Today’s healthcare system continues to be a frustrating experience for many Americans. Difficult to understand coverage, increasing costs, and more out-of-network providers create a complex landscape for many of us. Unfortunately, the process of getting reimbursed from your insurance company is no different, often involving phone calls, filling out complex forms, and sometimes even antiquated fax machines. It’s no wonder patients often give up or don’t bother going through the process despite a potential payback of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
We’re excited to announce that our most recent investment, Better, is looking to change that. Better provides a simple solution for people to get reimbursed on their out-of-pocket expenses. From therapy to dental work, you’re able to enter your healthcare info, take a photo of the bill, and Better will file everything on your behalf. To date, they’ve processed over $800,000 worth of claims with the average person getting back nearly $700. It is an experience that once had (we’re already customers) makes you wish all healthcare billing worked this way.
We sat down with CEO and Co-Founder Rachael Norman to discuss why she’s investing early in design and the role she wants it to play in the company going forward.
When you started Better one of the first things you did was to hire a great designer to collaborate with. Why was it important for you to do that?
Being a patient in America is often very frustrating. Patients are frequently reduced to a number. I prioritized design from the start because I wanted to take a process that causes anxiety and pain and make dealing with health insurance feel more simple and human. Design is the foundation to creating any good product and every good user experience.
How have you seen design affect the business goals early on?
Our design has been a great vehicle to communicate our values and mission to users, providers and prospective employees. We worked hard in the beginning to define the values and feelings we wanted to come through via our brand and visual identity to help us communicate a simple, human experience to people even before they interact with us.
Leveraging the power of design to communicate our values has supported all of our business goals from user acquisition to building brand awareness. Because we are working in the health space, compliance is a big issue. We’ve invested heavily in compliance and it is essential that users and healthcare providers trust us with their most sensitive data. During the design process and as we were testing our messaging, we worked hard on how to communicate trust and safety. Without this effort, I don’t think we would have seen the same level of early traction. The trust we built through design and a good customer experience translated directly into the growth of our user base.
How did you choose a design partner?
We were fortunate in that we spoke with a lot of great designers before selecting Casey. The most important thing I looked for was someone who truly connected with our product and understood our mission. Because it was so early, I prioritized finding a designer whose core competency was developing brands and brand identities. I felt that it was more important to get this right than any other single thing we needed at the time–like a great website or beautifully designed app. We needed a strong brand identity to give us a solid foundation. Ben at Designer Fund was instrumental in helping us connect with the right designer. Casey spoke to our needs and has a lot of versatility.
Have there been any surprises that the design process uncovered?
There have been so many surprises. The thing I’ve enjoyed the most has been hearing different feedback on our brand identity and design. I think it is great to be reminded that no matter what you create—how people perceive it will depend more on their experiences than anything else.
Messaging has also been something we’ve had to really work hard on. Healthcare is very confusing and people value clear, concise answers. It’s been a lot more work than I expected to integrate messaging and design in a straightforward, effective manner.
For example, in our earliest messaging to consumers we used the terms “out-of-network” and “reimbursed.” Through testing, we learned that even people who saw out-of-network healthcare providers and filed their own health insurance claims weren’t sure what we were talking about. Most people aren’t clear about the difference between in-network and out-of-network healthcare providers or what coverage their policy offers for non-network care. When patients go out-of-network they frequently assume that money is lost. When we changed our messaging to use phrases like “out-of-pocket” and “paid back” suddenly almost all of our testers started to understand the differences. Health insurance premiums are so high and benefits are decreasing, people universally believe their health insurance should be covering more of their care.
What role would you like design to play in your next phase?
Design is central to everything we build at Better. As a team, we approach problems from a user-centric perspective. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I know that the values we’ve focused on since day one will help us redesign a typically horrible experience into something magical.
Finding a Design Partner: Working with Bridge Fellow Casey Martin
Casey Martin is an independent brand designer who collaborated with Better to build their brand. He’s worked with Asana, Facebook, Apple, Salesforce, BBDO, Coca Cola, Leo Burnett and many others to build lasting brands that people love. We asked Casey about collaborating with Better and how he approaches working with new startups.
Better was new and very lean when they approached you. What was the high level process for designing Better’s brand?
When Better approached us for help developing a brand look, tone, and feel, we were thrilled. It was an interesting challenge because on one hand, you have a medical company. That’s a pretty staid industry with long-held guardrails. But Better is also a Silicon Valley startup: a young company with a smart product and ambitions to do a lot more. So at the highest level it was important to build a design system that laid a strong foundation, but also has lot of flexibility for growth.
