Charity Mental Health App
sidekick (not having a capital letter is part of the branding) is a mental health charity that aims to empower you to support your own mental health and helps you develop the confidence and resilience to overcome the barriers to achieving your full potential.
There is 3 elements to sidekick. The app, the blog and the podcast. They are the 3 pillars that sidekick lives by.
My involvement at sidekick
At sidekick, I’m the only UX Designer.
I started volunteering at sidekick in November 2020. Mental health is incredibly close to my heart in many ways, and the coronavirus pandemic only heightened the sense that I wanted to do more, to give more. I support design across the sidekick brand. Here’s my involvement in sidekick:
- Created a focus group. We wanted to create a group where we could understand more about our users, but also test our designs. This allows us to make informed decisions around design and the product.
- Started the process of gathering design principles. Designing for mental health is very different to designing other products. We need to try to tick every box to help people’s problems, not add to them.
- Created the “Programmes” section of sidekick. I’ll be talking more about this below, but we pivoted away from the wellbeing workout tab and towards our new tab, programmes.
My goal for the project was to improve upon the wellbeing workout tab. The tab was essentially a calendar whereby sidekickers could schedule their wellbeing task for the day.
We had received little bits of feedback that the tab was messy, wasn’t working well and was confusing to people who didn’t know what the aim of the tab was. We looked at the analytics data which showed us that very few people were using the tab. This was one of the app’s main features, and so we wanted to get this right.
- Create a usable tab. We want to create a tab that can help aid people’s mental health journey.
- Take away the feelings of confusion. If we are confusing people, they will feel overwhelmed and we could be adding to their potentially poor mental health. We want to take this away.
- Create an innovative product. We wanted to create something that would be a mainstay in the app.
Building empathy through user research
Sticking to the pillars of the double diamond approach, I wanted to research how users responded to the wellbeing workout tab. There are a couple of key questions that I wanted answering.
- Was the wellbeing workout tab helping people to manage their mental health & wellbeing better?
- Did our sidekickers understand the purpose of the wellbeing workout tab?
- How did the wellbeing workout tab make people feel?
Starting the process
Before anything else, I wanted to plan what kind of research I felt was necessary for this project. I felt a survey wasn’t the correct approach as we already has quantitive data from the analytics in place. I also felt A/B testing wasn’t necessary here.
I did want to do some desk research, both to deepen my understanding of the industry, but also to see if anyone else had anything like it on the market. I also chose to do both user interviews, and usability testing instead, as this gave us a unique insight into how people would use the app and the humans behind the IP address.
I wanted to know if anyone else in the mental health & wellbeing industry had something like the tab, so I looked at other apps such as Headspace, Calm and HabitBox. Headspace and Calm specifically weren’t doing anything like this, and HabitBox were doing similar things to build habits. I was specifically interested in the functionality and UI of the apps to see whether they worked in a different way to ours. I also looked into Google Play Calendar and the IOS Calendar as I felt that we weren’t using industry standard techniques that were expected by the user under Jakob’s Law. With the desk research done, next was to interact with the humans that used our app.
Recruiting for usability testing
As a charity, we didn’t have the funding to pay people for their time. Instead, we relied on people’s kindness to help us to improve the app. I contacted 5 or 6 people, both who had used the app before and some who were completely new to the app. I wanted to see how both groups perceived the tab. I picked 5 or 6 people as the Nielsen Norman Group suggest 5 people is as many as you need. I thought it was particularly important to recruit people from all different walks of life.
Remote user testing
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, nobody was able to meet up (yay lockdowns). This meant I had to do all of the interviews and testing virtually, presenting challenges along the way including technical issues, not being able to see fully body language and at points, voices cutting out.
Putting all of that aside, the testing went well, the sidekickers agreed to record their phone screens and send them over after the testing which worked.
Before we started testing the app, I wanted to hear the stories of the sidekickers. Often we can forget we are designing for humans with emotions, instead of “users.” The stories were heartbreaking at points – this really underlined why we were building this app, why we were trying to make it better, and why our job is so important.
At the start of this section, I had 3 questions. Below, I will answer these with the results of the testing.
Was the wellbeing workout tab helping people to manage their mental health & wellbeing better?
The results for this question were very clear. The existing group of sidekickers said that they weren’t using the tab when they used the app. They felt this wouldn’t serve them with the content they needed in order to improve their mental health. The new group of users suggested they wouldn’t use this tab for the same reasons.
The participants then completed a series of tasks set by me, without my help or guidance. Users were taking 1 minute plus to find today’s date and add a task for today, and there was clear body language suggesting irritation, such as itching on the face.
Did our sidekickers understand the purpose of the wellbeing workout tab?
