Thinking “Outside the Box”: Multiple Methodologies for the Study of Home Pregnancy Test User Experience

Increasing numbers of biomedical products have become eligible for over-the-counter sale in contemporary American consumer culture. What was once the realm of the clinical has moved into the realm of the domestic, with the consumer as the interpreter of health issues and communication. This dissertation examines the user experience with the marketing and design of packaging of home pregnancy tests. Studies indicate that more than one-third of women of reproductive age in the U.S. have used a home pregnancy test, yet the test is marketed to a specific demographic of user: one who is white, affluent, and married. How are users’ experiences affected, and how do different methodological frameworks yield results for the study of these user experiences?

In this project, I conduct a series of methodological case studies to show how each reveal various aspects of the user experience of home pregnancy testing. I begin with a case study of three brands of home pregnancy tests, using visual-material rhetorical analysis to uncover the cultural values implicit in packaging. I then move to two case studies involving the results of a National Institutes of Health survey of pregnancy test users. I employ a thematic analysis framework to analyze demographic information about users and to contextualize their narratives. I also conduct corpus linguistics and semantic network analysis with the same data set to model patterns in language. From these varying approaches, each with different underlying assumptions, nuanced aspects of the user experience with the product and its communication emerge. For example, the user’s life circumstances change from initial to subsequent pregnancy test purchase and use so as to suggest more desire for a positive result with subsequent testing, yet many users across these categories express some degree of discomfort when purchasing this product. I conclude with suggestions based on this research for more ethically informed pregnancy test marketing, and outline avenues for future research for evaluation of home pregnancy test user experience. I finally discuss the implications of multiple methodological approaches for transdisciplinary humanities project design, implementation, and evaluation, with emphasis on the digital and medical humanities.

Publication of selected dissertation material:

Opel, Dawn. “Social Justice in Technologies of Prenatal Care: Toward a User Centered Approach to Technical Communication in Home Pregnancy Testing.” SIGDOC 2014 Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference on Design of Communication (ACM, 2014).

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