We began by developing what we called “Brand Pillars” –– essentially, distilling what Better wanted to represent and be identified by. As a client, Better was very open and cooperative. I have to really celebrate their willingness to be true to the principle of simplicity. Dealing with health insurance creates a lot of frustration for people, who often just give up. But that’s what Better solves. They made themselves accountable to a tack-sharp focus on clarity and simplicity in every facet of their brand. Which, for a designer, is absolutely fantastic to work with.
Throughout the creative development, I kept a user’s smartphone in mind. It’s increasingly a mobile-first world. So it’s crucial that a brand identity can be comfortably expressed on a home screen. Medical insurance isn’t a regular, daily use product. By contrast, this home screen approach focuses on keeping Better at the top of mind to fuel more regular use.
The finished work communicates simplicity and approachability through people-inspired design. The brand mark is iconic and communicates a “B,” while remaining human and evoking a person raising his/her hand. This fits Better perfectly, since they exist to answer tough questions, simplify work, and make life easier for their users. It’s a call to action for prospective users to take charge of their wellness and wallets – to stop fearing the health care insurance machine.
This B shape has strong lines and consistent curves to imbue it with a bold confidence. Both the logo and the font we selected for the brand have a round, cyclical look that’s more inviting than hard edges and sharp angles. And color was a huge opportunity to play against the category: a lot of traditional health and insurance brands use stale blue, turquoise, gray, a yawning maroon. So it was clear we wanted to jump off from there and find something that felt fresh and confident. Purple is bright, stands out boldly, and feels fun. So we defined a one-color, multiple-shade pallet that provides a lot of visual latitude.
Were there any surprises for you in the design process?
One of the biggest challenges of developing Better’s brand was getting past our own initial impressions of the health insurance industry. You think about hospitals and insurance bills and can almost hear your brain groaning and your soul dying a bit. I guess that was the real challenge: how can visual design change the impression that healthcare is hard and get people to reconsider how they take care of themselves? It was a lot of fun defining what’s conventional in the industry and then figuring out how to go perpendicular to it. So the most difficult thing about creating Better’s identity also turned out to be where we discovered our key insight. Which was pretty cool. I think the other big surprise during this process was having it plant a seed in my head, and having grown a lot more conscious of my own health and decisions since then. Which is also pretty cool.
Can you share with us some directions you tried that didn’t work?
In our early rounds, we designed a number of directions that were focused on people. Visual cues like the shape of a smile, designs built of shapes like hearts, things that took inspiration from hand gestures. We wanted to connect with patients, and differentiate from a field that focuses on health without paying much attention to people. From the start, it seemed extremely important to make sure we were both simple and bold. So we explored color pallets that were brighter, more vivid. But straying too far from the category ended up just feeling “Different for Different’s Sake”, and we wanted to be grounded in design that had a purpose.
When we narrowed to three directions, the concepts evolved into a people-centric direction, a mascot direction that leaned into approachability, and a direction that was a bit more abstract and geometric. The mascot direction used a ladybug-looking character; while we all liked it, we walked away from it because it felt a bit too distanced from health and insurance. The geometric direction gave us an opportunity to explore some pretty cool patterns and get complex and intricate, but in the end it just didn’t connect in a meaningful way.
How would you like to see the brand and product evolve going forward?
Better is already pretty far ahead of the startup curve, having put this much thought into design at this early stage of their company. They’re incredibly smart and strategic, and I’d love to see them continue to emphasize design through the brand architecture lens we’ve established. Keeping a focus on simplicity. Continuing to prioritize ease of use. It’s a solid foundation, and the application and all brand extensions will be able to evolve naturally as they grow forward. It’ll be exciting to see how they upend the way their industry traditionally has capitalized on laziness and ignorance. I’m stoked to see these guys burst and change peoples’ willingness to take care of themselves.
Any advice for entrepreneurs creating a brand for their startup?
Design can’t be an afterthought—it’s not a box to be checked late in the process. The brand identity could even end up looking pretty sleek, but if it doesn’t really embody what a startup does or have a focus toward where they’re headed, they’ll just have to invest a lot more into what they are and how they look later. Investing in design and brand foundations early just pays dividends down the road. Because it’s more than how you present yourself visually. Thinking through who your brand is and what it wants to be can pave a much easier path to success down the road.