Vala is a management and education app that assists caregivers in planning, completing, and asking for help with complex medical tasks.
UW Masters in Human Computer Interaction + Design (MHCI+D), Ideation Studio, 2018
Premera Blue Cross
Lead, Ideation & Brainstorming
Illustrator & Visual Designer
How might we help caregivers take care of family or friends after they have received care from a doctor?
Premera has a number of products aimed at helping patients, but they realized they lacked in caregiver support. Representatives from their design team partnered with my class to address three areas of healthcare: finding a doctor, pharmacy, and after care. My team focused on after care.
The team was drawn to long term caregivers. Upon further research, we determined that Multiple Sclerosis (MS) would be a good case because it is a progressive and unpredictable disease. Caregivers of MS patients report that it is a 24/7 job.
In the PNW, the rates of MS are 1 in 500 - twice the national average.
To better understand the medical sphere and the specific role of caregivers, we engaged in a rigorous research process consisting of a secondary literature review and primary interviews with caregivers. I facilitated interviews with two caregivers and spent a significant amount of time reading articles and research on the caregiver experience. The information I gathered from this research process allowed me to think differently about caregivers and understand how hard it must be for them. That empathy I built, in combination with the data we gathered allowed my team identify the following three insights.
Caregivers are performing complex medical tasks.
1/2 of family caregivers are performing one or more medical tasks. - AARP
“These family caregivers are performing tasks in a home environment that would challenge even seasoned professionals.” Susan Reinhard, Senior VP, AARP
Caregivers aren’t given enough medical info.
1/2 of all caregivers are afraid of hurting loved ones due to lack of education. - American Cancer Society
1/3 of all caretakers weren’t asked what they needed to complete care tasks at home. - Estimating the Impact of Caregiving and Employment on Well-Being.
Caregivers are reluctant to ask for support.
46% of family caregivers ask for help, leaving most caregivers overwhelmed and overworked. - Caregiving in the US, 2015 Report, AARP
“Most caregivers work alone and we don’t ask help from other people.” Alzheimer’s Caregiver
Caregivers clearly lack the information to properly care for their loved ones and we were curious about how this made them feel, so we created a cultural probe to get a better understanding of the emotions associated with these medical tasks.
The cultural probe asked caregivers to identify the tasks they perform most often and to assign an emotion to each task. Then they were asked to provide us with two images that remind them of their loved one; one a hand drawing and another a picture. 6 caregivers participated in the study.
We found that the participants really focused on and explained the emotional aspects of caregiving. And tasks involving physical hygiene, interactions with doctors, appointments, and medication management were more stressful and burdensome.
To broaden our range and discover unique ideas, we sketched 90 ideas as a team over the course of a week. Some ideas were great, others were too speculative, but forced us to think outside the box.
I led the team in multiple sketching exercises and brainstorming activities to get to 90 ideas. Through this process I developed my own set of preferred ideation techniques and methods. Some activities that I led in this project were Figure Storming, SCAMPER, and Teleporting Storming. I found blind writing to be an especially effective technique. We wrote down as many words we could think of that reminded us of healthcare and caregiver and then paired them together to create new, unique ideas.
Quantity over Quality
I am a firm believer in quantity over quality when it comes to sketching and ideating. I find inspiration in Bill Buxton's theory that "sketching is about the activity not the result." Sketching is a quintessential activity of design and 3 people creating 90 ideas was definitely not easy, but it was an extremely valuable experience!
Evaluation of Ideas
We used the six thinking hats technique to analyze the ideas for narrowing and down-selection. I took on the role of the black (cautious) and green (creative) hats. From the cautious perspective, I looked at each idea as a catastrophizer. What are reasons to be cautious or conservative? What could go wrong? The green hat is in charge of creative thinking and generating new ideas.
We used the feedback from this thinking hat exercise to narrow to 20 ideas. Then my team used Pugh's Method to generate the following criteria for down-selection. We based the criteria on what we believed was most important to our target users.
Address complex tasks
We created an evaluation matrix using these criteria, which allowed us to narrow to 3 ideas.
On Demand Doctor Assistance
Detailed Task Instructions
AI Organized Calendar
I believe in prototyping early and often, so as soon as we narrowed on an idea, the team started creating a low-fi prototype. The first version consisted of drawings on paper which we showed to participants inside a phone I made out of card stock.
We created an intelligent calendar app prototype that would provide new caregivers with education and task planning capabilities. We tested the prototype with 8 caregivers.
App is highly beneficial for new caregivers.
Need to expand AI to manage schedule conflict resolution.
Calendar might not be the right solution, but it is going in the right direction.
Based on the feedback from the first round of user testing, we decided that we wanted to switch directions; the next version of the product was going to be a smart to-do list with tutorials for each item. Calendars are hard to keep fully up to date, and people were thinking in terms of tasks rather than dates/times, so this directions seemed the right way to go.
Additionally, we wanted to create a secondary interaction method for a secondary caretaker. We found that people were reluctant to ask for help, but is this because there is no easy way to facilitate this process or because they just do not want help. The interviews indicated that people wanted help, but they felt helpless, so we wanted to build in some system to make this process easier.
The architecture is most complex for the primary caregiver, but they are still connected to a secondary caregiver. The most difficult item in creating this architecture was figuring out how the two systems would interact and how a secondary caregiver might be introduced into the system.
I created all of the illustration for the Vala app. I chose to use minimalist cut-out illustrations in order to create detailed images that feel approachable and avoid medical realism. Illustrations are used for tutorials and profile images.
We chose a muted aquatic color palette for the main features of the platform. This inspiration comes from the fact that whales (valas in Finnish) are one of the few mammals who care for their elderly.
Caregiving is difficult, and we want to emphasize the fact that everyone needs help and some of the best care is performed when people work together. Vala aims to be one of those helping hands, keeping our users on track and more informed so they perform better care.