What is human-centered design and why does it matter at Koa Health?

Human-centered design (HCD), also known as user-centered design or person-centered design, is an approach that empowers an individual or team to design products or services that address the core needs of those who experience a problem. So would it be safe to assume all digital mental health providers employ HCD? Sadly, no.

Koa Health
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Human-centered design has been part of Koa Health from the start. From the beginning, people and their experiences have been at the center of what we do. Understanding people’s needs, frustrations and wants is key in creating products that empower people to take care of themselves and to ease clinicians’ workloads.

Human-centered design: 3 guiding principles

According to Gould and Lewis , there are three guiding principles we should follow when creating human-centered products. Let’s take a look at how we live by these principles at Koa Health.

1. Focus on users and tasks early and throughout the design process

To get started on any new project or product, we always conduct ethnographic research  alongside in-depth interviews .

In ethnography, we go and see the people we want to design for in their real-world settings. We’ve visited, observed, and interviewed people who are dealing with depression, body dysmorphic disorder, burn out, and stress in order to empathize with them and understand the barriers they may encounter when seeking or receiving treatment or support. In addition to patients or other people who could benefit from our products, we’ve researched clinicians' workflows, HR leaders’ main worries for their teams, and insurance providers’ main goals in contracting mental health tools and support. Through both the observation and the interviews we gain invaluable insight that we can then translate into design decisions.

2. Measure usability empirically

According to the Nielsen Norman Group , world-renowned leaders in usability and User Experience, usability consists of 5 components.

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

At Koa, we conduct exhaustive testing in order to validate or invalidate the usability of our designs. In the average month, we run at least two usability tests, whether in-person (or via video call since the pandemic!) or remotely, using tools such as Usability Hub. While we measure and evaluate all five components, different tests may have different foci; for a patient dealing with depression, ensuring that recovery from errors is seamless is more important than the measure of efficiency - when you’re dealing depression any blocker or barrier could discourage you from proceeding because “energy is a finite resource” , while for a clinician, efficiency may be the most important aspect for us to address for them.

We measure satisfaction by sending out surveys to any user who opts in to them, and the responses to the surveys are organized and synthesized while any consistent qualitative feedback for suggestions, changes, or improvements are added into our product roadmaps.

In addition to usability tests, we also run concept tests. These are a bit more theoretical and are not focused on how people can get from point A to point B, but rather are intended to understand how new features or improvements could fit in to our current offering. We often design more than one solution, based on previous research, and present them to our users. While we don’t always “choose” what the users “prefer”, the goal is to have an open conversation with them in order to further understand their contexts and how they use our tools. The anecdotes and examples people bring up in these sessions are invaluable in creating better user experiences.

3. Design and test usability iteratively

Nothing, and we mean, nothing, goes into our services without being tested. Whether it’s the overall flow, how navigation works, or the content itself, we iteratively test everything before putting anything new into our tools. Sometimes, once our tools are “in the wild” we see via analytics that there’s still room for improvement. In that case, we’re back to speaking to users, clinicians, or whoever our target audience is, showing them improved designs, or running co-creation sessions in order to identify where it may be falling short.

What has HCD done for our products?

In the last five years, over 250 people have participated in our user research efforts and the User Research team spends about 15% of our time annually working directly with our users or potential users, whether via interviews, ethnography, or usability or content testing (the general rule is for every hour you spend speaking or observing a user, you need two hours for synthesis - so at least 45% of our working time is dedicated to real user feedback and insights). This focus has resulted in Koa Foundations achieving an ORCHA rating of 88% , a positive Onemind Psyberguide review as a top-ranking app for stress, anxiety and sleep , and a net-promoter score of 25 (anything over 0 is considered good). Most importantly, our focus on HCD has made it possible for us to create products that actually help people. We’ve also seen excellent results in our randomized control testing—in our first trial of Foundations we saw significant improvements in sleep and mental wellbeing in two weeks, with further improvements at four weeks .

We’re extremely proud that our whole team at Koa, from developers and designers to marketers and salespeople look to the User Research team for insights, inspiration and ideas—we are, after all, getting our information straight from the source.

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Koa Health

The Team @ Koa Health

Our diverse team of developers, researchers, psychologists and behavioral health experts work together to create practical, thought-provoking content to accompany our range of digital therapeutics.