Designing AR Tools for Better Breast Health Awareness
A Q&A with Berfin Ayhan, Interaction Design Intern, about her app Check it.AR, which utilizes AR to help people stay informed about their breast health.
Much like many of the hyped up technologies that have come before it, augmented reality (AR) use cases can seem gimmicky. We’ve seen AR pop up everywhere from social media blitzes, to gaming, to online shopping experiences. But Berfin Ayhan, interaction designer and recent VCU Brandcenter graduate expects more from this emerging technology. For the past few years she has been working on defining what it means to implement AR in more meaningful ways, and how we can use human centered design to push the boundries of the technology even further.
Recently, Berfin led a Creative Forum at frogNY on chatbots, where she spoke about her project NastyBot, which fights online creeps with quick comebacks so you don’t have to. In addition to snarky bots, Berfin is also working on a project call Check it.AR that helps people better understand the importance of breast health. We sat down to chat about using AR in the service of designing smarter, more empathetic healthcare tools for those who need it most.
Q: As practitioners of human-centered design at frog, we are always concerned with how the things we create will affect people’s lives. Where did the inspiration to build this app come from?
Coming from an experience design masters program, I wanted to push the edge of what I knew and was learning about traditional UX, and augmented reality caught my interest because it’s still very much in the wild west of UX — we’re just making it up and figuring it out as we go along.
Breast examination seemed like a perfect fit as it’s procedural, doesn’t take that much time, but has a lot of little steps. Helping people integrate it into their health routine, as they’re used to doing with apps to monitor sleep cycles, menstruation, pill schedules and exercise, seemed like a natural step in the right direction.
Q: Once you decided that AR would be a useful tool for breast health, what are some of the key features that helped you meet this need?
I knew I wanted to concept an application for Augmented Reality beyond gaming, branding or just for fun (not that those don’t have their place!) because I had heard a few opinions about AR/VR/XR being just another gimmicky fad in tech. This was an opportunity for me to show its place outside of the entertainment realm.
Coming up with a potential solution that could make people with breast tissue more confident using this tech was very exciting to me. If Snapchat can recognize your individual facial features, why wouldn’t your phone be able to detect your boob?
Q: What was the most pressing issue or challenge you wanted to meet with this project?
I initially wanted to create a tool that helped people navigate their breast health — namely administering self-breast exams, which many people are unsure of, or not confident in doing themselves. However recently, the American Cancer Society has decided that breast self-exams are no longer recommended because they don’t have a high efficacy rate. Instead, the ACS encourages women to practice self breast awareness, which means being able to know if a change occurs in the breast tissue, and to take the next best steps to see a doctor.
The ACS found that people looking for abnormalities through breast self-exam worry about not performing the exam correctly or not doing “enough” to detect signs of breast cancer. In light of this, they’ve determined that the psychological harm and anxiety of these self-exams outweighed the benefits. This brought up a new questions for me: How do you create a helpful tool, while simultaneously trying to take the pressure off of those looking to detect something suspicious?
Q: What were some challenges you encountered doing research on breast self-exam?
One of the biggest challenges I had to face with this project was privacy. People with breasts are already in a pretty vulnerable situation when they are faced with having to monitor their breast health because they’re dealing with that question in the back of their mind — “What if I find something? What if it’s bad?”
On top of that, an AR breast exam is asking the user to engage with a technology they’ve never heard of before and to potentially expose their bare breast, which understandably, might come with some hesitation.
Another challenge was really trying to understand who I was designing for. All people with breast tissue? Teen girls? 20–30 year olds? People over 45? I had to figure out who would actually use something like this, and who I needed to talk to about breast health.
Turns out, even if I am setting out to design something for a targeted demographic, I really have to consider everyone who could potentially develop breast cancer. And yes, that includes people assigned male at birth. I eventually came to the target demographic if 18–35 year olds with breasts, as I found that healthy breast habits should start at a younger age. This demographic is also more likely to integrate a wellness app like Check it.AR into their everyday life.
Q: How did you use design to overcome some of these challenges?
Coming up with design solutions definitely started at user research. Privacy and establishing trust was my main priority, because the app requires users to expose their breast to their phone’s camera for AR functionality. One feature that involved user participation to add an extra layer of protection is the airplane mode activation call to action. This adds a layer of trust that no data is leaving or entering the app while in use, along with copy that explains that the app would never collect any form of data.
The UI choices I made were deliberate. It is pink, but I wanted to make sure the color palette and typeface and graphics came off as very soft and welcoming as another approachable touchpoint. Short body copy and words of encouragement are also used throughout.
AR is integral to this experience because every breast is different. By creating an overlay that is custom to your breast, you don’t have to follow a diagram of a breast or a video tutorial. It’s your own breast that you’re following along with.
Q: What were some of the key features you wanted to include outside of the initial exam?
I definitely wanted to make sure that there was a calendar function integrated into the app. Your breast feels different at different times in your menstrual cycle, so I wanted to make sure that was taken into account, because getting to know your breast and knowing what it’s like at different times of the month is a part of being aware of what normal looks like for you.
Another feature is the 2D guide that can be used instead of the AR function. I wanted to make sure that the app was accessible to people at all levels of comfort.
Q: Has your work at frog help to inform this app further?
I think this work is a natural extension of the Yona project work. Hailey Stewart [Industrial Designer II, frog] gave me so much advice on what next steps to take with this project if I want to take it further — and I do. One of the things we discussed was how do we position this as something useful now that we know that breast self-exam isn’t considered as helpful as initially thought.
Following our conversation I knew I wanted to keep focusing on breast health by refocusing the project on self breast awareness rather than a procedural breast self-exam. It is still important for women to know what is going on with their breasts. There is so much awareness about breast cancer — it is the number one funded cancer research initiatives in the U.S.
I knew I wanted to continue the work on this project and being in an environment such as frog that is encouraging me to pursue how to take this initial concept further has been really wonderful.
Q: What’s next? Will we see this app out in the world soon?
I think we will see something that expands on the idea of self breast awareness, because the best application geared towards breast health is likely an evolution, not an iteration, of the check it.AR concept as it currently exists. I am continuing the work while I am here at frog and am hoping to bring other passionate designers onto the project. I’m excited to see where I can go with human centered design, and in working with other frogs interested in furthering self breast awareness.