Latent Messaging: Between Intention and Interpretation

One of my favorite insights from design research was about how objects convey a range of latent messages. I was struck by how seemingly good intensions are open to unexpected and negative interpretation.

During a recent project in designing a stool collection kit, we wanted to
know more about providing information on the use of the kit. We offered
reminder notices over email, a telephone hotline, and websites for more
information. We thought we were being helpful. Our focus group said

“Extra information makes me feel like the test is more complicated than it is.”

In a similar instance, when we were discussing how useful a pair of gloves and a mask were in the kits, participants said this:

“Providing gloves and masks makes me wonder why I need it since I don’t use them during my regular bowel movements.”

Again, we thought we were being helpful. We thought we were being sensitive to the hygienic needs. However, we inadvertently conveyed a sense of confusion.

Ultimately, we wanted to communicate a sense of simplicity and trust. For this part of the project, we forgo the mask, but included the gloves. Some patients found it useful. Some people didn’t but appreciated the consideration. I don’t think we can anticipate every possible latent message, but we can at least move closer to creating the perfect blend of patient-friendliness.