The prompt for this project was to design a mobile app with a minimum viable product for its main feature. I decided to focus on mental healthcare as it is a sector that is incredibly important to the wellbeing of everyone, yet it is a world fraught with usability issues. The particular issue I decided to focus on is the process of finding and booking a mental healthcare appointment.
The problem: Mental healthcare is often difficult to find, especially if you’ve never done it before. The process is unclear, daunting, and nothing is guaranteed or given, and the task can seem insurmountable if one is already dealing with a mental health condition on top of this task. How can we make such an important process understandable, easy, and clear?
- Project duration: 2 weeks
- Tools used:
- Adobe Illustrator
- Product Designer
- UX Researcher
- UX Designer
- UI Designer
- Graphic Designer
- Visual Designer
- Project timeline
- Competitive research, secondary research, user interviews
- Personas, task flow
- Feature roadmap
- Logo, style tile
- Low- and high-fidelity wireframes, prototype
- Usability testing, findings summary, affinity map
- Final mockup, prototype revision
- Conduct secondary research to understand the scope of the problem: the current state of mental healthcare in the United States
- Conduct competitive research to see how other websites/apps help people find mental healthcare
- Conduct user research to empathize with and understand how users find mental healthcare and what the experience is like
- Design a solution that is as smooth of an experience as possible
I started by asking around to see if my friends and peers have encountered the same issues that I’ve encountered with this process, and the answer usually started with a sigh, which is a clear sign that work needs to be done.
I keep up with mental health news in general and have read countless articles in this realm, but I needed to do more research to get some solid numbers and facts. The results were disturbing:
1 in 5 (nearly 50 million) Americans experienced a mental illness in 2019, prior to Covid-19. (Mental Health America)
“In 2019, 24.7% of adults with a mental illness report an unmet need for treatment.” This percentage has increased every year since 2011. (Mental Health America)
“Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34” in the United States. Additionally, “the national rate of suicidal ideation among adults has increased every year since 2011-2012.”(National Alliance on Mental Illness)
It’s clear that current solutions aren’t working. When it comes to getting mental healthcare set up, there are many barriers, including but not limited to:
- Insurance coverage limitations
- Prohibitive costs, sometimes even if insured
- Telling whether a therapist is accepting new patients
- Getting a response from therapists (which can be surprisingly difficult)
- Tracking therapists you’ve already contacted
- Scheduling: many therapists only work Mon-Fri during common work hours
- Once you get a therapist, they may not even be a good match
There are a lot of issues here, and it’s impossible to solve them all with an app, but I wanted to see how much I could improve the experience of getting mental healthcare in the 2 weeks I had.
With this knowledge, it was time to look at the current ways of finding mental healthcare. In general, in my experience, the best way is to go through one’s own health insurance website, but this does not guarantee results, so there are several different ways people use.
User Research: Planning
To determine what I wanted to learn from users to inform my design, I came up with some research objectives and determined that user interviews would be the best method. As opposed to a survey or other methods, I wanted to be able to ask “how” and “why” on the spot.
- Understand how users currently find mental healthcare, including pain points
- Understand what users want out of an online mental health booking experience
- Develop an idea of what can be implemented within the scope of the project
- Individual interviews conducted remotely
- 6 participants aged 25-30 who have experience finding a mental healthcare provider
Developing the interview questions was an interesting challenge due to the sensitive nature of mental healthcare. I gave all participants the option to skip any questions they felt uncomfortable answering, but all participants were willing to answer all the questions. A few example interview questions:
- “What kind of therapist do you have (or have most recently had)?”
- “How did you find them?”
- “Approximately how many therapists did you contact before getting an intake appointment?”
- “Is your current (or most recent) therapist a good match for you?”
