Why You Need a Social Worker On Your UX Design Team

Sean Erreger LCSW
5 min readNov 18, 2017


As technology becomes more ubiquitous, I have become increasingly interested it in how it integrates with our lives. If you follow me you know I have a tremendous fascination with Health Information Technology and other apps for health/mental health. In testing things out for the blog and using my own electronic health record at work has me asking questions.

With this has come an increased interest in how they are built. I have recently become a little more skeptical that tech can fix “all the things” in healthcare. Sometimes things just fall into tech, for technology’s sake. This is due to poor design. I have also begun to think about design for things like finance and the “smart city” movement.

My overall interest in technology has led me to how it is designed and how users experience them. Hence my increased interest in UX or “User Experience” Design. For those of you who don’t know User Experience is defined well by The Interaction design Foundation

“User experience (UX) design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant experiences. This involves the careful design of both a product’s usability and the pleasure consumers will derive from using it. It is also concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function.

Products that provide great user experience (e.g., the iPhone) are thus designed not only with the product’s consumption or use in mind but also the entire process of acquiring, owning, and even troubleshooting it.”

In the healthcare space, I have been following the design firm Mad*Pow and they have been a valuable source of information about design. What inspired this post was interview I heard with Karen Clark Cole (CEO of BlinkUX) on SiriusXM business radio. The variety of products that require UX design. A light bulb went off… you know who would be good addition to UX Design? … social workers… and here is why…

Core Values

According to the National Association of Social Workers, we have 6 core values (Service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence). Taking details of these would be important to the user experience most notably; service (putting our needs below the need of the user), dignity and worth (respect of culture and self determination), and human relationships (promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities). Much like creating good social work services, these are key in creating a good UX for any other product.


Design seems like a complex process and social workers excel at breaking those down via a variety of assessments. We map complex relationships in families via a Genogram, below is an example..

It looks like a family tree but illustrates the history and dynamics in between people and generations. This can be a good parallel between the systems and people involved in the design process. We are also trained to understand the complex relationship via larger systems. Two good examples of this are Social Ecological Model and the BioPsychoSocial Model..

  • Social Ecological Model

I imagine it is critical to design not only think about the needs of the user but also the needs of the larger organizations implementing them. To drill it down further to the individual, we use other assessments…

  • The Bio-psycho-Social Model

Social workers have many other tools in our tool box to assess systems at large and how they interact with the individual, family, groups, and community. This is just scratching the surface, but this is what separates us from other professions.

Treatment Planning

Once we have assessed individual strengths and needs in relation to the larger system, we have to come up with a treatment or service plan. This should have specific goals in objectives. A good way to do that is grow on assessment tools that empower individuals like this…

With the dignity and worth of the individual in mind we slowly begin to develop a plan that keeps the larger systems part of the plan. After that is achieved we start to talk about goals and objective. Although not unique to social work coming up with goals that are S.M.A.R.T…

In addition to that documenting progress about the progress of treatment is key. Using tools like progress notes we make sure the plan we have developed is working…

Social work excels at understanding the entire system while understanding the needs of the individual. We are trained to do this is in a systematic way. We also understand the need to develop goals, objectives, and continue to assess them. The dignity and worth of the individual comes before our notion of what the outcome SHOULD be. However we understand that human relationships (and other systems) are complex. In using our tools and training, social work can be a powerful complement to the UX design process.

I would love to hear from the design community. Are these things already discussed? Do these social work values and concepts offer a VALUE ADD to a design project? Please feel free to comment below, email me at stuckonsw@gmail.com, or you can always find mind me on twitter @stuckonsw.

This originally appeared on my blog Stuck On Social Work



Sean Erreger LCSW

blogger, consultant #socialwork, #mentalhealth, suicide prevention. How tech & Social Media is changing change…blog: www.StuckOnSocialWork.Com