When a large software company rolls out its latest product update, you, the user, think: Hey, you should have done this differently! But you’re often left yelling into the void and waiting to see if your wish list and complaints are addressed in the next update.

To combat this, many software companies, like Google, utilize user-centered design (UCD) to give their users a voice during the design and development process.

The whole process is centered on the idea that a product should meet the needs of the users, not that users should have to change their behavior to accommodate the product.

The UCD process itself is iterative, bringing users into the fold throughout the design and development process. This can include questionnaires to and discussions with potential users about their product needs and the conditions in which they will utilize it. Users are continuously engaged via usability testing to validate whether the designers’ and developers’ choices meet expressed user requirements.

Carestream Dental is one company in the orthodontic space that is incorporating this design philosophy into its software development process. UCD serves as the backbone for the company’s development of the latest iteration of its CS OrthoTrac practice-management software. While the company has previously used this process for its oral surgery and dental products, this is the first time for one of its orthodontic products.

At the recent American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) Annual Session in San Diego, the Carestream Dental booth featured the OrthoTrac “pit crew.” At the booth, attendees had an opportunity to “look under the hood” as it were. While pit crew members looked on, users were offered a hands-on experience with the new software updates. More importantly, the interaction gave the pit crew feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Once back at the company’s Atlanta headquarters, the team worked to incorporate this feedback into the software’s development process.

As Kristopher Kinlen, director of analysis and design at Carestream Dental puts it, this UCD process provides transparency and leaves less to chance. “It’s the idea that instead of failing late and failing big, to the point that it’s unrecoverable, we instead want to fail early and often so we can learn [before rolling out a product]. It’s all centered on starting with a problem and then engaging our customers with that problem to, one, validate that it is a problem that resonates with them and that we should go solve it, and then having them go on the ride with us to solve the problem. We’re constantly checking back with them or involving them. We’re looking for their input and perspective.”

A key reason for using this UCD process is that each customer behaves differently, even in the same field.

“In the orthodontic industry, you go from one practice to the next and there are variations in what the doctors and [staff] value, and what they choose to spend time on while running their business,” Kinlen says. “We have a product that we want to sell to all of those people, and we want all of those customers to have a great experience with our product. We have to consider all of those perspectives, and, by employing this user-centered approach, we’re able to engage all these different types of people.”

Currently the company relies on events like the AAO Annual Session and recommendations from its sales, training, and marketing teams to recruit users to participate in this process. Once recruited, users are given access to an online community or are visited in person so the team can ask questions. In addition, the company will post design prototypes.

One example of where this process has had an impact is in the design of CS OrthoTrac’s banner on the treatment card screen.

“One of the things that came up right away when we started talking about this was having more access to financial information from within the clinical space while not having to leave that page,” says Kinlen. “We wanted to apply the same concept to accessing family information. [If a user knows] that the patient has a sibling who is also in treatment, the idea is to be able to quickly open that sibling’s chart to answer questions without having to leave the patient they are in. So there’s a bit of a theme there: Being able to access other sources of information without having to completely abandon where I’m at and then needing to re-navigate back to it. That was just something that came out right away [from our engagement with users] that my team wasn’t aware of.”

Throughout the process, Kinlen says the company’s goal is to show customers they are listening. “We hear you and we’re using [what you tell us] throughout this process to apply it to improvements of the product. We might not be able to do everything right away, but we definitely hear you and we have a team whose whole life is to just listen and apply this rigor to how we listen and how we take action on what we heard. Customer feedback is an important part to the success of a software product.” OP