User Research: Results
4 of 6 users currently have a mental healthcare provider of some sort
4 of 6 users said “nothing” was easy about finding their mental healthcare provider
The average number of mental healthcare providers contacted before getting an intake appointment was 7.83. Answers ranged from 1-30
All users said they would use an app to find a mental healthcare provider if it was available and free/cheap
- Users found their mental healthcare provider in a variety of ways — 1 used a 3rd-party website, 2 used their insurance’s web portal, 1 called their insurance and got a list of providers, and 2 had recommendations from others
- In general, mental healthcare providers were not very responsive via email and were more responsive via phone
- Users said they need the ability to filter by specialty (i.e. depression, eating disorder, anxiety, etc) and clear indication of availability for new patients, ideally with scheduling dates
Based on this research and what I learned in earlier research, I took a linear approach to define personas and a task flow.
During my research I realized there are two main personas from what I was seeing: a person who is trying to find mental healthcare for the first time, and a person who has done it before but needs to do it again. I designed personas based on this assumption. This helped to clarify the motivations behind what users were trying to do.
I made a task flow based on the simplest way I could imagine this task to go for both personas.
Initially I just wanted to use the wordmark as the logo, but apps usually have a lot of graphics, so I designed one. I ended up going with the bottom right version. The sun parting the clouds in the figure’s head illustrates the impact that the app could have on the user. I like the contrast between the colors, which are blue for healthcare/technology and yellow for happiness/brightness.
I started by sketching, and then brought the sketches to the digital world. I wanted a clear and easy-to-use interface inspired by design elements used in current design trends, with some inspiration from competitors’ solutions. I designed them at mobile-only sizes per the assignment.
After making the logo and low-fi wireframes, I made a simple style tile with the logo and UI elements. I chose a color palette based on the color theory mentioned above, keeping in mind the pastels and brighter colors used often in apps these days. I also used the new Google Material Theme Builder to generate appealing shades of these colors. I went with Lato as it’s a humanist font that should be appealing to everyone.
It was pretty simple to develop high-fidelity wireframes based on my low-fidelity ones. I developed the high-fi wireframes over several iterations with recommendations from my mentor. My favorite part of this process, like my other projects, was seeing the final “app-like” look come together. I started to feel like I’m getting the hang of UX design, though there are always improvements that can be made.
I made a prototype with the high-fidelity wireframes in Figma. Four participants aged 28-35 completed the clickable prototype in remote usability tests via Zoom. I took notes on their behaviors and asked questions during the task flow as well as follow-up questions.
- All users were able to complete the task flows with ease
- All users appreciated the layout and simple process
- Users provided helpful feedback regarding design choices, interface improvements, and ideas for new features (shown below)
With the notes of my observations and feedback from user testing I created an affinity map in Miro to easily visualize suggestions and feedback. There were a handful of great comments that helped to directly inform my decisions for the final revision. There were also many smart ideas for additional app features that were out of the scope of this project, but interesting and helpful nonetheless.
After a number of fixes, including a logo/graphics redesign and an iteration of final polishing, I was happy with what I ended up with, though I could not fix everything (more on that below). The Figma prototype is embedded on the right.
(The prototype was designed to assume a user is booking a video appointment for depression and anxiety with the first available therapist on 12/9/21 at 6 pm.)
Potential Next Steps
- Develop the other features in the app, such as the Mood Log, emergency button, in-app communication with mental healthcare providers, in-app billing, and a dashboard for providers
- Take the prototype to the next level: add more features and user flows
- Get a professional graphic designer to make a more engaging series of assets for the app (I designed the logo and graphics myself and I think they’re alright, but a professional graphic designer could probably make more engaging/beautiful ones)
I think this project really matches the type of work I want to do: work that is needed and important. I was able to stick to my deadlines and maximize efficiency through my process and really feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and I’m happy with the final result.
That said, there are things in the real world that complicate the feasibility and potential impact of this app. Some examples:
- The app assumes that mental healthcare providers will have available appointments in the near future
- The app assumes that mental healthcare providers will be willing to fill out a profile for the app and keep their information current
- In the real world, many mental healthcare providers are currently swamped with patients and are not looking for new ones, especially recently due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health
These are things I can’t control, but I hope that my work can at least draw attention to this very important issue and maybe offer some solutions. There is clearly a need for better solutions and I think this is a step in the right direction!