The prompt for this project was to design a mobile app with a minimum viable product of 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. Potential patients need a better way to find mental healthcare providers in order to access care.
- Project duration: 2 weeks
- Team or individual project: Individual
- Platform: Mobile
- Tools used:
- Adobe Illustrator
- Whimsical (flowchart program)
- Google Docs
- UX Researcher
- UX Designer
- UI 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 needed to get some solid numbers and facts to understand the scope of the problem. The results were disturbing:
1 in 5 (nearly 50 million) Americans experienced a mental illness in 2019, prior to Covid-19.
“In 2019, 24.7% of adults with a mental illness report an unmet need for treatment.” This percentage has increased every year since 2011.
“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.”
It’s clear that current solutions are not good enough. Further research led to a compilation of related issues, including but not limited to:
- Insurance coverage limitations
- Telling whether a therapist is accepting new patients
- Getting a response from therapists, which is not guaranteed
I kept detailed and organized notes to serve as a foundation for my work on this project.
With this knowledge, it was time to look specifically at the current ways a user might pursue mental healthcare. There are a handful of ways to find a mental healthcare provider:
To summarize, the most direct and usable pathway to insurance-covered care seems to be through one’s own health insurance website. That said, people use a variety of different services to find mental healthcare. I looked at several online platforms and found that none provided an ideal experience for users looking to find mental healthcare. Next, it was time to find out more about the users.
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
- Six 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
All users said they would use an app to find a mental healthcare provider if it was available and free/cheap
- Participants found their mental healthcare provider in a variety of ways — one used a 3rd-party website, two used their insurance’s web portal, one called their insurance and got a list of providers, and two had provider 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.
Persona A: the first-time care-seeker
- Find a mental healthcare provider for the first time
- Unsure how to go about finding a mental healthcare provider — will it take a lot of time, or cost money? Where to start?
Persona B: the experienced care-seeker
- Find a mental healthcare provider to continue treatment after moving to a new location or changing insurance companies
- Discontinuity in treatment
- Running out of medication without a way to get prescription refills
I made a task flow based on the simplest way I could imagine this task to go for both personas.
This is a simplified version designed for easy visualization of the central task flow. A more complex version shows external decision loops that were not important for the main task flow at this stage in the design process.
I started by sketching, and then brought the sketches into 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.
I came up with some concepts for a logo based on some key ideas: mental health, the mind, healing, clarity, and wholeness. Color-wise, I was drawn to blues for the healthcare/technology implication and yellows for happiness, brightness, and synergy.
After making the low-fidelity wireframes and logo, I made a simple style tile with the logo and UI elements. I chose a color palette based on the color theory mentioned above. I also used the new Google Material Theme Builder to generate appealing shades of these colors. For the font, I went with Lato as it’s an accessible, humanist font.
It was pretty simple to develop high-fidelity wireframes based on my low-fidelity designs. 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 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 in Affinity Map 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 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
- Implement a plan to measure success and complete another round of usability testing. This could be accomplished with a mobile analytics tool and a screen recording tool combined with usability testing
- 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 it would be interesting to see what a dedicated graphic designer would come up with)
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. There is clearly a need for better solutions and I think this is a step in the right direction.