Designing the Maryland Health Connection: Making a case for user experience

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My family unsuccessfully attempted to buy private health insurance in early 2012, with every insurance company’s denial citing my wife’s cancer diagnosis in 2007. When the Maryland Health Connection launched, I jumped at the chance to browse the different plans. I filled out the surveys on health histories for my family of four, browsed quickly through the plans, and decided to revisit the options with my wife for a more in-depth look.

Returning to the site a few days later, I was surprised to find that none of the information I entered was saved in the system. 30 minutes of filling out histories was gone.

But a larger problem first arose: I couldn’t log in. Time for some Where’s Waldo. Find the login or sign in link on this page:

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How about in the connect tab?

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Okay, maybe under I’m an individual or family? Clicking “Get Started” here just reloads the page.

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Let’s search for it.

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Huddled around my laptop in our kitchen with my wife, spreadsheets open, financial numbers scrawled on paper around us, I sent an admittedly frustrated tweet to @MarylandConnect. They replied some time later.

I finally figured out that I had to clear my cache (really?!) to effectively Get Started (Again), since I was logged in from a previous session. Definite bug in system. User is trying to log in > User is already logged in > Panic. Only once my cache was cleared was I greeted with this:

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The visual design was a $30,000 contract awarded to Klinedinst, a designer in Baltimore. I’d bet the farm that not a dollar in user testing was done on the site. Mostly because it’s completely unusable. The design is purely decoration.

I don’t fault Karen Klinedinst — I don’t know what the timelines and scope were like for this project. $30k might sound like a lot of money, but it’s a small client for a studio. Clients can be tough, and a huge initiative like designing a health care exchange, in the public eye, with public money is even tougher. The state may not budgeted time or money to let Klinedinst do actual user testing. I fault the planning and allotment of money, which ties directly to the problems in government procurement and contract awarding.

The amount of money spent on other parts of the dysfunctional website is ungodly. Media outlets are saying it’s $200 million. By my calculations from the Maryland HBE’s procurement website is $161,016,715.00, which is almost half of what it cost to build the Brooklyn Bridge in today’s dollars.

Let’s examine these numbers.

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  • $5.97 million for marketing and communications. Five. Million. Dollars for PR.
  • $3.54 million for project management
  • $2.49 million for “Independent Validation and Verification” — essentially oversight for “are you building it correctly”, and spending resources (money) in the right places?
  • $30,000 for design
  • $0 for user experience 
  • $0 for information architecture 
  • $0 for user testing

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I know some of the reported $200M is going to call centers and staff training, however, shouldn’t this money have been allocated more efficiently and awarded to the best and brightest? Then more than 346 people could have signed up for health care in the first six days. 

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*My company, NAV has never bid on any work related to the Maryland Health Connection, or healthcare.gov.

Reading a review of the beloved MacBook Air this morning and one part caught my eye.

The ultrabook competition is catching up, in terms of design.

Catching up? Meaning they’ve almost reached a point where their “ultra” books are identical copies of MacBooks? That’s only because Apple took such a huge leap when they introduced the aluminum MacBooks. 
I’m left thinking, what will they do next to just blow everyone away, again?
Find a way to go end-to-end with the display and kill the bezel. 

Reading a review of the beloved MacBook Air this morning and one part caught my eye.

The ultrabook competition is catching up, in terms of design.

Catching up? Meaning they’ve almost reached a point where their “ultra” books are identical copies of MacBooks? That’s only because Apple took such a huge leap when they introduced the aluminum MacBooks. 

I’m left thinking, what will they do next to just blow everyone away, again?

Find a way to go end-to-end with the display and kill the bezel.