A retrospective on the BC Borstal UX project: Mobile app for patients withPost-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)

Lessons learned, what I would differently today, project takeaways

Puja Prakash

In October 2017 I was a part of a product design team that worked on an android app for PTSD patients. The app is a resource for patients suffering from triggers and symptoms, helping them better manage the present and keep track of their emotions and record progress.

Project details

The Client

BC Borstal Association is a community leader in crime prevention providing root cause treatment and rehabilitation services in support of public safety. The organization now runs a program to provide treatment of root causes of criminal behaviour focusing on trauma prevention, early intervention and aftercare.

The Team

Our team, consisting of 3 UX designers and 3 UI designers, tackled the problem within the scope and constraints of the client and needs of our users. I wrote a case study outlining our design process from concept through to completion.

This article is a retrospective, where I reflect on the lessons learned, things that I would do differently today and also the things I am proud of having achieved through this project.

Reflections and key takeaways

1. Assumptions can be a good starting point for research but it needs to be used mindfully.

With just three weeks to design an app from scratch, we had to conduct rapid but thorough research. After a discovery session with the client, we came up with assumptions about the users that helped us quickly frame interview and survey questions. We listed out assumptions to lay the groundwork for our research but did not refer back to them sufficiently throughout the process.

What I would do differently today with assumptions —
Coming up with assumptions is a critical part of lean product design process, but it could pose biases while approaching and exploring the problem. Instead of skipping this step, I would use it in an actionable and intentional manner. I would run a collaborative exercise to generate assumptions, rank it from high to low risk, and use research to validate or challenge them. Plus, it would be useful to continuously refer back to the list and update them as we go along.

2. Bringing back the focus to a minimum viable product (MVP)

We went deep into research and identified a number of user and business pain-points that we wanted to address. However, the goal of the project was to deliver an MVP that could be used to garner user feedback and appropriate funding.One of the challenges we faced was to remain focused on that MVP. Here is what an MVP means.

An MVP is a development technique in which a new product or website is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. — Eric Reis

How we tackled the challenge?
We presented all the features that we identified as future considerations for the product.

What I would do differently today with feature prioritization —
If faced with a similar challenge today, I would adopt a more robust framework to plan an MVP like jobs-to-be-done, or an appropriate prioritization matrix. Also, I would treat all the additional features identified as hypotheses for the forthcoming iterations of the app.

3. Collaboration across domains is critical

One of the biggest challenges we faced as a team was the lack of an in-depth understanding of PTSD. Learning about this mental health condition was critical for two reasons:

  • develop empathy for the users
  • design a solution that would integrate well into their treatment plan

We learned a lot during the weeks we spent working on this project, and we could not have done it without the support of experts working in the field. We tapped into the knowledge of psychologists, medical professionals, front-line workers and emergency services to get a robust understanding of the condition. For myself, I learned that I love being a part of teams where learning is not an optional but mandatory.

4. User context is everything

Long before our app, patients have been dealing with their symptoms a certain way. It was clear from the beginning that we needed to understand existing treatments and the physical and mental context of the patients before, during, and after experiencing a trigger. We used storytelling to get a grasp of our users’ day-to-day context in order to design a solution that would blend into their lives rather than be a hurdle to cross.

Overall, the project was a great learning experience. As a team, we overcame a few ups and downs, ultimately designing something that would help PTSD patients manage their present effectively.


Thank you for reading! Stop by at my website to read my design case study.

Puja Prakash

Written by

UX Researcher & Designer who believe most problems can be solved with a bunch of people in a room empowered with sticky notes. https://www.pujaprakash.com/

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