As a UX designer and a user researcher, I’m committed to insight-driven design and continually testing assumptions.
I’m also passionate about digital health and learning more about how people use technology to live better, healthier lives.
This is why I have recently conducted an independent user testing of three mood tracking apps. As a result of the testing, I wanted to present a set of actionable design guidelines, that mental health app founders could use to create more usable and effective products.
In this article, I present the overview of the study and 5 out of 14 design guidelines based on the research findings.
How I tested the apps
I conducted 15 unmoderated remote testing sessions.
The tested apps included:
I recruited participants through usability testing platform Validately and they carried out the tasks on their own devices.
The testing sessions included two parts: task-based test and post-test questionnaire.
Task-based usability test:
- Think of a recent situation when you felt stressed or anxious. Record your mood and the situation using this app.
- Find out how you could use this app to monitor your mood changes over time.
- Find out how you could use this app to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
- What do you think are the short term and long term benefits of using this app?
- What is the most frustrating or difficult thing when using this app?
- User satisfaction survey
Let’s get to it then!
Here are 5 UX/UI guidelines for designing usable and effective mood tracking apps.
1. Guide the user to the key action in the first interaction.
Design the onboarding flow so that the user can experience the value of the app within the first interaction. It will help the user understand the purpose of the app and the benefits of using it, which is crucial for increasing your retention rate.
Daylio’s minimal onboarding flow ends by creating the very first mood entry. Because of this, all participants easily understood the purpose of the app and were able to more fully explore the functionality.
It is especially important for apps that rely on user input to provide value e.g. showing activity statistics is only possible after the user has made a number of entries. Although a single entry does not provide such statistics, it does help to avoid showing an empty screen during the crucial first interaction.
“When I recall my mood daily I guess after a month I can see what on average my happiness has been so I can work on things that made me stressed“
Daylio, Participant 5
2. In long flows, provide guidance and progress feedback.
If adding entries to your health journal or going through health assessment requires the user to go through a long process, a guided flow and progress feedback will help them stay focused and will decrease the cognitive load required to complete the task.
The check-in flow in Stop, Breathe and Think is a fairly long process, but a guided approach worked well for all participants, keeping them focused on one task at the time.
“It looks like it guides you through everything that you need to do, so you’re not left on your own“
Stop, Breathe and Think, Participant 1
3. Consider how people describe their emotions and feelings.
The way people describe their emotions will depend on a number of factors such as age, culture, language (native speakers vs second-language), cognitive abilities and literacy skills. Consider who is your intended audience when labelling emotions and whether or not to use visual cues.
Daylio allows the user to choose from 5 emotions that are labelled and described visually (icons). Stop, Breathe and Think has an extensive list of approximately 100 emotions that are grouped in higher-level categories with only the category being described visually. In the latter case, one participant commented on the list being too long and most participants selected their options from the top of the list, without thoroughly exploring all the options.
“Oh that’s a large list here…“
Stop, Breathe and Think, Participant 4
4. Help users decide which tools will help them feel better.
If your app provides an extensive list of audio or video recordings, or another type of activities for the user, add a mechanism to help the user decide which one to choose from. This could be a recommendation based on their journal entries, a quick link to their favourites or a curated list based on a topic or user goal.
Participants that tested Stop, Breathe and Think liked the recommended list of meditations at the end of the check-in flow and commented that it made them feel like these were more personalised based on their current mood.
“Oh that’s nice so I get to pick one of these meditation techniques based on the emotions I am feeling at this moment“
Stop, Breathe and Think, Participant 3
5. Help users understand the ‘science’ behind their feelings.
Add educational content to explain unfamiliar terms and the psychology behind how different things affect people’s emotions. This could be the education section in the app navigation structure, educational content such as videos or helpful tooltips throughout the app.
Participants that tested What’s Up and Stop, Breathe and Think liked the educational aspect of the apps. They thought that understanding what happens in their brains in regards to their feelings and emotions could help them take control of it.
“The explanations on anger and depression, very useful so that I know what I’m going through“
What’s Up, Participant 2
The right approach to user testing can give you insight that goes far beyond usability and interaction design.
I hope you found those guidelines useful and thought-provoking.