creative juice

designing decisions for health


Photo by Artefact

Seattle is a big city, but our design community is a small, tight-knit group. So when one of us gets sick, it affects us all. Jen Shetterly, whom many of us have worked with at some point or other, was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive breast cancer in July of 2015. But instead of letting the disease get her down, she turned the tables on it, using both her writing and her design skills to make a difference in the lives of other women who are going through the same thing.

At the time of the diagnosis, Jen was the UX Director at PicMonkey. Ordinary life came to a screeching halt as Jen had to craft a strategy to get well. Her health and her family became her top priority.

To help cope with her emotions and fears, Jen began to blog about her journey. Her blog focuses on all kinds of issues—some treatment-related and some related to the emotions she was going through.

Jen's Blog

“During my treatment, I blogged about my experiences,” Jen said. “Gavin Kelly, one of the co-founders of Artefact, had been following my progress. We had worked together previously, and we’d kept in touch throughout the years. He asked if I would be willing to talk with them about my experiences and the decisions I had to make during my treatment.”

Artefact was in the midst of developing a Surveillance Imaging Modalities for Breast Cancer app (SIMBA) for Group Health Research Institute (GHRI).

Artefact explains the nature of the study on their website: “Conducted between 2013 and 2016, the study goals were to conduct the largest-ever analysis of the effectiveness of mammography and breast MRI, then use the data to empower patients to select the right imaging solution. They gathered perspectives of patients and doctors, then began the analysis with 36,000 breast cancer exams. Early in 2016 they approached Artefact to design a decision aid that could help breast cancer patients understand and discuss their monitoring options.”

As far as Jen’s role in the development of the app, she says it was minimal. “I had conversations with two designers—one of which I’d worked with before (Aaron Tinling) for an hour or two. I showed them the forms and documents I’d received from my doctors as an example of what a patient would go through. The designers asked me questions and had me fill out a form—walking me through my experiences and how I felt about them. They wanted to understand what I was going through as a potential user of the tool.”

The UX designer in Jen emerged as she helped Artefact understand her journey as a cancer patient. “As a designer, I know that listening to and observing people in their own environment can lead to more thoughtful and successful solutions. And as a cancer patient, I was happy to share my experiences to help others.”


An article by Fast Company brilliantly highlights Artefact’s work. “Indeed, from Artefact’s own test of 33 patients using SIMBA versus an industry standard aid, women reported both a higher confidence in their ability to make a decision, and a better understanding of the core material with SIMBA. And maybe that’s what the ideal health education tool needs to offer someone—at least someone who has the facility to dig through a few pages of text and graphs. Not an outright one-line answer that has no context, but just enough information to guide the most scientifically valid choice that someone can make on their own accord.”

As for Jen, she has undergone a double mastectomy, 5 months of chemotherapy, and over 6 weeks of radiation. “After all that,” she said, “I’m currently cancer-free!”

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