Interview: Antonio Piu - design & value communication expert

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In a world where HCPs are offering less and less time to meet with KAMs and reps, designing your value presentation for maximum clarity and impact is vital. We spoke to the chief app designer at BaseCase about his take on the most effective ways to communicate value.

How important is app design to communicate effectively with payers or physicians?

Since we are communicating something that is often quite data-heavy and complex, app design plays an important role in making the information effective. In this industry, design is crucial to make the value message come across to clients.

So, what are the general principles of app design that you would recommend?

I’d say a common factor in the apps we’ve designed or reviewed for clients is that normally, the clearer the message is, the more effective the interaction is for the user.

Simpler apps and simpler designs are more effective because the core value message stands out more. This is different from saying it should be simplistic though - simple is sometimes quite difficult to achieve.

What about ‘user experience’, or ‘UX’, how can you describe that, and is that relevant for our clients in market access or sales?

The most important aspect of creating a positive user experience is really the rules and structure that you create in advance, to make sure that the user will never get stuck, and can navigate through the story easily.

This is particularly important when key account managers or sales reps have a very limited amount of time for a meeting. If they only have ten minutes for a meeting, they can’t afford to waste even a single minute getting lost in the app looking for something.

Can we talk more generally about your design philosophy? Do you have any guiding principles?

No, I don’t! I don’t have a specific philosophy, I only think that design is more about ‘how things work’ rather than ‘how things look’.

Most of the time I find myself crafting a design only to make it more usable, and not more pretty. Luckily, it happens normally that what is more usable is also more polished, organized and – to some extent – more pretty.

I think of design as being like the art of sculpture. I see design as being like carving things out rather than putting things in. Most of the time I achieve the design I want by leaving things out, removing things, up to the point that nothing else can be taken out without affecting the message.

What about fonts and colors - how important are these for our clients when building apps?

Yes, both are very important. Choosing the right palette means choosing the right mood, the right tone. Choosing a typeface is not about dealing with the cosmetics of the app, it’s about choosing the channel. Typefaces and glyphs are what convey the message, and sometimes, with their shapes, they also communicate the tone.

How did you become interested in design?

Well, I was always interested in information, which is the foundation of my interest in design. I became interested in how people interact with different messages.

There is also something that comes from my origin, growing up in Sardinia, and that’s the idea of diversity. Sardinia has a quite unique and diverse culture compared with the rest of Italy - music, dancing, language etc.

In some way, this is something that always comes into my mind when I design an app. I always try to put myself in a different perspective, and I don’t assume people will see the message I am trying to convey in exactly the way I see it. My main effort when designing something is to make the message as universal as possible.

BaseCase apps work on any device, which means different screen sizes and different ways of inputting data - clicking or tapping - can you say something about how that might affect app design?

This is related to the previous question, about diversity. There is an advantage in crafting a message to be evaluated by a device that you don’t know, as much as by a person that you don’t know. The advantage is that you are forced somehow to focus on the content.

You’re forced to focus on how to communicate the meaning of the content, instead of just how to put elements on a page. When your content is hierarchically well-defined, it’s both easier to get the message, and to fit in every device you want.

For non-technical people, how easy is it to design an app using BaseCase Interactive?

The approach that we use, with our WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor, means that the bar is very low in terms of the required skills. It’s very easy to set up even complex controls - you can just drag an object from the Toolbox and place it on the page.

The design of the platform plays a big role in this. It makes it possible for you to handle objects instead of abstract entities. If you drag a chart onto the canvas, it will be exactly where you place it.

By ‘What You See Is What You Get’, do you mean there’s no programming?

Exactly, you interact with objects, not code. It means that what will happen in your final apps is completely transparent. You drag an element to the page, and this will be exactly what you will see in the app.

Are you also involved in the design of the platform?

Yes, I sometimes collaborate with the software team to design specifications or to help with the user interface of the platform.

What is foremost in your mind when doing this?

I have in mind one thing, which is to make everything useable, without consulting a guide - if that’s possible. My intention is to make everything self-explanatory. That means putting a property where you expect it to be, or labelling it and putting it in a position that makes obvious its use.

Are icons important? Given that many clients present using tablets, which have a relatively small screen size.

Yes, sure. I’d say that it’s not just about space though. Icons are a universal way of communicating, going back to prehistoric times. It makes it easy to clarify a message without relying on words. We make heavy use of icons on our platform.

What new features are you most excited about?

I’m pretty excited about the new popup style which opens up a lot of possibilities. Another is the new button style, which offers the biggest margin of improvement, in my opinion, for BaseCase apps. Being able to customize the elements of the button, while retaining the style, makes the objects both highly configurable and highly reusable.

That’s an important point isn’t it, being able to use preset styles through the Styles Editor.

Right, for non-technical people and professional designers both, it’s essential to have a consistent set of styles through your app. It guarantees that you have a coherent user experience and you don’t need to go through and check the properties of every individual object.

When you make a design, you set conventions that guide the user through the experience. It’s important that elements retain the same style, in order to retain the same meaning.

Consistency is the best weapon we have to guide the user towards a smooth experience, so that they can communicate a complex value proposition in a short space of time.

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