A mental health application designed to enhance self-compassion through self-soothing techniques and mindfulness.
How do we stay motivated to improve our lives without falling into the trap of paralysing self-criticism? The answer to this problem is something called self-compassion.
I was responsible for everything related to the user experience design of this project. I conducted research, created task flows and developed wireframes before creating a high-fidelity protype.
Throughout the process, I learned to put my target user at the center of my design process each step of the way. Throughout the process, I learned to put my user at the center of my design process each step of the way. A few of the artifacts I created include a persona, an experience map, a visual identity and a hi-fidelity prototype.
Academic | AUG-OCT 2020
Sketch, Figma, Invision, Whimsical
UX Research, Design Strategy, UX/UI Design
Self-criticism is often viewed as a type of motivator to improve ourselves. After all, if we don't acknowledge our deficiencies, how are we to change?
Research actually shows that self-criticism has the opposite effect, that when we know our failures will be met with criticism we are less likely to try to improve.
Self-criticism is a universal phenomenon that has been known to be associated with a variety of psychological difficulties including depression, anxiety and suicide (Kannan & Levitt, 2013). The results from one national survey found that 60% of women have negative thoughts about themselves on a weekly basis (Capretto, 2014).
Fortunately, self-compassion not only decreases self-criticism, but increases intrinsic motivation and personal initiative (Neff, 2005).
What is Self Compassion?
Kirsten Neff, a research on self-compassion, describes it as "simply compassion directed inward, relating to ourselves as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering" (2003).
Self-compassion has been associated with social connectedness, life satisfaction, and increased motivation to make positive life changes. People higher in self-compassion cope better when faced with hardship and have better interpersonal relationships.
With the benefits of self-compassion clearly established, I decided to pose the question:
How might we enhance self-compassion in individuals who struggle with self-criticism, anxiety or depression in order to improve their ability to cope with life's challenges.
In order to answer this question I conducted research through interviews with those who could identify with this struggle.
Questions centered around self-criticism and social comparison. I wanted to know the environments people struggled most with in order to identify patterns of pain points to address in the current design intervention. These are a few of the themes and insights I discovered.
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Participants reported that their self-criticism had become a perpetual habit they felt helpless to fight against. Sometimes they would criticise themselves before an event occurred because they assumed it would end in a negative outcome.
There was a common theme of habitually comparing themselves to others in many areas of life including career, relationships and body-image. This affected behavior on a regular basis and was connected to feelings of shame.
MENTAL HEALTH APPLICATIONS
Lack of Incentives
Participants felt that there wasn't enough of an incentive to use their wellness apps regularly. This resulted in abandonment of past wellness applications.
Participants revealed that many of their past wellness apps focused on many different topics that were not always making a great impact in their lives.
I gathered many insights from the interviews that I conducted. Most importantly, I realised that many of the digital mental health services out there had quite a wide scope and was not appealing to the target audience I was designing for.
This meant that there was a great opportunity to design a service that catered to their specific needs.
I also learned that mindfulness was going to play a significant role in this design since my findings revealed that participants often distracted themselves from their negative thoughts.
On the surface, this may seem harmless, but based on my research I found that when people don't acknowledge their own suffering, self-compassion becomes almost impossible.
Based on the data gathered from primary research, I developed a persona to represent the target audience.
Meet Spencer, the Anxious Perfectionist. Spencer feels helpless to overcome her habit of self-criticism which leads to feelings of isolation, anxiety and stress in her life. She also avoids and distracts herself from her negative thoughts on a regular basis.
I also created an experience map which identified points of opportunity for design intervention. I discovered the importance of creating a digital space where users like Spencer could step away from the social comparison they face using other digital applications.
This was important for the creation of the social community feature of Nightbloom. I decided that this would be a place of encouragement and support where users would only be able to create text-based posts rather than images in order to eliminate the possibility of social comparison while using this app.
In a study on mental health apps only 53% were associated with actual academic evidence and 33% referred to techniques for which no evidence could be found (Larsen, Huckvale, Nicholas et al., 2019).
This highlights the importance of using secondary research to inform the creation of evidence-based content in mental health apps.
The Three Aspects of Self-Compassion
Rather than being harsh and belittling towards ourselves we should offer ourselves kind and encouraging inner dialogues. As obvious as this may sound, all of my interviews revealed that people offered themselves much less compassion than they offered to others.
In order to develop self-compassion, we must first acknowledge that we are suffering without overly fixating on the problem. Contrary to popular opinion, avoiding negative thoughts does not alleviate them, but actually makes it more likely that they will cause disruptions because they have not been processed.
We often over-identify with our problems by thinking that others do not face the same kinds of issues we do or at least not on the same scale. By reminding ourselves that imperfection is a normal part of being human, we should feel less isolated during times of struggle.
