UX Research Consulting for Startups, Sept-Oct 2017

  • Project 1: Help a founder create a digital healthcare tool for health literacy in underserved populations
  • Project 2: Help a small software product in the study abroad space gain market share from a larger, established product

Project 1: How can UX research help a founder create a digital healthcare tool that will help underserved populations increase their health literacy?

Look for: Strategy session ahead of an investor pitch event; interviews and shadowing with doctors, patients, and health care coordinators; qualitative research analysis (interviews and fieldnotes) for key insights; competitive analysis in digital healthcare tool space; actionable recommendations for a prototype pilot study

Rachel with founder Nina Baliga at the initial strategy session. 

Rachel with founder Nina Baliga at the initial strategy session. 

Strategy Session and Timeline

In this session, I started with the founder's general interest in health literacy and helped her create a detailed map and timeline for qualitative and competitive research ahead of an investor pitch night in November.

I used three main categories to organize this session:

1) The Problem Space: What problem are we trying to solve, who will buy the tool, and who will we partner with?

2) Research: What kind of research (expert, competitive, contextual inquiry) will help us with defining and addressing the problem space? 

3) Journey Map: At which points in a patient's journey will our tool be used?  


We then determined a fast-paced timeline for gathering the minimum research needed ahead of an investor pitch event in mid-November. 


Next, I conducted three days of interviews and shadowing with two community health care clinics whose patients are mainly Medicaid and uninsured, including observing patients visits with doctors and health coordinators, and interviews with patients, doctors, PAs, and health coordinators. 


Last, we had a final whiteboarding session to summarize what we learned about creating a tool that would be most useful to underserved patients and health coordinators working with these patients. 


Key insights: 

1) A main problem is that patients are overwhelmed and need concrete next steps for treatment plans, especially for nutrition and lifestyle health. They also want guidance from a person and would like to be able to text providers or coordinators. Many but not all have smartphones and use apps regularly (patients interviewed were younger, so older patients may not want to use an app, although this can be an untrue assumption).

2) Care coordinators need educational materials that are culturally resonant and in the patient's first language, especially for diagnoses and treatment plans. 

3) A lack of transportation to the clinic and not being able to take time off work are main triggers for appointment "no shows" and repeat visits to the ER instead of the clinic. 

Actionable recommendations:

1) Build a prototype of a free app that provides personalized health care plans for underserved populations. This app should guide patients to educational materials and ways to interact with providers and coordinators depending on their situation.

2) Find a patient population with a complex disease state, such as diabetes, for a pilot study to test the prototype (partner with the American Association for Diabetes and a community clinic in Denver).

3) Talk with a developer familiar with integrating app overlays with electronic medical records. 


Project 2: How can a small software startup gain market share from a large, dominant software in the study abroad space?

Look for: Competitive analysis between the features and usability of the two software products; user recruiting and interviews/surveys (college students)

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I offered to do some user experience research for Via TRM, a Boulder-based software startup in the study abroad space. They are an established software product and in use by several college study abroad offices and programs who use the software to manage their enrollments, while students use it to find out about programs, find a program, apply to programs, and communicate with the study abroad office. 

After interviewing the team, I determined that they would like more information about how students experience the study abroad application process, so I conducted some research with students, in interviews and surveys. But I also found that a main challenge for the company was: How could they gain market share from an older, larger product already in use by many big universities? 

I followed my instinct to investigate this problem by interviewing two users of the competitor's product and two users of Via TRM. With one user of the competitor's product, I was able to sit down with them at the computer as they used it and asked open-ended usability testing questions, such as:

  • What features do you use the most? Can you show me how you use them?
  • What do you like best about using this product?
  • What do you like least about using this product, and what would you like to change?

I also asked questions that are more like closed-task usability testing questions, such as:

  • How do you input information about a program? Can you show me?
  • How can you find specific information in your email correspondence? Can you show me?

I also asked questions about barriers to switching to Via TRM, and what would help them switch over. 

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Key insights and actionable recommendations:

1) Everyone agrees that the User Interface and User Experience of Via TRM is superior. The main features that study abroad offices use are email and application forms, after they finish uploading programs.

Recommendation: Improve the UI of email and forms features through more prominent placement in the workflow and enhanced search features.

2) All users like that Via focuses on students before they commit to study abroad. Via does this through a quiz that identifies their interests and barriers.

Recommendation: This feature could be improved by creating a customized guide that follows students through the process rather than appearing only at the beginning. 

3) [Two key features] are areas where the competitor's software currently has an advantage.

Recommendation: Create a plan to address [these two key features] within the more intuitive and appealing UI that Via is known for.

4) Users of the competitor's software are worried about the data migration process. Local experts who manage the competitor's software within offices are also wary of losing their expert status.

Recommendation: Shape an easy path for data migration, and find a way for local experts to retain specialized knowledge through managing Via in a key way.

5) Study abroad offices are dealing with different challenges. The three main goals I heard are: 

  • Increase student participation
  • Promote internal programs
  • Do more with less staff because of budget cuts

Recommendation: Find a way to speak to these three key challenges in the software problem space. Above all, do not ignore one in favor of the others, as we want to increase market share as broadly as possible.