ALUMNI PROFILE Andra Popa (JD ’02, LLM ’05)
Andra Popa (JD ’02, LLM ’05) champions good visual design to demystify compliance requirements
Andra Popa (JD ’02, LLM ’05) found her calling in 2007. While completing a glowing job audit at a research university, Popa asked the administrator under review if she had read the compliance manual. The woman picked up the 300-page document and pretended to strain under its weight. “That’s when all the pieces clicked,” says Popa. “She wants to know the processes of the compliance aspects of her job, but the way it’s presented is really unwieldy and confusing.”
Popa wanted to better understand if redesigned guides using best-practice design principles improved compliance. So, she started with one project: She shortened content and implemented improvements such as consistent checkboxes. She conducted in-person interviews to inform the design and sent out questionnaires to gather user feedback after the changes were made. The results were clear: The simple, inexpensive visual design changes helped users complete the compliance guides at a much higher rate, more accurately, and more quickly.
With more than 10 years of experience in the health law field, Popa has become a leader in the emerging field of visual design and compliance. She focuses her work on Medicare and Medicaid billing and coding and human research compliance, working with academic medical centers, community hospitals, and research universities. She applies good design principles to processes, audits, education, and other compliance materials to create electronic libraries, analyze metrics, develop Medicare billing grids, and design technology and websites. Through it all, Popa’s healthcare and compliance work centers itself in simple, empathetic visual design that treats users with respect.
“I realized that the way compliance program materials, processes, and operations are designed has a huge impact on their effectiveness,” Popa says. “I think it’s extraordinarily important to really design with the user in mind.”
Loyola University Chicago School of Law attracted Popa with a robust Health Law program. “What really interested me was research compliance because of the innovation and the really complex ethical questions that arise with testing medicine, vaccines, and devices for humans,” she says.
“The way compliance program materials, processes, and operations are designed has a huge impact on their effectiveness. It’s extraordinarily important to really design with the user in mind.”
While still a student, Popa took a job creating books, web-based software programs, and other materials explaining compliance law—and she began to recognize compliance and design as its own discipline. She began incorporating color theory, sans-serif fonts, hierarchies of information, and other easy design principles into her work. “There are so many tools that are inexpensive and not time consuming,” she says.
At hospitals and healthcare organizations, all employees have to understand compliance—even if they don’t have a legal background, Popa says. She stresses the necessity of representing different learning styles because good compliance design has a lot to do with respect. By using her materials, employees better grasped compliance requirements. Says Popa: “People said, ‘I understand this. I understand the rules.’”
As Popa became a leader in the emerging field of compliance design, more and more peers approached her to learn more. She put together a “Compliance and Design 101” course—traveling the world in the process. She studied the scaled-down aesthetics and landscapes of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and even Antarctica, and began incorporating certain traditions into her own design. When it came to compliance materials, simplicity led to clarity. “The minimal approaches and landscapes really inspired my work in creating tools for compliance,” she says.
Then, she collected her findings in a free website. Designandcompliance.com presents an “atlas of design”—years of lessons on communication, quality improvement, policies and procedures, and simple design strategies that professionals can apply to their own compliance materials.
“You have to pay attention to how people are understanding your work,” she says. “It feels like you’re treating everyone in an office with a great deal of respect by making things easy to understand.” –Megan Kirby