Designing for Change
Through human-centered design, Professor Elena Agapie builds tools that empower people to incorporate healthy behaviors into their lives. While there has been a huge increase in technology to support health, such technology doesn’t always balance guidelines from health professionals with users’ individual needs. “I design tools that incorporate evidence-driven interventions from health and behavioral sciences to help people reach and maintain their goals,” says Professor Agapie. For example, she is researching how tools can help patients better integrate into their daily life techniques discussed during a weekly therapy session.
Adopting positive behaviors is a complex process. “It can be very difficult to do on your own,” notes Professor Agapie. So, people reach out to professionals, such as a fitness instructor or mental health provider, as well as to peers who have experience incorporating change into their everyday life. Yet professionals can be expensive or unavailable, and friends might be reluctant to share sensitive experiences. In response, Professor Agapie designs social computing systems that leverage the expertise of different people. For example, she developed a web-based system that helps users plan exercise routines using advice from crowd members informed by expert insights. “With this tool, the advice of crowd members was comparable to experts in several dimensions.”
Professor Agapie also explores how patient information and support needs vary, designing technology that can better support different patients. For example, she has studied how using a conversational agent in a hospital emergency room in place of paper-based forms could help patients with low health literacy or language barriers more easily engage with content about social services. Her work suggests such patients find the conversational agents understandable and engaging. “Understanding the context and background of the user is important in designing technology that fits with their needs.”