Based on the current landscape, there were a number of applications on the market that focused on meditation, sleep assistance, journaling, mood tracking and mindfulness. Direct competitors included a few journalling applications that had one or two self-compassion exercises, but were not the major focus of the application.
This presented a major opportunity to create something that completely focused on this topic in an impactful way.
Mood tracking features were used as inspiration for the current design, but with a shift towards a more in-depth acknowledgement of emotions using mindfulness. This was essential in cultivating self-compassion, based on my secondary research.
A common trend in mental health apps is the use of journalling. This was incorporated into the current design in order to encourage self-soothing words from users.
One experiment found that when participants were asked to write a self-compassionate letter to themselves each day for one week, they increased in 10 different measures of happiness and this was maintained after 3 and 6 months (Shapira and Mongrain, 2010).
This is why I incorporated journaling into the current design. I believed that based on the research, this would be an effective tool to increase self-compassion and wellbeing with lasting results.
My next step was to start ideating by creating user stories, statements which convey the functionality of my app from the perspective of my target user. I organized and grouped these user stories into epics and then started creating task flows. Each task flow is a representation of a specific user goal paired with a few supporting user stories.
Post to Compassion Board
Use a self-compassion technique to create a journal entry that will appear on my self-soothing board.
Create a new compassion journal entry
As a self-critical individual, I want to view prompts that encourage me to write self-kindness statements in order to increase my self-compassion.
As a self-critical individual, I want to view a screen with all of my self-kindness statements in order to be reminded of my self-acceptance progress.
As a self-critical individual, I want to add a new self-soothing statement in order to post to my compassion journal.
Receive a message from my past self
Set a daily reminder to receive self-kindness statements or quotes throughout my day in order to encourage kinder inner dialogues.
Set a reminder on my compassion journal
As a self-critical individual, I want to set a reminder to receive self-kindness statements every day in order to reinforce habits of self-compassion.
As a self-critical individual, I want to receive a my self-kindness statements as a text message in order to be be reminded that my self-talk is just as important as the way I talk to others.
I want to have a safe and comforting way of acknowledging uncomfortable emotions in order to increase my self-compassion.
Complete the mindfulness negative thoughts exercise
As a self-critical individual, I want to view how many other people also struggle with the same issues that I do.
As a self-critical individual, I want to view a calming visualization after I input my negative thought.
Based on my task flows, I started sketching out the potential look and layout of the screens. I started out with fast and quick concept sketches and then developed more detailed concepts to represent the flow of screens. I also created possible hierarchies of content before developing wireframes.
I repeated this process for each task flow and major feature of the design. I found that throughout my process sketching was a great way to circle back and iron out any issues I encountered even after I started wire-framing.
Fast and quick sketching iterations were cut-out and re-ordered to create a logical hierarchy of content.
This was turned into a solid flow of screens representing the mindfulness component of acknowledging uncomfortable emotions.
This represents the compassion board flow of screen and how to set a reminder.
This feature allows you to acknowledge uncomfortable emotions using mindfulness. It is impossible to develop self-compassion without acknowledging suffering. This is followed by a calming visualization technique.
A compassion journal was created where users can view all of their statements of self-compassion and inspirational quotes. These can be set as reminders that the user will receive in order to encourage kinder inner dialogues.
In the social component, users can view, create and save inspirational quotes from authors or musicians as well as simply post their own thoughts. Quoting other authors allows users to express themselves more easily because it takes some of the discomfort away from creating their own statement.
The Evolution of the Home Page
The home page started out with showing all negative thoughts and required users to click on each item to create a corresponding self-acceptance statement. This evolved into separating these two features, taking away that 1:1 ratio. I then realized that this was going to be more like a private social feed and didn't actually require a home page at all.
From Secrets to Inspiration
The social feature started out as a place to acknowledge imperfections in an anonymous and non-judgemental space. The aim was to encourage the idea that imperfection is normal -- Common Humanity.
Testing revealed a desire for more inspirational content. Users felt that this board might become a place of negativity and decrease motivation to make positive changes.
So I decided to pivot and incorporated this idea of common humanity into the mindfulness feature. Whie acknowledging negative thoughts users will be presented with a pop up that let's them know that they are not alone in their struggle. This allows users to feel that aspect of Common Humanity without potentially internalizing other people's self-criticism.
Finally, the social board became a place where users can post their own thoughts or use famous quotes by authors and musicians to acknowledge how they feel. Posts can be saved and added to their private compassion journal.
User Interface Design
I started my UI design by creating a moodboard and deciding upon the tone and feel that this app would evoke. I then used the name of the app and moodboard elements to develop a color palette. I created a number of app icons, which were tested among peers for feedback and finally, started injecting colors into wireframes which revealed a pivot from darker to lighter tones.
A visual identity moodboard was created in order to guide the look, feel and tone of the design. The words that were inspirational for creating this service include:
Serenity | Calmness | Renewal | Clarity | Elegance
I tested possible application icons and received feedback revealing a preference for the simplicity of number 1 and number 8.
