Subject Matter Expertise


An important aspect of informed design is to understand the subject matter of the product or service you are designing. Many design decisions will be dependent on that knowledge.

For instance, imagine you are creating an application to refill pharmacy prescriptions. Certain medications may be referred to using different names, yet some of those names refer to the generic version of the medication, while others may be patented or branded medications. Understanding these nuances is critical in building the correct dialog flow.

Similarly, industries such as finance and health care are heavily regulated, and certain information must be gathered at specific moments in a user's interaction with a brand. This imposed rigidity is largely non-negotiable, even when it negatively impacts the user experience. Being aware of the constraints helps the designer be more efficient in the design process.


Consider a thorough knowledge transfer at the start of a project. Make the information available to the entire team, including product and design, engineering and QA since everyone on the team will benefit from this.


If the subject matter expertise in question is available in a written format, for instance in a knowledge base, share access.

Unfortunately, subject matter expertise all too often lives in the heads of people, and live real-time knowledge transfers may be necessary.

Desk research may be a helpful source, for instance an internet search or using a LLM. This type of research may yield information that is not applicable; it could be too basic, or too specific to another brand or method. Ideally, such information can be reviewed by subject matter experts for applicability.

Consider LLMs

LLMs can be helpful in getting a basic understanding of the subject matter at hand, but the information tends to be very generic. For instance, at the time of writing this (April 2023), a prompt such as: "You are designing an experience for users to get access to their health records. What specific information do you need to gather from the user in order to comply with regulations in the US?" did not generate anything more than a list of common items.

The information need to be verified and may be specific to the use case.

Don't use LLMs

Don't expect that LLM output provides a complete and specific view of the subject matter expertise or regulatory guidelines that are needed for your specific use case; use it as a starting point only.


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