Design Teardown

Building an app for people living with epilepsy

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For my thesis at Harrington College of Design, I developed a user-friendly information management system that aids people who suffer from seizure disorders. After conducting a survey and talking with several individuals affected by this disorder, I began to see a need for a more intuitive, user-friendly app.

Although there are some resources currently available for monitoring this health condition, none of the resources I researched seemed to have all of the components that were important to their users.

Throughout the process of developing my thesis, from sketchwork through the final product, I learned the value of design tools that I’d never used before. In order to make my product what it is today, I continually viewed it through the lens of the user and pushed myself to use tools outside of my expertise.

Here’s a look at my process and what I accomplished.

Meet the Logging Seizures app

I wanted to create an app that would not only track the statistics of seizure activity, but facilitate a better way to communicate and monitor seizures in a way that’s shareable between the user and their doctors, with an end goal of developing the best treatment plan for the user.

A screenshot of Logging Seizures’ video functionality in use.

A screenshot of Logging Seizures’ video functionality in use.

While working on the concept for my thesis, I did a lot of research on the user’s needs, the available technology that can be used, and the current applications available as case studies. These case studies contained many flaws in either their design, data, or ways of communicating information to the user. Some of the flaws I discovered:

  • Too much focus on technological medical information
  • Certain features were difficult to navigate and maintain
  • There were too many moving parts in order to sync online
  • Certain apps included either too few or too many features
  • The user’s privacy wasn’t always addressed
“Know and understand the needs of your users.”

With these case studies and my ideas in mind, I began to sketch. I looked at current trends in medical applications, and navigation best practices. I also considered the true needs of the user and ruled out a few other ideas I originally wanted to use in order to keep the application simple.

Sketching helped me visualize my many ideas, and discussions with other students and professors helped direct my attention back to the needs of the end user. Through each of these conversations, and the survey that I developed, it was clear to me that previous education on assisting someone having a seizure has been taught incorrectly.

A sample of some of the survey results I received.

A sample of some of the survey results I received.

This, among other survey results, led me to develop a simplified in-app guide for the user or a friend to assist the user while having a seizure. While using the video functionality, a dropdown guide appears briefly to help assist in the event of a seizure.

Check out the video function in action:

The video functionality is a key part of the app when discussing symptoms and causes with a doctor, but it’s not the app’s main feature. In many cases, a recording can’t be taken, but the user may recall key points after-the-fact that are just as important—and that’s where the manual entry becomes the app’s most important feature.

During the same time that I discovered the importance of certain aspects I later included into Logging Seizures, there were many elements of functionality that I tested and later dismissed from my project in order to keep the app intuitive and simple.

“Knowing that the products you create have the potential to improve the lives of other people is empowering.”

At one point in my development process, I considered syncing the app with medical devices to track real-time data for the user. I ruled this feature out in order to make the app more usable to a wider demographic. There’s a need for more intuitive device synchronization, but I felt my app wasn’t the right platform for that feature.

Prototyping several design concepts, both on paper and digitally, helped me regain my focus on simplicity and holding true to the user’s core needs. I decided to keep the interface minimalistic and to utilize as few taps on the screen as were necessary. With that in mind, I narrowed my app to these key functions:

  • Calendar synchronization on the home screen
  • Manual seizure log entry
  • Video compatibility
  • Medication log entry
  • Personal profile and emergency contact list

After developing an interactive concept of my thesis, I brought my ideas to my thesis committee who further challenged me to simplify and modify some of the elements I developed at the time. Using their advice, and the research that I’d previously acquired, I further refined the mockups into video recordings of how each section of the app would work once it was coded to give my thesis defense audience a way to visualize how the app would function.

seizures-03

In terms of distribution, I’m not at a point to launch Logging Seizures via the App Store since it’s still a proof of concept. In the coming months, I hope to bring it to life with code and distribute it to the people who would benefit from it.

Lessons

By building Logging Seizures, I learned so much about UX/UI, the design process, and how important it is to consider the user when developing a great product. Such as:

Know and understand the needs of your users. As a designer, you may have several great ideas that, when applied to your user, make less sense than they did before.

Once you start sketching and designing as many concepts as you can, weed out the ideas that don’t work in the bigger picture of your product.

“As technology continues to improve, so should your product.”

Simplicity is key. Simplistic design, not to be mistaken for minimalistic design, will help you maintain the integrity of the core values of your project.

Every good idea needs feedback from others in order to make it a great idea. Being given the opportunity to work on such a complex application, I had many ideas in mind: one being the functionality of my application to sync with an implanted device for data tracking.

After getting feedback, I eliminated this concept and the end product was better for it.

Providing a tool that helps improve the quality of life of others is empowering. Knowing that the products you create have the potential to improve the lives of other people is empowering. In terms of medical improvement, creating a platform for a patient to more easily describe their ailment to their doctor can make all those late work nights worth it.

As technology continues to improve, so should your product. Phone sizes, resolutions, capabilities, and purposes—these things all change over time. As technological improvements enter into your field of work, make sure your product holds merit and is responsive to the ever-changing standards of the digital age. Just as I was able to teach myself how to use Adobe After Effects, a program I had never touched before my thesis began, you, too, will improve your design skills through discovery and the necessity of change.

Learn the tools of someone else’s trade. Designers, communicators, and developers: I encourage you to learn something more than your niche talent. As a communication designer, I taught myself how to use new programs to accomplish my thesis, and I will continue to challenge myself to learn to code in order to make Logging Seizures a useable program.

Whether you learn how to code, design beautiful websites, take hand-lettering courses, or even just refresh yourself on the latest software available, you can accomplish more than you ever thought you could. You’ll better understand how to design with your team members in mind—and you’ll know how they think (which may be differently than you do now).

Be passionate about your work. I do my best work when I believe in the product I’m designing. Whether you’re working on a side project, client work, or developing new talent, pursue your passions and you’ll find your true strengths as a result of hard work.

Author

Drew Baker, Interaction Designer at envisionit
I am a Chicago-based graphic designer. I love to expand my skillset and work on UX/UI projects that solve real-world problems and change people’s lives for the better. In my free time, I love spending time with my family outdoors.

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