Designing for life-long heart disease in Africa

One of the most underestimated conditions in Africa are cardio vascular conditions. For the longest time, these have been considered a problem of the west. Africans have suffered in silence with heart conditions for many reasons. Partly due to lack of awareness or misdiagnosis for lack of proper care. Lifestyle changes also play a huge role. Whatever the cause, cardio vascular diseases, are silent killers, especially in Africa. It is an area I am personally interested in because my mother lives with hypertension.

We recently did a UX study around cardio vascular diseases in Africa, with a focus on families, people at risk and people with heart conditions, especially hypertension. Once of the challenges of these conditions is that they are often asymptomatic. This therefore means, in a context of economic difficulty, other needs take priority over the often-expensive compliance (compliance includes diet, exercise and medication).


How can we create awareness on preventative measures for the healthy, and life-long adherence for the sick, in an environment where lack of awareness and economic pressure abounds.


We set out choosing the participants for the study, which we shall keep confidential as a sign of respect to the client. We used a lifestyle diary for each of the participants over a period of time where they would log what they did each morning and at specific times of the day. This included their feelings at different times and their thoughts on several aspects of their lives and environment. This included camera diaries, which involved giving each family and patient a camera and designing a criteria. We also had consistent check-ins and video ethnography as part of the human centered design toolkit we packaged for this study. This was one of the most powerful UX studies I have done both in depth and substance. The contextual mix and depth of insights was incredible.

One of the main insights was the taboo with which heart related diseases surprisingly are looked at, It seemed like a lot of people with these conditions were ashamed to talk about it and kept it a secret in the fear of potential stigmatization.

Being asymptomatic, it was clear that people often learn to accept the condition and as long as they don’t feel sick, (without constant reminders) compromise their care, either by choosing cheeper medicine to save costs, or going off altogether.

The weight of the disease to the family is another critical aspect that is often overlooked, while the family plays a critical role in adherence and general health of people with cardio vascular conditions.



We could collaboratively develop really poignant prototypes that had the economic, family and messaging nuances all tied in. We have been testing these with the users and consistently iterating on the same. I can show some aspects but will be unable to show the examples in respect of confidentiality to the client. The point I make however is that you do not need to swallow design approaches whole. There are a myriad of methods out there and new ones can be created depending on the context. Don’t be afraid to critically examine aspects of methods that serve a specific purpose and developing hyper contextualized. Toolkits for your design process.

Always remember, if you can compare what people say with what they do, that’s where the most insightful stuff comes from.

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