A human approach to designing a brand for healthcare

By Jade Tan | January 11, 2019

Every day in the emergency department is different.

For many patients, the emergency department is a place of pain, worry, confusion, and fear. For care teams, time is scarce and unpredictable. They may be resuscitating a major car accident victim in one room, then seeing a patient with the common cold next.

At Vital, we’re on a mission to improve patient safety and reduce wait times for emergency visits.

In this environment, good design means being invisible until needed. Being accessible, yet private. Being smart, without assuming.

To represent our values and mission in a brand, where do we start?

It helps to think about a brand as a person — who did you last meet? What made them memorable?

The truth is, you can remember someone without ever meeting them. It’s their personality that you hear about, their striking presence that catches your attention, their tone of voice and words that you connected with.

In the same way, a brand is more than just a logo. Here’s how we developed a brand system and strategy based on these 3 human-centric factors.

1. Personality

Think about a senior nurse rushing to a patient with a heart attack. And that same nurse soothing a sick child during their nightshift. And then fending a drunk family member in the corridor.

How would you describe their behaviour? Calm? Assertive? Start with those traits, then ask: “When are they more assertive? When are they less?”

For example:

  • More assertive when responding to chaos.
  • Less assertive (in other words, more gentle or welcoming) when responding to hurt and pain.

This gives situational context, and the same can be done for your brand. It develops your brand’s potential to engage and respond genuinely under different circumstances.

When contrasting each trait, avoid judgement on good vs evil, so it isn’t an exercise on moral righteousness.

When contrasting each trait, avoid judgement on good vs evil, so it isn’t an exercise on moral righteousness.

This method doesn’t need to be prescriptive. It’s meant to be human. Reflect on your experiences. Speak to those who work in this space. Consult different opinions, then compile the results.

This helped us draw a rich persona about our brand. For example:

  • Information easily gets lost in chaos. Vital needs to be more assertive when delivering data-driven recommendations, to assist clear and rapid actions. But, we are gentle and welcoming when checking in on your wait.
  • In a medical setting, being too casual or friendly runs a risk of being inexact. Vital needs to be authoritative, accurate and definitive when informing or updating, without being indifferent or impersonal when greeting or explaining to patients.
  • Many hospital organisations are hierarchical by nature and necessity — top-down decisions don’t always benefit those on the ground. We want Vital to be more modest and down-to-earth with staff and patients, and be best it can for them.

    On the other hand, when persuading buyers and executives of the value of our product, we need to communicate with sophistication.

2. Presence

Your presence and individuality in a room is a composite of how you look — your hairdo, your outfit, your style. Think about how these various parts of a person come together as a whole. Having defined the personality traits above, we can develop visual traits using the fundamental principles of design. For example:

For a visual language that is more assertive and dominant, we use typography and shapes to draw emphasis.

For a visual language that is more assertive and dominant, we use typography and shapes to draw emphasis.

To represent the working people, we illustrate that with shapes of similar sizes to create an impression of equality in weight and importance.

To represent the working people, we illustrate that with shapes of similar sizes to create an impression of equality in weight and importance.

3. Voice

Now that we have developed personality and a look, lastly, we want to think about how we sound — our tone of voice.

Tone can be designed as both visual and written communication.

Think about that senior nurse once again. We want our brand to respond and express itself meaningfully in different circumstances. To create a brand system with this flexibility, we designed the ability to tune our brand volume visually.

Imagine the volume on your speakers:

High Brand Volume

When in a busy and competitive space, tune up the brand volume by using a loud and heavy combination of visual elements to be bold, striking, and highly energetic.

Moderate Brand Volume

Once our customers or partners have developed brand loyalty, we want Vital to be instantly recognisable, without the bells and whistles.

Low Brand Volume

When we serve the needs of our users, utility is priority. The Vital brand takes backstage.

Finally, when writing, we also choose our tone depending on who we’re speaking to.

For patients: We know that for many, the hospital is a foreign, confusing place to be, with jargons and processes that don’t make sense.

When we write for them:

  • We use plain, casual language suitable for the broad, general audience. “Hi Amir, you’ll get a bed in roughly 45mins.”
  • Medical jargon can often be confusing and isolating. We describe them in an easy to digest manner, and use them consistently to be recognisable.

    Instead of “Next: Primary Triage”, we say: “A Triage Nurse will give you an initial assessment, take your vital signs, and briefly discuss your reason for visit.”

  • We are empathetic and genuine. We identify with their challenges and pains, set realistic expectations, and apologise on behalf of the hospital. “We’re experiencing a higher number of patients waiting to be seen. We’re so sorry for the longer wait.”

For medical providers: They want content that is fast to scan, factual, and verifiable.

When we write for them:

  • We use medical terminology and abbreviations common in their domain. Trained doctors and nurses have shared knowledge of formally-defined vocabulary. “Order protocol for severe sepsis.”
  • But we don’t use technical jargon when describing states and errors of the software.

    Instead of “Issue with single sign-on. Provider has logged in but has not been approved to view this page”, we say: “This page is protected. You don’t have permission to access this page.”

  • Support readers who skim: Medical providers can stop reading at any point, and still come away with the main point. Use short sentences, and number lists.

The next time you develop your brand identity, think about these 3 factors: personality, presence, and voice.

Executing the brand on Vital’s marketing website

Executing the brand on Vital’s marketing website