LongCo

🔍
User Research
🕹
Usability Testing
Platform
Mobile
Client
MSc Human-Computer
Interaction
Timeframe
1 month

LongCo is a digital health intervention for people with long-lasting symptoms of Covid-19, focusing specifically on fatigue.

For some people, Covid-19 can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has passed. This is sometimes referred to as post-covid syndrome or "Long Covid". Patients report a range of symptoms, including extreme tiredness (i.e. fatigue), shortness of breath, chest pains and impaired cognition ("brain fog").

The Challenge

Support patients in managing and reducing their symptoms

During my masters at University College London (UCL), I was part of a team tasked with producing an app to support people managing a chronic health condition. We chose Long Covid because it's timely, complex, and there are many available patient stories on which to base a design concept.

High-level goals:
  • - motivate patients to engage in self-management;

  • - create a tool to support fatigue tracking;

  • - and tailor support according to individual differences and disease variations.

My Role

I led a team of five people, facilitating efforts to design, prototype, evaluate and present LongCo.

Key Constraints

  • Due to ethical concerns around conducting research with vulnerable groups, UCL restricted us from collecting data directly from our intended users.
  • Medical opinions on the treatment of Long Covid changed rapidly throughout the project as new information emerged.

Kickoff

Framing the Problem

I partnered with two user researchers to uncover insights in patient stories. Together we translated these into potential features that address user needs and goals.

Patients frequently mentioned fatigue and brain fog as particularly prevalent and debilitating. We didn't feel an app would help resolve the remaining symptoms given their life-threatening nature or unclear origins.

Personas

Building Empathy with Patients

We translated our research findings into three detailed customer profiles, each with varying fatigue-related symptoms and characteristics. These promoted a shared understanding among the design team about patient needs, concerns and motivations for using LongCo.

One of three personas created during the project.
Illustration by Pablo Stanley

Wireframing

Ideation Sketching

Digital sketching provided a way to quickly explore content structure and layout variations. I prefer to draw digitally when I use sketching as an ideation tool because I can delete, move and annotate elements in a way that's difficult to do with pen and paper.

LongCo early sketches image
Early sketches of a self-monitoring feature

Validation

Testing Our Assumptions

Later in the project, I created prototypes to share the vision and design principles. These also influenced group ideation, helped gain alignment and drove decision making. We tested the prototype in four rounds of think-aloud observation sessions with peers, each time making iterations based on the findings.

LongCo mid-fidelity wireframe image
Selected screens from a low-fidelity prototype

One of the main changes we made was improving the language used in the app. Because participants weren't familiar with some of the behaviour change terms we used, they had trouble navigating certain features. Based on these findings, we rewrote most of the language and added descriptive labels where possible. Issues like this were among several identified during user testing.

LongCo mid-fidelity wireframe image
An example of a change we made

Solution

LongCo: Your path to living well with Long Covid

LongCo is a mobile app that supports people living with Long Covid. It allows patients to track their recovery, encouraging them to self-report challenges and the impact of their symptoms on day-to-day life.

LongCo high-fidelity mockup image
Selected onboarding screens.
Illustrations by Violetta Badger

Set Meaningful Goals

LongCo reduces fatigue by encouraging energy conservation behaviours such as pacing, planning and prioritisation. Users learn about these techniques by applying them to personal goals.

LongCo high-fidelity mockup image
Selected goal-setting screens

Track Progress

The app takes users through a daily check-in during which they self-report the energy conservation behaviours they tried that day. This feature also prompts users to input their mood, energy levels, symptoms and more.

LongCo high-fidelity mockup image
Selected daily check-in screens

Trends

In the insights tab, patients can view information to help them understand their condition. Over time trends will emerge between energy conservation behaviours and fatigue levels, mood and goal progression.

LongCo high-fidelity mockup image
Onboarding feature description, trends tab

For Clinicians

LongCo Hub

The system is also designed to help healthcare teams provide the most effective support for patients. LongCo hub is a companion clinical dashboard that allows rehabilitation teams to monitor patient progress remotely.

LongCo Hub high-fidelity mockup image
LongCo Hub, a companion clinical dashboard

Reflections

Designing for Complexity

The biggest challenge I faced during this project was determining whether our app was too complex for patients experiencing brain fog. We used personas to keep this in mind throughout the design process, making an effort to strip back and simplify each aspect of the app. For example, we merged the numerous energy conservation behaviours listed on health service websites, reducing them to only seven. 

Finding the right balance between simplicity and complexity is a key consideration in designing health interventions and a fundamental component of interface design. As Donald Norman writes, the complexity of an information system should mirror the complexity of the user's life. It was tough to find this balance without direct input from patients. In industry, these challenges are met by consulting with patients and clinicians early, often, and throughout the design process. In our case, this was not possible due to the constraints imposed by ULC's ethics policy.

Nevertheless, using preexisting resources in place of actual patients and taking the time to simplify each of LongCo's features provided first-hand experience of understanding and designing for complexity. However, were I to repeat this study in industry, I would test the app with patients throughout the design lifecycle. These tests would go a long way to ensuring that LongCo meets the nuances of day-to-day life living with Long Covid. 

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