Vita: For a Healthier Human Bean

How might we help those seeking to be healthier form new habits in a successful and sustainable way?

Timeline: 2 weeks working remotely due to COVID-19
The Concept: Vita, a healthy dieting program that helps those suffering from chronic and preventable conditions stop them in their tracks.
Team JAAM: Josephine Maguire-Rosier, Alaine Thompson, Angel Nguyen and Melvin Dinata
Role: Competitive and comparative analysis, social psychology literature review, conducting and recruiting for user interviews, synthesis, ideation, wireframing and usability testing.

Summary:

  • Our interviewees wanted to be healthy so they could live long, happy lives free from medical conditions.
  • Flexibility and taking small steps were key to a diet succeeding, and an app that helped users do this was sorely lacking from the market.
  • Community and social networks are vital for acceptance and support throughout the diet, as well as helping our users stay accountable.

Using social psychology theories as well as our key user insights, we came up with 5 features to solve our user’s problems, and create accountability and engagement:

  • A detailed onboarding process
  • Food Diary
  • Community Garden
  • Reflection and goal setting
  • RSS Feed of curated articles and recipes

All of which are underpinned by a gamifyed system led by our mascot, Beanie.

  • Further hi-fidelity usability testing.
  • A/B testing and card sorting to determine the best naming conventions and versions of certain features.
  • Feeback and review with key stakeholders and subject matter experts at Vita.

Overview

Our relationship with food could be killing us. The top three killers in Australia are chronic diseases, diseases which 70–90% of the time are preventable through making better lifestyle choices. In fact nine out of ten Australians will die prematurely from a chronic disease.

That’s where Vita comes in.

Vita are on a mission to build better lives, one vegetable at a time by using behavioural science to help people change their habits, improve their health and reduce their risk of chronic disease. Their program specialises in sustainable lifestyle change and helping participants transition to a whole food, plant-based diet.

Vita want to scale their solution digitally and bring positive health change to as many people as possible, by focusing on changing diets to make the biggest impact.

So how do you build a digital solution to such a complex problem and actually help users make habits that stick? That’s what we were on a mission to find out.

Getting to know our users

We scouted far and wide for our ideal users and found 23 people from our own networks, as well as various Facebook groups who were ready and willing to help.

We built a research plan, outlining our goals clearly and then developed a topic map in Miro based on our assumptions, so we would know where and how to start digging in the interviews.

matterAssumption Map (left) and Topic Map (right)

Armed for our interviews we teamed up, one of us taking notes while the other led the interview, giving us each a chance to learn from each other and find out how we could improve our interview technique as we went along.

I found that my open-ended questions and calm, thoughtful technique allowed for interviewees to feel comfortable. I used their own words to frame further probing questions, helping to validate the interviewee as well as prompt different trains of thought.

I also encountered my first difficult interview. We had recruited them from one of the Facebook groups we had joined and didn’t know much about them. It was hard to get them talking and to them the concepts we were discussing related to very specific experiences, like being bullied in school and having to be vegetarian at mum’s house and a meat-eater at dad’s.

I was stumped, she didn’t fit the mould we had established with our previous interviews and she wasn’t going down the path I expected. This was when my partner jumped in and got the interview back on track. She spent some time talking to them about their past and the experiences they had brought up, she got to know them better and found a way back around into the topics we needed insights on.

I learnt some very important lessons about presumptions and interviews from this one person:

  • People often don’t think of the subject you’re discussing in the same way you do, especially when it’s linked to very specific experiences.
  • And if you ever find yourself stuck in an interview remember that you’re talking to another person who has a story. Too often we become focused on insights and become detached from those we speak to, especially when we only refer to them as ‘users’.

Packed with juicy insights we came together and assembled our key takeaways, starting the process of affinity mapping and the beginning of…

Our Research Synthesis

We found some very interesting insights:

  • Our interviewees wanted to be healthy so they could live long, happy lives with their family and friends, with ease and without the impending ticking clock of a medical condition
  • Our users felt that health is about balance, flexibility and control over eating habits
  • Our users wanted to reduce the risk of medical conditions
  • And needed to have good support from community, friends and family

The most interesting thing we found though, was no matter the reason that motivated the person to make that initial decision to change, the challenges, mindsets and supports they used were all similar.

This influenced our solution greatly as we chose to focus on the challenges faced by our users rather than the motivations behind the change.

To validate these findings further and possibly gain some insights based on what stage people were at in their diet journey, we decided to follow up with a survey that segmented challenges and supports found by their stage in the diet transition.

(WFPB stands for Whole Food, Plant-Based, the diet recommended by Vita to help combat preventative illnesses most effectively)

And lastly both the number one “other” challenge and biggest support mentioned in the write in responses was family and friends, identifying the social impact of a diet change as a key pain point for our users.

The insights we gained from our survey really helped us validate who our target market is, those who want to be healthier, and helped us see the impacts of certain challenges and support structures we had identified in our user interviews.

