Forward: A treatment tool for overcoming binge-eating
Forward is an app meant for an adult seeking treatment for an eating disorder, who wants something to intervene before an episode of binge-eating behavior in order to help them recognize/decrease their dependence on food in times of mental/emotional distress.
The Initial Ideation and Beginning Process
I knew from the start that what I wanted this app to do was walk the user through a series of questions known in psychological treatments as the HALT Method. The HALT Method is widely used as a grounding technique when an individual may be going through some kind of episode such as a panic attack, or a relapse into a binge. It has the individual try to attribute their distress to 4 main questions: Am I…Hungry? Anxious? Lonely? Tired?
However, I began with what in retrospect was a very misjudged mindset that this was going to be an app that was going to be a diagnostic assessment, food diary, help-line, thought journal, and a multitude of other unrealistic goals that included almost everything but aiming for this app to be a cure for an eating disorder. Nonetheless, I began to design for this lofty level of functionality in mind, and what began to unfold was a UI that felt very functional, with little regard for the importance that visual design would later play in the design of this product.
I had even included a log-in screen initially, without truly understanding what it would actually be for, and if it was even necessary because I thought the app was going to be doing so much more than it turned out it really needed to in order to effectively address this problem.
Focusing the Design
With all of the features I had in mind, and my initial lack of clarity, it did not take long at all for me to realize that the product was beginning to lose sight of the problem statement.
I moved away from all of those extra features I had thought I was going to include because it ultimately did not address the problem I was trying to solve. I came to the conclusion that in order to truly address my problem statement, an intervention for a binge eating episode, the product would be most effective by calming the user down, walking them through the HALT questions and then providing some tips based on their answers.
It was a key point in my design process to understand for myself that if this product was meant to be a tool for intervention, a user in danger of a relapse in that moment does not need to be distracted by menus or other features, when what they need to be focusing on in the moment is why they are feeling like relapsing. Furthermore, features such as a log-in screen or providing an email address were quite simply irrelevant to solving that in the moment problem. After feedback from other users and office hours sessions, focusing and tightening the design came down to the idea that if the user felt like they were falling apart in that moment, this product should give them the sense that it had things together.
I also began to see, given how limited the actual functionality of this app was, that the visual design was going to play a big role in the overall user-experience.
The Final Design
The final UI for Forward that I landed on was meant to project a feeling of calm and ease, which I wanted to communicate through not only the color scheme but the flow of the questions.
Making the progression of the questions communicated through the circle rather than linearly as I had in my beginning wireframe (pictured above) made going through the HALT method feel less like a cold quiz or checklist, which is something I felt improved the overall experience.
Speaking with users, I found that people generally responded positively to the design. I was able to speak with one user who actually did have an eating disorder and she commented that she found the colors relaxing and felt that this was something she would see herself using as a tool.
However, after implementing this new visual design, some common critiques I did find was that there seemed to be an expectation that the background was going to change. When it did not change, but simply blurred, one user commented that this made it feel like the current screen was temporary and something more important was going to happen next.
Moving forward with this project, I would very much like to continue to gather user feedback. Also, future iterations of this app will focus on creating a stronger incentive to get users to come back to the product. Even though the focus still needs to be on that in the moment use and intervention, I do think that Forward is lacking a way to keep users engaged after the HALT questionnaire. I would also like to push the visual design even further and make the imagery and transitions even more a part of the user-experience by possibly implementing that changing background while still maintaining the color scheme and calming mood.
Ultimately more user feedback, especially from users who really are in treatment for eating disorders is what is necessary to bring Forward to the next level. With that further feedback though, I will be able to continue to make Forward something that can really serve as an effective tool to aid people in their eating disorder recovery.
To view an interactive prototype of Forward: https://invis.io/AEEJM2L2J