Designing Airborne

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote on my experience going through my first product design process. If you didn’t get a chance to read that, I suggest starting there.

Since then I have designed my latest project, Airborne. It is a health resource that uses push notifications and location services to let you know when reported airborne illnesses are a threat to you.

Ideation & Research:

This idea began off of a conversation on the ebola scare. A friend and I were discussing whether or not the disease could be spread through indirect contact. Bottom line: no, it can only be spread with direct contact. However, it did get me thinking about the existing common airborne diseases, and how it would be great if there was a resource that could let you know in real time how likely you were to become infected with it.

Airborne diseases are common illnesses that spread when droplets of pathogens are expelled into the air due to coughing, sneezing, or talking.

I started researching to find out if there were any such resources. I found a few apps that basically were either too narrow or too broad in their purpose. I wanted a resource that would let me know about the most common ones near me, and notify me when my daily life would be affected, kind of like a neighborhood nurse. The most common airborne diseases I found are influenza, the common cold, chickenpox, tuberculosis, meningitis, and pneumonia.

Next I thought about common concerns users would have. What are airborne diseases? How do they spread? What can I do to protect myself? This would cause a need to create a profile and fill out a questionnaire, focusing on questions about previous health conditions and immune system strength, as well as enabling push notifications and location services. The app would use push notifications to alert you when your health becomes at risk from reported diseases nearby. Location services keep track of where you are relative to the reported illnesses in order to notify you when necessary.

Sketching & Wireframing:

I realized that this app would require an onboarding system in order to let the user understand the app’s purpose as well as enable the necessary permission requests. I looked into patterns of apps that were doing this well, and took note of what worked best.

The overall theme was that context was critical when persuading a user to accept permission requests. You have to make a case on why it’s important. After learning this I went through some sketches of flow options for onboarding.

The app also needed a few screens: report questionnaire, profile, stats summary to let you know your current risk, and a map to visually show what’s happening near you.


First Critique:

I sat down with my mentor and went through what was and wasn’t working in the app. The overall flow was working fairly well however the visual design needed a makeover. I agreed it looked too much like what other medical apps were doing, which was drawing too much inspiration from traditional medical color palettes. The palette needed more energy and contrast. The graphics of the stats page needed some umph. The questionnaire needed a better system for showing selected answers. We also agreed that icons instead of words would allow the nav to feel more inviting.


Final Critique:

I reviewed with my mentor and the design had come a long way. Some adjustments still needed to be made, but the end product made much more sense. The onboarding goes into detail explaining the purpose of Airborne, as well as explaining why the permission requests for push notifications and location services is necessary. The tone of the app is also more appealing between the typography choices and color systems as they pair well with current design trends. The icons in the navigation also allow for quicker recognition of actions and visually give the space more breathing room.

Report Flow:

When the user wants to report an illness, they can tap the report icon at the top of the screens. The report flow pops up and takes the user through a brief questionaire in order to create a report card. You can review the report card at the end which contains information on the illness, date, location, and any comments the user had on symptoms. This report card will pop up on the map screen when the user taps a colored circle.

I received additional feedback that using a different ‘checkbox’ system would be better for the user. Initially the toggles were on every question page which created a confusing system as if you could select every answer to a question which was not always the case. Thus making checkboxes (or bubbles) would be clearer for the questions needing only one answer.

Another point that was brought up was the idea of a comment section for the symptoms perhaps not being the best solution. I think the option of writing a customized comment could be nice, as sometimes a user’s symptoms don’t fit the standard symptoms. However, the other side of the argument is that users may not know what symptoms to look out for to even comment upon. I think both views are valid, and perhaps more study of how users would like to use the app would result in a different report system. It is worth mentioning that this app’s intention is to document reported illnesses that are already known to exist, and not to take the place of a doctor and diagnose an illness.

Other Thoughts | BLE:

I also have ideas about applying BLE technology to the app for tracking when an infected person walks past a user on the street. This definitely has a lot of concerns and potential drawbacks (a hypercondriac’s playground), especially because I would need more data and research to see how this would work, and if user’s would want to participate in this amount of tracking. However I think it could have the potential to help reduce the amount of cases spread by giving an earlier awareness of illnesses.


The Takeaway:

I learned an incredible amount about onboarding systems and creating a seamless system through the navigation. I was able to think on a much larger scale for this app, and between working with my mentor and receiving feedback by people with much more experience, I was able to grow my skill set even more. This experience has given me more practice not only with critical thinking and design, but also with the value of showing my work to a larger group of people and receiving valuable feedback for the purpose of creating better work.

Lookout for Airborne on my website, lizhewell.com, and check out my other work while you’re there.

This is a design exercise and not a developed app. If you would like to partner and build this idea, please feel free to contact me at aehewell@gmail.com.