I asked people to give me their initial reaction of what the page does without thinking about it for too long. Participants suggested a range of answers, including a diary for physical health and a messaging app. One user didn’t understand what the page would do at all. As we did the task based section of the interview, people found it increasingly difficult to pick up what they were supposed to be achieving.
How did the wellbeing workout tab make people feel?
“Confusing”, “Overwhelming”, “Messy”, “Cluttered” and “Not what I was expecting.”
Pivoting with workshops
After all of the research was done, I scheduled a meeting with the sidekick team to go through the results and start an ideation workshop with them. As we started the workshop, I wanted to ensure we had firmly put ourselves in the sidekickers shoes, ensuring we were designing for them, not for ourselves. I shared the stories of the participants, speaking about sensitive topics (without giving confidential information) and exactly who we were supporting by this. That gave everyone an insight and took them to a place they may not have thought about before.
Deciding if we should stick or twist
A fair chunk of the session was dedicated to whether we should stick or twist. I posed questions such as “if we redesign this page, will we be providing the best experience to the user? Or would it be better to pivot to something new?” These questions were designed to open up genuine conversation about what was working and what wasn’t. Are we looking at this the wrong way? Following the lengthy discussions, it was decided we were focussing on the wrong thing. We were going to pivot.
If not wellbeing workout, then what?
There were questions on whether we should’ve just taken the tab away without any replacement, or whether it was better to come up with a new and innovative idea. I posed questions such as “What is going to help this person or that person?”
In the end, we decided to go with the idea of a set number of days focused around a specific goal. It was to be a programme designed by our in-house psychologist, and potentially other partners, with a set number of activities over a set number of days. This allowed users to have the structure offered by the wellbeing workout, but with a hint more value and aim.
Solutionising with wireframing
I started the process in an extremely basic way. I listed all of the days as the initial screen that you’d be able to click into as big blocks. The benefit to something like this is that it would’ve given a very clear indication of how many days there was in a certain programme, and include a nice overview screen. The drawbacks to this approach is that a user has an added click in the process to get to the current day, and this could cause frustration for users.
Getting more complex
After deciding the first approach was too simplistic and wouldn’t suit the users needs, I decided to go more complex. Having more information on the page has the potential to overwhelm the user, but it also provides enough information about exactly why you are doing that exercise on that certain day. It also allows the user to have an easy view of all of the days, scroll through them and see what is coming up next.
Looking at things a different way
I wanted to create one more iteration of the first option again, just to see whether it could work before ditching the idea completely. I wanted to give the sidekicker a different set of information to go forward into testing, to see if they’d appreciate the stats that are shown on the top.
Usability testing and iterative design
After showing our sidekickers the initial wireframes, we got some invaluable feedback about the screens. Next, I wanted to get high-fidelity wireframes mocked up to show our sidekickers how specific information would be shown to our users.
For most of my other projects, I have used Adobe XD. But, I wanted to learn a new piece of software, and picked Figma as the ideal tool, as it’s becoming industry standard.
When mocking up high fidelity wireframes, I went through multiple iterations. I wanted to see how it would make people feel if we used icons instead of illustrations, how different colours confirmed you’ve completed days, and how gamification forms part of the programmes feature.
The results of this testing was interesting. People loved the screens, and felt they were clean. 3 out of 5 of people preferred the icons, as they didn’t display emotion which helped when people were potentially feeling low. Sidekickers also liked the colours for the days, and felt they were calming and easy to read. Finally, users felt the gamification aspect was a nice addition the the screens.
We made changes and iterated around the way we displayed dates, and also the supporting information. We decided in the end to display the scientific explanation in an open/close accordion so that people didn’t get overwhelmed.
What I learned
There were several things I learned while working on the programmes feature for sidekick.
- Details matter – Even the smallest details matter when it comes to designing, especially designing for Mental Health. You have to consider the emotion each section is conveying and how the user will feel in that specific moment.
- Not everyone is a UX Designer, but everyone can be user focused – No matter who it is working in the business, or this case, charity, everyone should be working with the end user in mind at all times, not letting personal biases get in the way.
- There’s many ways to conduct research – I wanted to look into the different ways we can research, from desk research to interviews to usability testing to surveys. Focusing on the one that is going to give the most value is important, rather than getting swept away in the many techniques.
The programmes feature is due to go live on the sidekick app shortly in February 2021.
Since we recruited the first testers, I’ve now recruited 6-7 extra people to form a bigger testing group with a wider range of views. Once the feature is live, I’m planning to study the data of the app with the analytics, send out a survey and go back to usability testing. This was very much a minimum viable product, and I’m aiming to iterate over the next few months.