A New Framework for Innovation

Date: September 8th, 2016

Genevieve Martínez-García

In this era of innovation in sexual health, many of us are trying to reach youth in new and meaningful ways, not only to improve our reach, but also to enhance the impact we have in their lives. In the last few years, sexual health education has migrated into digital settings such as websites, mobile apps, texting services, and phone-based tools. As developers, we carefully craft content grounded in time-tested theories—such as Theory of Planned Behavior or Social Cognitive Theory—and create features, media, and content to educate, raise awareness or support behavior change. We follow our very comprehensive logic models to make sure that every theoretical construct is addressed. If the information is sound, if all topics are covered, and our digital masterpiece looks appealing, we assume it’s going to work, or at the very least that our audience will love it. However, there is one big piece missing in the product development process—the user’s interaction with a product.

We often forget that these new digital innovations result in products our target audience must interact with willingly. In comes the recently expanding field of product design for behavior change. This growing field is being fed by the disciplines of computer science, psychology, behavioral economics, education, marketing, and human-centered design. This discipline designs products meant to support users in changing a behavior, from tracking their financial expenses (e.g., HelloWallet) to staying fit (e.g., Fitbit). They shy away from the traditional behavior change theories, and place more effort in the product’s perceived value, placement, accessibility, and use of nudges, persuasion and rewards to promote behavioral engagement. It also asks that we evaluate the user’s internal process for engaging with our product. (e.g., Is there a sense of urgency in its use? Is it competing with perceived notions of the behavior? Is it competing with other factors that capture the user’s attention?). Product design also begs that we pay attention to aesthetics. Self-directed products must not only capture user’s attention, but their aesthetics suggest conclusions to the user on ease of use and quality of the content. Good looks also mean developing familiar and easy to navigate interfaces, with graphics and colors schemes attractive to the target audience.

As we continue to develop digital products, let’s continue the conversation on how to bridge our theoretical comfort zone with emerging design trends to come up with products that will truly revolutionize youth sexual health.

Below are a few of my favorite books:

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About the Author

Dr. Genevieve Martínez-García, Director of Innovation and Research at Healthy Teen Network, is a health educator committed to bringing innovation to the field of sexual and reproductive health. She has over 14 years of experience researching adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues such as mHealth, fertility, social determinants of health, cultural and economic barriers to health care access among minority populations, health media literacy, characteristics of programs for pregnant and parenting teens, and Latino youth pregnancy intentions.

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