Before I started my career as a creative scientist, I had no idea what user experience is, or how to go about designing one. In college, I had a day job as a medical interpreter at the Johns Hopkins hospital. Here’s a case study of my first experience design.


As a medical interpreter I was facilitating the communication between care providers and patients at Johns Hopkins hospital. For in-patient clients, especially ones recovering from surgery, I used to get called all the time to translate the same basic phrases. My hypothesis was that I can invent a tool to do this repetitive task, and raise the bar on patient care without having the caregivers wait on me to check on their non-English-speaking patients.

The Team

I work by myself on this project. It was a passion project through which I taught myself programming to create a mobile-first web-app.

The Process

I started by thinking about the people I, as an interpreter was interacting with. First there were the patients, second there were the caregivers, and finally there was the admin staff, people who are responsible for checking patients in and taking their insurance information.

I also kept a log of all the common phrases I was interpreting frequently. Next, I did some affinity diagraming to categorize the phrases into two main categories: Questions, and statements.

Questions had some common themes as well like questions starting with “when” and ones starting with “where.”

The Result

I created a virtual experience in the form of a mobile-first web-app. This app allowed English-speaking care givers to ask simple questions and make statements to communicate with non-English-speaking patients by displaying a translation in Arabic, or Spanish — depending on the patient’s native tongue. In turn, the patients can answer the caregiver’s questions, make statements, and ask questions of their own.

When a user launches Insterpreter they are asked to select either a Spanish or an Arabic version of Insterpreter. Then, they are asked to identify themselves (A caregiver, Admin Staff, or a Patient). Note, this screen is in English, however the button for the patient has the words “start here” in Arabic or Spanish next to it so the non-English-speaking patient can recognize where to start on this English website.

Once the user knows where to start, they can choose to ask a question or make a statement. Once the user selects the specific question they want to ask a translation of the question appears on the screen. At this point the user, assuming they are a caregiver, hands. the phone over to the patient to read their question. The patient then goes through the same steps to make a statement to answer the caregiver’s question.

This process facilitates the communication between two parties overcoming their language barrier. Of course, these days translation apps thanks to machine learning are MUCH better than they were over a decade ago and can handle this communication.


This project had zero active users. It was used by nobody. However, by doing this project, I taught myself how write code, creating an application single-handily, and when I shared it with my human-computer interaction professor she gave me a job at her research lab which kickstarted my own career!

dr. ax ali