“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” — Walt Disney
The human mind has a vast capacity for memory and creativity. Memories shape who we are, the questions we ask, and the doors we open. When our memories begin to slip away or fail us, the resulting loss touches all those we love.
An estimated 5.7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s or dementia; a number projected to increase to roughly 14 million by 2050 (Alzheimer’s Association). Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia interfere with memory, thinking and behaviors and cause a decline in thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities (Alzheimer’s Association).
Objective — Help with memory access and recall
The goal was to design a responsive mobile application which provided paths and strategies for memory recall.
We had two weeks to complete product research as a team before we would split to produce four independent design solutions.
There were a number of paths we could have pursued — should we focus on memory recall strategies? Address emotional needs? Provide guides for navigating daily interactions with individuals with memory impairment?
I was curious about our target population. What were their goals, pain points, and daily activities? First, I led the team in listing our assumptions and drafting a research plan to focus our inquiry.
What are our users experiencing?
We posted a survey to Memory People, a Facebook support group for caregivers. We wanted to know more about their experience, so we asked:
- “In caring for your loved one, when do you feel successful?”
- “What is most enjoyable for you as you help your loved one? most difficult?”
- “When do you feel most connected with your loved one?”
- “What mediums do you use to regularly capture memories?”
We conducted 11 interviews, ranging from physicians and community advocates/organizers to individuals currently living with Alzheimer’s. These interviews, combined with the survey data and competitor analysis, helped to paint the full picture.
Distilling our findings
01 — Our demographic group has a limited relationship with technology.
Individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia are typically between the ages of 60–90+ years. They have a very different relationship with technology and may or may not own a computer or mobile device.
02 — The nature of dementia prevents most patients from using technology without assistance.
Early in the onset of dementia, typing out a text message becomes a nearly impossible task.
A digital tool wasn’t necessarily going to be a useful solution. However, it could benefit the other person in the picture — the caregiver.
03 — Focus on the family caregiver.
Our data revealed that most caregivers are family members, typically a child between 40–70 yrs old. They face the task of caring for their loved one, managing their own lives and navigating the complex emotions surrounding the disease.
What is already available in the market?
However, the preservation of shared memories was an aspect missing from our competitor’s tools.
Getting to know our user
Synthesizing the data, our primary persona emerged — Sandy Priest.
The New Objective
None of our competitors were providing a solution for Sandy’s need to capture and organize memories of her mom.
This was our opportunity.
Build a digital tool that will help individuals capture, organize and access memories of their loved one(s).
Creating a usable design
After establishing a user story map and MVP, our team diverged to develop our own designs.
My designs refined the MVP to keep the focus on the act of saving and accessing memories. Once signed in, users land on a dashboard where they can add memories or interact with previously uploaded memories. Users can also access memory prompts that have been fine tuned for use with those with loved ones in the early stages of memory loss.
Streamlining the MVP and creating a site map outlining the new user flow helped clarify what views and functionality were needed. I got to work wireframing and prototyping.
Designing for Sandy
Research showed my primary audience typically limited their phone use to talk, text and navigation directions. Tablets were the preferred platform for internet browsing and engaging with web-based tools. I focused on designing for the iPad while keeping Sandy’s design considerations in mind.
Prioritizing user tasks
The dashboard was the most difficult view to create.
While the landing page had the clear purpose of communicating product value and directing users to sign in/ sign up, the dashboard was another story. It had paths heading to all the different destinations a user could access in the product.
As my designs became cluttered, I took a step back to analyze what users were trying to accomplish on the dashboard.
Lesson Learned — Test early and test often.
At this point, I should have stopped and conducted a full round of usability testing on the low-fidelity designs to ensure I was on the right path.
I made the mistake of thinking I had to have a fully working prototype before I could begin serious usability testing. If I had done more usability testing at this point, I could have refined my understanding of how my users interacted with technology before moving into visual design.
My users would most likely be coming to this tool in a time of stress and with a stronger apprehension of technology than millennials. My visual design needed to be calm, stable and supportive. I chose green as my primary color because of its association with the ideas of growth, rebirth, and trees — in particular the family tree.
I used color selectively, preferring plenty of white space, to keep the visual focus on uploaded images.
I chose Avenir for the body font because of its clean look and ease of readability. IBM Plex Serif brought a touch of elegance and nostalgia to the headlines. I kept my font sizes large to ensure accessibility.
I continued to adjust and refine my designs based on feedback in usability testing. My landing page and onboarding went through a number of iterations to finalize the best solution.
Refining the landing page
In usability testing, users felt apprehension. The Get Started button on the landing page triggered resistance.
“I don’t want to get started, I don’t know what I’m signing up for yet.”
Users wanted to know more about the product before signing up. I prioritized the action of “Learn More” to help users get the information they needed to feel comfortable.
Onboarding — Balancing hand-holding and independent discovery
Testing also showed that my primary audience wanted a more detailed, “hand-holding” onboarding experience. However, my secondary audience, Sandy’s son and other family members, wanted to be able to skip over lengthy onboarding requirements and just explore.
To balance the needs of both, I designed an experience that could be skipped out of at any point, but would otherwise provide a high level of support. This had the added benefit of ensuring that my primary audience didn’t land on an empty dashboard at login by walking them through uploading their first memories.
Testing — Revelations
Testing in low-fidelity yields different results than testing in high-fidelity. In high-fidelity testing, users expect full functionality from the product. This can be problematic if you want to test information hierarchy or a specific functionality. Paper prototyping and low-fidelity testing helps keep the user focused on the functionality and flow of the product instead of the color choices and continuity of fill images. Both types of testing are useful, but knowing the differences between user expectations can help you wield the two types of testing more effectively.
Testing with seniors comes with unique considerations. I had not anticipated the level of anxiety and fear of “breaking it” that would arise for users, even during testing in a closed prototype. I had to adjust my approach completely and spend more time reassuring users there was no possible way they could break anything. Changes in the labels and navigation layouts were helpful in reassuring users they were on the right path.
The curse of being a designer is that nothing will ever be perfect, you will always see something you want to fix. Our curiosity leads us to open new doors and explore new paths, but it also makes it hard to stop opening doors when the project is done.
If I were to design Rememory again, I would experiment with different navigation systems. Because of the limited pixel space on an iPad, I relied on a hamburger menu and back arrows. During usability testing, one user pointed out that “I like having a back arrow on every page — I always want a way out.” Breadcrumb navigation or a top nav bar may have helped users feel more comfortable.
This project challenged me to grow in new and unexpected ways, both in my designs and my personal approach to UX. The intense emotions provoked by memory loss gave this project extra weight. It showed me the importance of gentleness, humility and genuine curiosity in user interviews and usability testing.
Listening — really listening — can lead to the most unexpected discoveries and being curious will lead you to new paths you could never have anticipated.
Please reach out to me if you’d like to know about Rememory. I would love to connect on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to learn more about Alzheimer’s or dementia? The Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start.