We now knew why our users wanted to change and some of their biggest struggles, but how could we help them make new healthy habits and get them to stick?

Enter the social sciences.

We looked at a variety of sources but I was so interested in the social psychology side of the coin that I took charge of the research, and delved straight into a promising book, Hooked by Nir Eyal.

I also looked at the Four Rubin Tendencies and the Jobs to be Done theory, synthesising and summarising my research so it could be easily communicated back to the team and then implemented throughout our design phases.

We applied this new research to our understanding of our users and their needs, using it to analyse apps that had already been succesful and then using this data to inform our own app’s design.

The competitive analysis maps that my teammate Melvin created, and that I used to directly apply my knowledge of the Hooked Method, the Four Rubin Tendencies and the Jobs to be Done theory to our competitive landscape.

Directly applying these theories to our competitive analysis proved that they worked and were integral to the process of making new habits. Our analysis of competitors such as habit-forming apps, weight loss meal plan services and meal kit services also proved that our approach to the solution would be valuable in the market. We had found our point of opportunity.

As a habit is essentially a shortcut hard-wired into the brain it can be difficult to form a new one and make it stick, especially if you are trying to replace a bad habit at the same time. Understanding this about the process our users were going through, helped us to see the importance of encouraging healthy behaviours and not greatly punishing bad ones. Flexibility was key.

Distilling our research down we found…

Julie, our primary persona

  • Julie wants to be healthy and needs ways to stay committed to and disciplined on her diet.
  • She has the support of her family even though they don’t really understand what she’d doing or why she’s doing it.
  • She doesn’t have the time or energy to fully commit to a big lifestyle change, especially if it’s overly restictive. She craves flexibility in her diet so she can keep herself motivated.

Which led us to our problem statement:

Julie needs a way to stay committed to her new healthy lifestyle because she wants to live a long, happy life unrestricted by medical conditions.

So how might we help Julie?

  • Feel supported?
  • Stay accountable?
  • Make her new lifestyle more convenient?
  • And stay motivated about her diet?

Through a series of crazy 8’s and iteration we came to our MVP, which was surprisingly easy to come to.

We distilled this matrix down into our MVP:

  • Daily and weekly goal setting
  • Simple food journal
  • Daily tracking and reflection
  • Curated RSS feed
  • Support group system

All integrated with a simple reward system and a fun little character who grows with you.

Our wireflow showing the onboarding process leading to each of our key features
Onboarding (left), Community Garden (centre) and Food Diary (right)

With our paper prototype in hand I created a usability testing plan with detailed scenarios that led into one another. This created an interweaving story, building the full picture of what their first day using the app could look like.

We had very little time and we wanted to test both the flow and the content, so we decided to conduct longer, more in depth usability tests with targeted questions around all areas of the app.

From our 5 tests we gained many insights and compiled a list of glows, grows and deltas to lead us into our solutions and the next round of iterations.

Because of the higher fidelity of our paper prototype and the short timeframe we had, we decided to jump straight into high fidelity mockups, as our earlier usability tests had been so successful.

Meet Beanie! This time, in technicolour

Our app’s adorable mascot.

Beanie guides you through each of our features and acts as a support for the user and reflects the effects of the users progress or neglect. They grow with the user and allow them to personify their journey, seeing their progress or mishaps amplified through Beanie.

You can play with our clickable high fidelity prototype here, or keep scrolling to see how we met our users’ needs.

A series of cascading goals (weekly and daily), always keeping her “big why” front and centre. The reflection tool also helps to see the progress made by these little steps and build motivation.

Having access to a constant source of information through a curated RSS feed, empowers our users and supports them with the knowledge they need to progress, reducing the overwhelming feeling that comes with sudden change.

With the introduction of the community garden, users have the support they need from a wider community and friends and family if they so choose.

With the implementation of rewards such as “beanie medicine” and a “guilty pleasure voucher”, users can have those guilty moments every now and then and not feel like they’ve fallen off the wagon.

Our diet sliders in the onboarding process allow for a gradual reduction to a healthier state, not necessarily a WFPB diet, but a healthier diet the user can get behind and feel less restricted by. All goals are also customisable.

What next?

Our app was already jam-packed with features and yet we still had so many ideas ready to go from our backlog, like:

  • Further development of the fun rewards system
  • Mentors and an ask the expert feature
  • Mood tracking reflected on Beanie, for empathy and connectedness
  • A feature to help educate friends and family of those on the diet, to better understand their needs and support them.

Key Takeaways from this project

  • Work to people’s strengths and learn from each other (there’s nothing more valuable than a well-balanced team)
  • Use the process to get through the confusion (when in doubt, affinity map!)
  • The power of summarising and prioritisation, especially when communicating complex ideas.

UX Designer, storyteller, dog lover and tea crane maker with a love for film and TV. View my work (and my dogs) at alainethompson.com

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