The healthcare system is complicated. Everything from billing, inter-departmental consultations, patient / doctor interactions to diagnosis/notes and treatment can be hard to grasp due to the highly fragmented nature of information.

Aboli Joshi, Product Designer at Cura Technologies,  tries to solve the problem of disorganised and fragmented healthcare data by digitising patient information for the benefit of doctors and patients.

Aboli talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about  choosing a career in Healthcare Design after being attracted to the idea of analysing large, complex problems that affect our society, and healthcare delivery being one of them.

For students, if decades of R&D in medicine is to be effective in the real-world, we need healthcare designers who can connect the dots to ensure the last leg of healthcare delivery is holistic and patient-centric.

Aboli, tell us about your background?

The first 9 years of my life were spent in California, where both of my parents worked as software engineers. When I was in 4th grade, we moved back to Pune where I did the rest of my schooling, starting at Gurukul and then moving to Vikhe Patil Memorial School for my senior secondary. I took Science stream in 11th and 12th, but that was purely because of my interest in Biology. I ended up studying PCMB, because my parents wanted me to keep math at least until 12th (even though I’ve always found math difficult).

I’ve always been an avid reader, and I grew up deeply influenced by major fiction series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. I would say reading and writing were my main hobbies as a child.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

For my undergrad I went to National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. After my foundation year, I studied Product Design and graduated with a Bachelor of Design. I haven’t done my post grad yet but I’m considering studying business for my masters.

My interest throughout my undergrad has been in solving problems in the healthcare space. I’m currently a designer focused on healthcare.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

I first heard about design as a career option from my father, who had worked with a few NIDians in his company. At that point I was in the 9th grade – exploring career options in journalism, or generally the humanities domain since that’s where my interests lay. I decided to look into design and met one of my early coaches from Abhivyakti Institute in Pune, Chandrakant Mahajan sir, who helped me explore the design domain. I started sketching and doing assignments under him. Since I found this enjoyable, I decided to prepare for design college entrance exams.

Getting into NID was one of my proudest moments. At college, I spent the first year developing my basic design skills in Foundation. From 2nd year I took Product Design as my specialisation. Through the next 3.5 years, as a product design student, I ended up doing most of my projects in the healthcare space. For all of our classroom projects we were allowed to create our own project brief, and I somehow always felt drawn towards projects that I believed could create a positive impact on people. I also find healthcare and the human body extremely fascinating, so this allowed me to explore my interests in both.

At NID I was introduced to the concept of systems thinking by one of my key mentors, Praveen Nahar (presently the Director of NID). Systems thinking is a way of analysing large, complex problems that affect our society, by understanding all the interconnected frameworks that contribute to them. This way of approaching a domain shaped my career interests as well – I wanted to work on extremely complex problems that could create impact.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?Tell us about your career path

At NID, for a thesis, students are expected to work with a company for 4-6 months on a live project. Through the NID Placements event, I interviewed with a Bangalore-based medtech startup called InnAccel. They offered me a project to develop a diagnostic device for Ear-Nose-Throat problems. I spent 9 months with them. I used the Stanford Biodesign Framework, and did a ton of clinical immersion in clinics. The outcome of the project is on its way to being commercialised.

At InnAccel I learned so much – it was a chance to understand the real stakes and complexity of working in healthcare. I got to work with a lot of non-designers, collaborating with engineers, doctors and manufacturers. My mentors there were Pooja Kadambi and Dr Jagdish Chaturvedi.

After graduating I spent a few months interning at Laerdal Global Health in Mumbai. After that, I found an opportunity to work at my current organisation, Cura Technologies.

I wouldn’t say I’ve planned my career, really. It’s an idea of what I would like to achieve in the long run, and what I need to learn to get there. If a great opportunity comes my way, I try to make the best of it. That’s the extent of my plan! 🙂

One thing I’ve realised over the course of my (short) career so far is that at the end of the day, your people skills play a critical role in your growth. Being easy to work with, emotionally intelligent, open to learning, and working on your communication will always work in your favour – especially in a career like design.

How did you get your first break?

