impact on the efficiency of their drug discovery teams.  Our article explains why good UX is so important for R&D life science, and how UX work is being used currently by some organisations.

We compare & contrast UX capability of the nine biopharma companies

Another reason why I encourage you to read the article is that it compares how the nine companies we investigated stack up against each other in terms of investment in UX teams (i.e. how many FTEs – full time equivalents- they have hired versus total staff headcount), and for how many years they have had UX operational in R&D IT.

From my experience, this sort of ‘peer comparison’ information is usually well received by readers in life science R&D companies.  This is because what rivals in the market place are doing is critical information for planning strategy, for assessing the market, and for considering future directions for investment.  Examples of the data you will find in the article are here:

FIGURE 1 - size of ux operation
FIGURE 1 – size of ux operation

FIGURE 2 - how long has R&D had UX

The composition of UX teams was analysed

I also looked into the mix of roles in the UX teams of the companies investigated.  The reason for this was to make it very clear to the readers that user experience does not just mean creating ‘user interfaces‘, but rather includes research, content, and visual design elements in a wider process of design.  The article also highlights what the benefits/ strengths of a UX team are, compared to business strategy teams for example.

UX team composition
UX team composition in the nine biopharma R&D companies we investigated

The article features a case study of UX design from Novartis

We illustrate UX in practice in life science R&D with an example of creating an app to support lab-based researchers provided by Novartis. This case study shows how good UX empowers scientists, and it includes an example of a specific UX technique they employed, namely story boarding (a bit like a cartoon strip to model the way the new app could work.)

storyboarding for ux
Storyboarding is one example of a UX technique employed to understand R&D user needs (Image copyright by Novartis)

Thanks and enjoy reading!  Please send your feedback or comments on the article to jennifer.cham@ebi.ac.uk.

Links and contacts

The article (featured in Drug Discovery World, July 2017 issue, page 58)

The Pistoia Alliance UX for Life Sciences project

If you would like to know more about the UX for Life Sciences project, and how you can get involved please email the Project Manager, Paula de Matos at paula.dematos@pistoiaalliance.org

If you’d like to know more about the Pistoia Alliance in general contact the Business Development Manager, John Wise on john.wise@pistoiaalliance.org


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