For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with some of our 2020 jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and to hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.
Stephanie Yung is Design Director at Smart Design in New York City, a leading company in the product development space. Yung's design experience over the years expands across industries far and wide, but she has dedicated a particular, passionate focus over that time on designing in the health and wellness space, particularly for women. Her development of the app concept Jr., an idea that transpired from her experience of having a child as a single woman, has received praise over the past couple of years for its design approach to the tricky yet important subject of single motherhood. This year, Yung will be the 2020 Core77 Design Awards Jury Captain for our Health & Wellness category—we took a little time to chat with her about her work at Smart and the health trends she sees making a big impact in the near future.
What is your role at Smart Design and what does a day there look like for you?
I'm the Design Director at Smart and what that primarily means is that I'm overseeing projects we're working on on a day to day basis. In terms of the type of projects I'm working on, whether we're designing a new product, a new service or designing a new experience, there's something that needs to be said about both answering a functional, but also an emotional, human need. Oftentimes a client will come to us and see an opportunity, but they won't know exactly what the solution looks like or sometimes they won't even know what they are "supposed" to design. So usually it's us meeting with the people we're designing for to uncover where the gaps are and where we can truly make a difference, not only from a market landscape but from a brand lens as well. I, personally, am very focused on designing for women as well as designing health and wellness experiences, services and products.
In terms of what a typical day looks like for me: I'm very rarely at my desk, which is a good thing and I enjoy. It leaves me pretty active, just meeting with a lot of people. Oftentimes you can find me working with teams. The way that we're set up here is that once we have a program or a project, we have a physical space actually dedicated to it, so the whole team spends their time there. So I'm usually going from project team to project team to review work and work with them.
We do a lot of qualitative research at our studio where we're sharing prototypes or co-creating with the people we're designing for, so you could also find me doing that. Our approach here is definitely not about being behind a two way mirror, there are lots of designers and strategists and engineers or technologists working together because we really believe that if we're looking to create true innovation, we need to have that point of view right from the get go.
I could also on any given day be attending workshops or running workshops with the team. So that could involve the clients where we're really working through some operational underpinnings or how can we enable this product or a service to come to life through the business or through the organization.
And I would say every day I try to sit at the lunch table. I think it's important. [Smart Design's office has] a very long table where everyone gathers to be together. It's important because it's where a lot of ideas are shared. It's a time where you might talk to people and just learn about different aspects of what's going on around the office that can influence your own work.
Can you tell me about some recent work your team worked on that is indicative of the type of projects you typically do and enjoy most?
Much of Smart's work in the Health & Wellness space is about looking beyond the product itself and thinking about ecosystems that better support people in achieving their health goals. We focus on what's the right place for a brand to play, and which elements of an ecosystem people find the most valuable.
Gatorade Gx Sweat Patch and App designed by Smart brings personalized sports fueling recommendations to everyday athletes through a democratized, wearable device and smartphone app trained with machine learning.
It's an extremely complex space, with an overwhelming amount of information and a variety of people and services available. Our challenge is to conceive new products, experiences, and services that are more accessible for everyone. This takes a cross-functional team to not only understand what the true unmet need or gap is in people's lives, but to also understand the operational or technology underpinnings that can make these new ideas a reality.
Our recent work has spanned everything from looking at the future of facial recognition technology and its role in reducing the gap of people receiving healthcare services in emerging countries. Rethinking personal care and wellness products and services to better connect with women's values around sustainability. We've also reimagined the stigmatized hearing loss category through a membership-based service and hearing health centers.
I want to briefly touch on the topic of Jr., a fertility app aimed at single mothers that stemmed from your own personal experience. What was it like to spearhead such a personal project and what advice would you give to anyone who would like to do something similar on their own?
You know, it was actually pretty scary because putting yourself out there is never an easy thing to do; it really was a melding of my personal and professional life. The reason why I started Jr. was because I found myself having gone through a breakup, being single and wanting to have a child on my own and believe it or not, it's a really taboo subject. Going through it alone as a single woman, I felt like the pain points were much more amplified. So since I was experiencing it firsthand, I really thought to myself, "I surely am not alone here." I think the more I talked about it, the more I realized that other people going through the fertility experience actually experienced a lot of things that I was experiencing.
And I feel like that's partially why it resonated so strongly, because everyone can relate to a health care experience being too overwhelming, too fragmented, where you feel like your own personal information is not yours. There are so many aspects of it that are relatable.
A preview of the Jr. app
This would be my advice to someone doing it on their own—usually I think a project like this comes up due to someone coming across something that can be improved upon; a problem that is painful in some way, shape or form. And I think it's important to look at and ask, "Hey, am I the only one?" Usually you're not. Usually there are other people. And once you see that, I feel like that's how you make the connection.
Another part of it is persevering and not giving up because people are only going to be as passionate about it as you are. And that's something that's really important because there are many times I could have said, "Oh, you know what, maybe this isn't as relevant," but no—because I believed in it so much I feel like I did rally the resources. If you believe in it, you do spend that extra time to uncover that deeper insight in order to make the case that this product should exist.
How did you go about those first steps of figuring out if it was a viable direction?
It was important to speak with other people. I spoke to single women who were older, women who were younger and coupled who are aren't necessarily ready to have a child yet, and people who had gone through the process. I spoke to fertility doctors as well.