My first internships were at Elephant Design in Pune – I spent two summers there. I got to work on a system for stroke rehabilitation. That experience stoked my interest in healthcare products. It was the first time I got to see how my learnings from college could be applied to real-world projects. It was a really positive opportunity, and I’m so grateful to Ashish Deshpande, one of the founders of Elephant Design, for giving me that chance.

What were some of the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: 

Misunderstandings around design as a profession

Since product design is a rather new career option in India, I find myself having to explain what I do to most of my relatives – and it still may not make sense to them! People still think that design is all fashion or interior design, and I don’t blame them because that’s what we grow up knowing. Added to that is the fact that I’m specialised in the healthcare domain and work with doctors – and it can seem like I’m just describing an invented profession! However, I take this as a challenge to formulate and explain what I do in a simple way.

Challenge 2: 

Finding the kind of work I want to do

There is a Japanese concept called Ikigai – which literally means “a reason for being”. Ikigai sits at the intersection of the following:

  1. What I love
  2. What I am good at
  3. What I can be paid for
  4. What the world needs

It can be tough to find job opportunities having Ikigai. I am lucky to experience this with my current job, but I think as I get further along in my career I will have to figure out how to create these job profiles for myself.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?

I’m currently a product designer and product manager at Cura Technologies in Bangalore. We are creating digital healthcare solutions for Outpatient Departments.

What problems do you solve?

We try to solve the problem of disorganised and fragmented healthcare data. Most of the time, patient’s information is stored in physical files. That format of information is difficult to read, use and track over time. We are trying to digitise patient information to benefit doctors and patients.

What skills are needed for the job? How did you acquire the skills?

My role sits at the intersection of a typical User Experience design role and a product manager’s role. The skills needed are:

  1. Conducting research to understand user problems
  2. Creating and testing prototypes using digital design tools like Sketch
  3. Medical domain knowledge and specific terminologies
  4. Product Requirement Documentation
  5. Understanding how software development works 

One of the overall skills is being able to transition between being detail-oriented (eg. precisely phrasing the text on a screen) and big-picture-oriented (eg. understanding the organisational structure of a hospital).

I learned some of the basic design skills like prototyping, research and iteration in design school. I’ve been picking up knowledge about software development by doing my own reading and small projects. My medical domain knowledge comes from reading medical textbooks and interviews with doctors.

What’s a typical day like?

The structure of my days is varied based on which phase of a product we are in. 60% of my time is spent in the office, while the rest is in the hospital. Some of my regular activities include:

  1. Meetings with doctors
  2. Shadowing doctors as they go about their regular tasks
  3. Creating and testing prototypes
  4. Writing documentation
  5. Meetings with development and deployment teams
  6. Reading medical textbooks and articles
  7. Planning for the next releases of a product

What is it you love about this job?

As I mentioned before – it allows me to have Ikigai. The large-scale impact of my work is really important to me and this fulfils that need while still being interesting.

How does your work benefit society? 

Healthcare will always be a domain that fundamentally tries to help people. If designed and implemented correctly, healthcare interventions can improve lifespans and quality of life. However, since this domain sits at the intersection of technology and humans, there’s always a risk of solutions tipping more towards the technology side, while ignoring the humans using them. I believe a designer can achieve the right balance between both, creating solutions that harness the power of technology to the fullest without losing the human touch.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I did a project in college with one of my best friends – we created a concept for an innovative neonatal warmer. You can find it on my Behance profile, it’s called NeoGo. It was the first time I worked in a hospital. We didn’t have a brief in mind when we started, so the fact that we got to a finished outcome at all was amazing. We put in a lot of effort and managed to complete a huge amount of work in a very short time.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice is to look for a career in something that lets you feel flow. Flow is a state where you enjoy doing something so much that you lose track of time. Being able to experience that as a part of my work makes me truly happy.

Also, never discount the impact your work can have on people. Strive to make that impact positive!

Future Plans?

I hope to continue solving problems and creating impact in healthcare. One of my dreams is to start a company of my own someday, so let’s see where I am in 10 years!

You can find me at the following links:

Feel free to reach out for any questions or guidance!