Shifting from reactive help to proactive help
One principle I like to follow as a designer is, “Let humans do what humans do best, and let computers do what computers do best.” I’m typically suspicious of trying to hand too much to digital solutions, especially for soul care that I would have theorized need a human touch.
But it’s also hard to ignore that our little computers are always with us, for better or for worse. They’re there when no human is. So when Jason Mathew asked himself the question, “Could an app help me be proactive in my fight against digital temptation?” he thought the answer might be yes, and developed this vision for LeadMeNot —
Lead Me Not is envisioned as a holistic accountability platform that helps men & women proactively fight sexual addiction.
Jason reached out looking for designers to partner with him and got connected with me!
Jason’s vision and execution largely relied on his own experience of trying to fight digital temptation, so my first recommendation was an exploratory workshop where we gathered 6 people to help expand our perspectives.
Our first exercise was think through who the people who were who would use this app — their behaviors, hopes and dreams, fears, feelings, challenges, internal thoughts, etc.
Because each participant was directly affected in some way, we were able to get some really great insights.
In remote workshops (have some free tips!), I have found storyboarding and ideating to be extremely challenging. I have been pivoting to narratives — while I don’t expect people to be amazing writers, generally most people can write a little story about how an app might function in real life.
Each person was given some time to write a story, and then we observed themes and differences between them.
Exploration Key Learnings
This was a fantastic jumping point to expand Jason’s vision into something that felt more tangible and real. As product owner, Jason examined each narrative, and we co-created a narrative goal that blended different parts of each participant’s contribution.
- Themes of shame, fear, and lying drastically shaped the messaging that we eventually built into the app — we were careful to build in prompts that would congratulate a user for doing the hard thing.
- Getting a wider perspective- realizing that journaling and reflective exercises had been most helpful — which were not part of Jason’s original design.
To get a read on the different features that came up in the narrative, we conducted a card sort with 10 participants who sorted cards into these categories:
- Must Have
- Nice to Have
- Don’t Need
Alongside with interviews where we asked people how they felt with follow-up questions, there were a few fascinating insights:
- Most people expected to have a daily encouraging message while simultaneously saying it was low value, just a nice to have or don’t need. “I always ignore the verse of the day in the YouVersion Bible App — but it would be weird if LeadMeNot didn’t have something.”
- There was a lot of disagreement — we wouldn’t be finding a silver bullet here (which shouldn’t have been surprising, but good to see in the data–everyone’s journey with addiction is different).
From there, we selected a smaller set of key features to start with.
It’s worth noting that who our audience is has been an ongoing conversation. The initial vision was specific towards digital sexual addiction but since it’s well-known that accountability and reflection can help with any number of addictions- why shouldn’t LeadMeNot handle them all? One of Jason’s friends who beta-tested struggled with alcoholism and found it helpful.
It can be really hard to stick with a narrow audience — especially when you think that by opening the potential users pool you could help more people. What’s wrong with that??
However, repeated wisdom I have heard is to do one thing well. While we certainly weren’t going to limit opportunities for growth, we had ourselves to anchor to the vision (and sometimes still have to remind ourselves 😅)that LeadMeNot is optimized for
- users with digital sexual addictions
- users looking for more than just filtering
- users who are ready to put in the work (i.e. there are possible workarounds — deleting triggers, removing accountability partners — if someone does that, they’re not in our target audience.)
- and while capable for helping with other addictions, it is not targeted towards any and all addictions.
It’s all well and fine to have a vision and a better sense of a direction to head in, but we still needed an app! Next was working through how they might turn into screens and flows.
Screen & Content Strategy
I like to build what I call hybrid sitemap-content strategy maps, which you can read more about here.
We focused on the onboarding flow heavily, because if a user didn’t onboard well then the app would be of little value.
Overwhelmingly we heard that this could not be space of condemnation; thus, the emotional atmosphere we wanted to create in the app was calming, encouraging, and a little bit of movement to symbolize a place of peace and growth.
Jason already had a website in place so I borrowed the color scheme and added some gradients.
When working with a softer color palette, the app began to feel a little feminine, and knowing that our target audience was majority male, I added some stronger typography.
Tone & Voice
We spent a lot of time nailing down copy. This is an intimate and vulnerable place that a user is inviting an app into and so we wanted to balance encouragement, and firmness.
As parts of the app were developed, we did a round of user-testing on each. The major key features of onboarding, help, evening reflections, and recording incidents were tested repeatedly with various copy changes to create the atmosphere we were looking for, and I’ll highlight some changes we made along the way.
We spent a surprising amount of time cycling through options on just one label. The intent was a button that you could tap in a moment of need to help shake you out of a bad path.
- I need help
- Rescue Me
- Save Me
finally we ended up with a longer button label than I typically use, but in the end it was the most effective and clear: “I’m triggered”. On tap, it would let your partner know you needed support.
Clarity over Reducing Screens
Given the sensitivity of digital sexual addiction, privacy, and data storage, our onboarding slowly morphed from a no-nonsense, efficient form (Add Partner — Done!) to a more lengthy and clear form (Add Partner here’s what they’ll get -> Add Partner -> Done, here’s what they’ll receive-> ).
Additionally, participants were very considered about how their data was used and while we thought it was good enough to state it in the descriptive screens, participants repeatedly showed this to be a blocker so every time a piece of data was asked for, we described how it would be used.
One mistake that didn’t get caught for awhile was how to categorize triggers. We initially thought that we should start with triggers that could be proactively acted upon by LeadMeNot (dating apps, free-time, social media, amount of time on device), then finish with triggers that couldn’t be detected by LeadMeNot (emotions, relationship problems, etc.)
However, we found that people didn’t really care about the proactive vs. not proactive distinction — the categories they were thinking were digital vs. not-digital, and so we adjusted the trigger flow, which meant free-time got moved to the second stage of asking about triggers.
Current State — Beta Testing
Early beta users have been encouraging and helpfully critical:
“ Within two weeks, my habits changed a little bit. There was a trend that I broke based on the reflections.”
I appreciate the notifications and they’ve helped me pause, but I think that because there are so many, it’s easy to ignore the notifications.
I want to be more specific — for instance, not notifying me all the time about YouTube, but when I’m on YouTube after midnight.
In retrospect, LeadMeNot did help me; it helped me be accountable toward someone else
Some things we’re still wrestling with
- Trigger setup- We set it up so that triggers could be created quickly in about 3 minutes, however participants are asking for a way to fine-tune the triggers and are willing to discard quickness for effectiveness.
- Notification fatigue — We’re playing with a way to have “light” “medium” and “heavy” intensity based on the user’s level of success, that the notifications could naturally tamper down as incidents go longer in between and ramp back up if incidents rise.