Feedback revealed concern regarding the embellishments within the letter "N" may not be visible on a mobile platform.
This second wordmark was more sleek and simple. It reflected the words I used to embody the visual identity: simple, serene, calm. This was also reflected in the change of logo to something that felt more elegant.
Final Wordmark Details
Font Style: Audrey | Regular | 45px | Line Height 65 | Spacing: 0.48px
In order to create trust and a calming response from users, I decided to go with a classic wordmark that was both simple and elegant.
Final Branding Direction
Branding colors were eventually finalized to create visual coherence in the design. With the app's name being "Nightbloom" I was inspired to use a night shade and floral shade in my branding colors. These colors were lightened in order to increase visibility in the final prototype. The major calls to action within the final prototype adhere to AA Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Final Wordmark and Icon
This is a look at the final wordmark and logo used in the design based on my moodboard inspiration and the emotions I wanted to evoke in users when interfacing with this product. Part of my rationale for the branding direction was a desire to create something that inspired trust while creating a calming atmosphere that would delight the user. I wanted it feel sleek, simple and elegant.
The app that takes you from self-comparison to self-compassion and allows you to thrive even in your darkest moments.
Curate your Inner Voice
The app that takes you from self-comparison to self-compassion and allows you to thrive even in your darkest moments.
Anything in your journal can be set as a reminder. In order to overcome habits of self-criticism, journal posts can be sent to your phone by text message replacing your self-criticism with kinder inner dialogues throughout your day.
I decided to add the text-message option to deliver these reminders because this is the way we often use to communicate with friends, showing that our self-talk is just as important as the words we use to communicate with others.
Acknowledge & Release
It is impossible to develop self-compassion without acknowledging your own sufferring. Nightbloom helps us acknowledge uncomfortable emotions using mindfulness.
This is followed by a calming visualization to help you contain your negative thought for the time-being so that you can access it again whenever you're ready.
Encouragement through Community
Remember that we all struggle with imperfection. Express your thoughts in a community that de-emphasizes social comparison.
Use famous authors or musicians to express your thoughts or to gain inspiration for how you could become a more self-accepting individual.
The Compassionate Observer
The compassionate observer is an exercise that allows the user to become aware of the conflicting parts of the self as well as negative patterns that they want to overcome.
This feature will undergo further testing as part of my next steps to widen the scope of this project.
I created a marketing website in order to promote the adoption of the service. I started by creating a new moodboard and visual identity. After sketching out concepts and creating wireframes, I developed a high-fidelity prototype highlighting the features of Nightbloom and it's evidence-based benefits.
I translated the marketing website into a mobile site. I produced a content flow diagram that would clearly communicate the change in design to developers.
I adapted Nightbloom to a multi-platform design using a smart-watch that would track stress levels using Biometric Heart Rate measurements. The watch would warn users when their stress levels are getting high and offer them the opportunity to acknowledge their thoughts using voice recording followed by a calming visualization.
Apple named "Self-Care" as the app trend of the year in 2018. There was $32 million spent on these applications in only the first quarter of that year (McRobbie, 2019).
Patient, clinical and government interest has grown in the potential use of these technologies within clinical care.
Part of my next steps would be to test the export data option I created in mid-fidelity stages. This would allow users to securely transfer data for personal or clinical use and would be hidden behind a paywall to create monetisation.
There is also a growing number of businesses now offering mental health services to their employees. Nightbloom could be an effective service in improving mental wellness by improving employees ability to cope with setbacks and challenges.
Error prevention was also considered when designing the look and layout of the compassion board and social feed.
It was important that users would not mistakenly post information to the social feed that was meant for their private compassion board.
This is why I made sure the look and layout differed considerable as do the calls to action that allow users to post new content on each feature.
An export data option was developed in mid-fidelity stages, but requires further testing. It would allow users to export data securely for personal or clinical use. A passcode is used to ensure privacy and security during transfer.
Before launching a minimum viable product, Nightbloom would be evaluated by a psychologist that specialises in Mindful Self Compassion techniques.
Since digital mental health applications are still unregulated, it is important to have such applications evaluated by experts in the field to ensure the best outcome for users.
The Self-Compassion Scale is used in psychological research in order to measure levels of self-compassion. This measure would be taken before a user starts the service and after they have used the service for one month in order to ensure the effectiveness of the product.
Additional self-compassion exercises, such as the Compassionate Observer and the Export Data option would undergo user testing in order to be incorporated into the final prototype.
Finally, the marketing site and multi-platform device prototypes would be tested to ensure success after launch.
Let's work together.
Feel free to reach and out and connect with me if you also love talking about design and the potential it has to bring about positive change in the world. I am always interested in refining my craft and continuing to grow as a designer and I welcome collaboration and new opportunities to tackle intriguing problems.
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© Jacqueline Williams 2021 | UX Designer
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