Another part of it was looking at the landscape. A lot of capital is being invested in fertility startups and fertility and women's health care in general, so there's a need from that standpoint. Also, fertility is at a record low, but the number of women having children later in life is at an all time high. So I had to really consider questions like, is there a need from a consumer standpoint? Is this something that is in demand?
I love the imbued philosophy within the app of "Your Village", which enabled the single people using the app to call upon their loved ones for direct or indirect support. It made me wonder, how do you think designers could veer technologies forward in a way that connects rather than isolates its users? Or, what needs to change in order to get there?
It's good to remember the role of technology when it comes to facilitating the support. I think it's easy to forget actually. So it was much more about being in the background versus being in the foreground because I don't think technology can replace human interaction and contact—I think that is something that it should facilitate. So for example, I think with Jr., just in terms of informing your village and keeping everyone on the same page so that you weren't answering the same questions a million times or that you could be left alone when needed and didn't feel awkward about it, it was very much about either a.) facilitating better in-person interaction or b.) about understanding when actually users don't want to talk about it or be alone. So I think another part of that as well is understanding and designing for different modes or contacts.
You don't always want to be social or sharing everything. And I think that's something that's really important when you look at things like Slack, for example, and other digital tools for communication. It's important to understand those nuances when [technology is] appropriate and when it's not. And so I feel like that's just a consideration people really need to make when designing. It's not necessarily, "because it's there we should use it," it's almost like, okay, "how is this better? How would this enable or improve in- person communications?"
What to you are the most exciting health and wellness design trends going on right now?
A big one is the way that people are accessing their primary care. When we think about the front lines of medicine, nowadays those getting medical help don't necessarily take the traditional route of just visiting their GP, it really could be many different touchpoints. Then when we think about membership-based services, like One Medical, that's an entirely different experience. There are also retail approaches, with CVS where they're creating an actual health hub, right?
What's interesting about all of this is that if you look at what's accessible, you have certain solutions for people who can afford it, right? For them, they might use something like One Medical. But then for anyone else, something like CVS might be just a bit more accessible. So I feel like a part of it is really looking at that spectrum of different patient types as well as the people who could be using the services too and coming up with solutions that are more inclusive, both from a diversity standpoint but also income and coverage as well.
Cimzia, a drug developed for rheumatoid arthritis, teamed up with Smart and OXO to design a syringe that allowed those with arthritis to inject medication at home more easily.
The role of AI in doing screening and diagnostics is also exciting. There are technologies out there like Google Health where they're creating new systems to help detect cancer much earlier on. So it's really about decreasing the chance of error—that's a big thing that we're seeing.
Another theme, which is not necessarily new but I think is important, is the shift from the more reactionary mindset of treating a sickness to the more proactive mindset of managing your health on an ongoing basis, and hopefully preventing you from becoming sick in the first place. And there are plenty of services that are really addressing that and making it easier for people to achieve. Whether it's Forward Health where they are leveraging your data and advanced AI to give you a comprehensive picture of your health on an ongoing basis; or 23andMe, using your DNA to determine health predispositions and genetic insights; or Headspace where they are reducing stress and anxiety through bite-sized meditation interventions—the focus is more on wellness as a process rather than health as an end result.
Home and diagnostic treatment therapy is also continuing to grow. So that could mean anywhere from capsule services to birth control prescriptions sent by delivery to STI testing.
And if you think about fitness, since that's also part of wellness when we think about it, all of the different products and experiences being brought in home versus gyms. So I feel like that's a big, a big category as well.
You are the Jury Captain for the Health & Wellness category in the 2020 Core77 Design Awards. What will you be looking for and hope to see in the projects entered this year?
I think what I'm hoping to see are solutions that are really answering to real human needs. And not necessarily complicating things, but really making things more simple or more accessible for everybody involved. I think it's also about being thoughtful in the design, so really looking for a solution that shows the understanding and the nuances with designing for different people and certain specific needs situations and context.
Our team is always looking at award shows and looking at the future of health and wellness and what that could mean. I'm looking for something that really makes us rethink our own practices, that approach, and that pushes our thinking that way. So that's something that I'm hoping for and excited to see if that's the case.
2020 Health & Wellness Jury Captain Stephanie Yung will be joined by these designers for the awards selection process:
Erica Chidi Cohen
Erica Chidi Cohen is the CEO of LOOM, a wellbeing brand empowering womxn through reproductive and sexual health content. She is passionate about helping people cultivate body literacy and sex positivity by giving them the tools to advocate for their and loved one's reproductive health and wellbeing. Her work has guided thousands of people in their transition from pregnancy to parenthood both as a Doula and through her book, Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Early Motherhood.
Wearables Industrial Design Manager, Google
As Wearables Industrial Design Manager at Google, Gina leads a team making radically helpful products, bringing together the best of Google AI, software and hardware. Notable launches include Google's headphone family and watch bands.
Head of Design, ZocDoc
Clay tends to rescue cats every few years. In addition to that, he has been a designer and research at frog design, led the interaction team at Smart Design NY, taught prototyping at SVAs MFA Interaction Program, and now leads the Zocdoc design team. He hopes his work in design helps him do as much for people as he does for cats.