Dental Practice Software

When I joined Carestream Dental, I had no idea it would be the place I would grow to love Interaction Design. It was also the first place I would experience working in an Agile environment.

In this case study, I document a few take-a-ways from my employment at Carestream, including how important it is to floss every day.

Please note, some details and design artifacts have been omitted due to NDA.

Image of dentist tools

“User experience cannot exist without users.”
Hoa Loranger

1. Research

Like most employees, I joined Carestream Dental with very little knowledge around oral health and dental care. The company provided classes to all new hires which included a couple of days of teaching and exams on dentistry.

While this material was a good introduction to the market, it would not be enough to design for Dentists, Hygienists, and the support staff that work in a Dentist's office.

To make quality software in "Dental Practice Management Software," or DPMS for short, I would need months more to become familiar with the ways this business works. Thankfully, Carestream gave me time to conduct research on the industry that I would eventually report back to the team.

Image of patient chair in dentist room

Did you know that in the U.S. there are over 95,330 dentist offices?

My first project was to understand the business needs of a dentist office for an at-a-glance view of how the business's health looked to an administrator. This meshed well with my other mandate to research and get to know the industry.

To design a dashboard, I needed to understand the key performance indicators (KPIs) of a dentist's office. Over three months I read and digested as much as I could on the industry. I documented and analyzed hundreds of articles and talked to subject matter experts for a deep-dive into the world of oral health.

I learned how dentists go through training, examined their educational debt and the costs of starting their own practice, and understood what it takes to managing and growing their business. From this, I documented and developed a research report called the "Analysis of General Dentistry" but which we referred to internally as "that report you emailed a while ago."

Table of contents from report on dentist practice management

Did you know that in the U.S. there's about 1 dentist for every 67,000 Americans?

This report became a reference guide for the design team and was helpful in building empathy with what it's like to run a dentist's office. Not only did the document explain the costs involved and the various configurations offices can take, but it also provided new team members with a way to learn about the dental industry and see what it takes to remain competitive today.

The report touched on mental models, demographics that were relevant to persona design, and common KPIs relevant to growing a general dentist office. All team members including visual designers, product managers, and interaction designers received the analysis.

General Dentists: Demographics

#7 “Will eat tacos on Thursday!!! – at your discretion”
—Team Charter

2. Distributed Teams

Not only was Carestream's design department an Agile team, it was also a distributed team, with co-workers in Shanghai, London, and New York. I learned a lot about working with an Agile frame of mind as well as the benefits of working with teams remotely.

One of the first things I realized was the time-zone challenges. With teams in Shanghai, we had to adapt, as did they, to find a time either earlier or later than normal to collaborate.

It was eye opening to work cross-culturally. It required that our team be hyper-specific with our annotated wires so there were fewer questions due to language differences.

I also learned about how important the Chinese New Year is! Like customs in the USA around the winter holidays, our co-workers would take about two weeks off around Chinese New Year.

All of this meant we gave something to work more effectively as a team and we were committed to making a great product. In the Agile way, we looked for ways to improve processes, speed up implementation, and reduce the number of errors in the product.

Annotations of user story design notes

“First, however, a warning: there’s a big difference between being busy and being productive.”
—Stephen J. Dubner

3. Team Building

It wasn't until working at Carestream that I learned the value of being inefficient. For example, before Carestream, I would grind my teeth at the small talk before meetings, but I realized this slower pace had its benefits.

After I joined Carestream, my boss Kris shared with me the team charter, which outlined the behaviors and standards we would agree to while working together. One of these items included time to bond as a team.

Kris scheduled time within the first three weeks of my joining for the team to go out to a park and grill together. It was a great way to get to know each other and introduce me to the team. It helped build shared experiences and grow our connections beyond simply working in the same office.

These bonding experiences and small talk before meetings improved our communication and empathy with each other. It increased our solidarity as a team and reduced disagreements. I no longer felt time being wasted before meetings began and instead started participating more in the small talk and contributing. Because in the end, we would become more productive together.

Dentist office

“Practice safe design: Use a concept.”
—Petrula Vrontikis

4. Prototyping in HTML/CSS and Angular

I've known HTML and CSS for many years. One of my first jobs before undergrad was web design. But it wasn't until I worked at Carestream that I discovered the value of prototyping in code.

UX Design is sometimes conflated with the User Interface (UI) design. And it is true that the outcome of our work invariably impacts the design of the UI, yet most of my design work hasn't included directly building elements of the UI.

For prototyping, I have often mimicked UI using various design tools with static images and clickable image maps to tie all the pages together.

Much of the IxD work at Carestream Dental could be done this way. However, the primary users need to work with tables of data, and prototyping with static images of data being manipulated doesn't usability test very well! It doesn't even give us a good idea of what types of technologies might be the best option for our designs.

Therefore, for a few projects I worked on, I needed to implement some prototypes in Angular and HTML/CSS. I used JSON data sets to mimic the kinds of data our users would be viewing or manipulating.

Being able to prototype grids of data made it easier to modify sorting behavior. It would also help test the orders of columns. I could put these options in front of users faster than more static methods, which helped the team be more certain about both design and technology/framework choices.




Net-Promoter Score
Product Vision
Functional Requirements
Component Library
User Flow Diagrams
Usability Testing Protocols
Ethnographic Inspired Research