Drugs! Where would we be without them? Often, sick. We owe thanks to humble lab mice for their contribution to medicine.
Testing drugs on mice occurs early in the decade-long, $2+ billion drug development process. The Genetically Modified Animal Program (GMAP) at Pfizer works like a “mouse factory” and breeds thousands of mice each year for this purpose.
A few years ago, GMAP needed software to replace a labor-intensive workflow of index cards, clipboards, Access databases, Excel spreadsheets, emails, and phone calls.
I led the user experience research and design effort. My team included a project manager, business analyst, and technical architect. We kicked off research by interviewing the dozen lab technicians, directors, scientists, and stakeholders.
While in the lab, technicians would use a standard keyboard and desktop to work in the new system. In the animal room, they would need a tablet and stylus in their gloved hands.
For a contextual analysis of the technicians at work, I donned a “bunny suit” – a hygienic jumpsuit that covers technicians from head to toe – and entered the animal room through the air-lock.
I observed every step of the process and captured artifacts they used – the index cards, cage labels, check-lists, spreadsheet printouts, and database screens.
The UX process surfaced many unforeseen considerations. We made subtle interface adjustments that made a dramatic impact. For example, the strategic use of stylus-friendly drop down choices saved valuable re-work and development time. We identified dozens of similar enhancements.
We kept the end-users engaged and front-and-center during design and development processes. This galvanized adoption.
An acquaintance remarked that animal testing is wrong. I responded that one important step in the breeding of lab mice is to place newborn pups in their own cage lest they be eaten by the adults. Nature is violent. Humans are not always the worst offenders. And, personally, I am grateful for all the nice vaccines and life-saving technology that involved the sacrifice of mice.