User-centred design: Building Holly Health for healthy ageing

June 26, 2023

Liliana Chow, Operations Manager

What is user-centred design? 

Put simply, user-centred design is all about working together with the user to design and create a product that truly meets their needs. It’s both collaborative and iterative, meaning that it involves many rounds of feedback, working with users consistently throughout the design journey to co-create a refined product over time. 

The first stage of this process is doing the research to really understand the user. What are their needs? What problem does the user face that this product can help with or solve? What challenges or barriers may they face when using this product? How can we improve their experience? What factors need to be considered about the user - their characteristics, environment, experiences, likes, dislikes, and behaviours? The list goes on, but you get the idea. 

By working with and getting to know the user, user-centred design can create a meaningful product that is intuitive, accessible, and most importantly, genuinely impactful. 

Why is user-centred design important in healthtech? 

User-centred design is important in all sectors, but in healthtech, the stakes are exceptionally high. Healthtech solutions have the potential to enable people to live longer, healthier and happier lives, but this can only be achieved if these solutions are useful and accessible.

We also know that a person’s health is as personal as it gets, so it’s important to earn and respect the user’s trust from the beginning. That way, the user can safely engage with your healthtech product knowing that they’re in good digital hands. 

Our healthy ageing project in partnership with Age UK Lewisham and Southwark

The “what”:

For our government-funded UKRI project, we’ve partnered with Age UK Lewisham and Southwark to develop the Holly Health service to support people specifically with healthy ageing. 

The “why”:

50% of older adults are living with multiple health conditions, and this number increases in those who live a sedentary lifestyle (spending the majority of time sitting down). It’s no surprise that many people recognise the need to live healthier lifestyles, but find it difficult to make sustainable changes, (we know that behaviour change isn’t easy). We embarked on this project with the understanding that to benefit from Holly Health, our technology has to be fun and engaging, and most importantly, accessible. 

The “how”:

Designing the service alongside Holly Health users over 50 years old has allowed us to gradually enhance and fine-tune the user experience together. This has involved several forms of feedback methods, to gather both quantitative and qualitative feedback, across focus groups, app testing sessions, a 12-week intensive pilot, hundreds of surveys and interviews, a community social media group, and a panel combining both Holly Health users and industry experts. This has resulted in a rich pool of data, which continues to guide our design decisions to improve the app's functionality, increase user satisfaction, and better support the health and wellbeing of our users.

Through the design process, we’ve made many app enhancements, from button tweaks to improved navigation, stronger contrasts for better readability, and new features including our mood and energy trackers. For further accessibility, our new web onboarding means that users can now set up their accounts from a desktop instead of in the app, and we’ve piloted an SMS service and community feature. We’ve also made the app more engaging, easier to use and more personalised towards healthy ageing goals with bespoke articles, habits, exercise videos and meditation audio. And the journey doesn’t stop there -  our product roadmap continues to evolve with plans to make the service even more accessible, especially for harder-to-reach communities. 

Promising results of Holly Health for healthy ageing:

We’ve seen many positive outcomes from this project so far. Our 12-week intensive pilot with 36 participants showed that using Holly Health for 12 weeks resulted in statistically significant health improvements across several measures including energy levels, exercise and overall life satisfaction. Participants reported high enjoyment from working with us and taking part in the pilot (and we can say the same back!), which is a testament to the user-centred design process. (Keep your eyes peeled for our full pilot report coming soon.)

Embarking on a user-centred design approach? Here are my top tips: 

  1. Embrace a variety of feedback methods. Qualitative methods such as interviews allow you to delve deep into users’ thoughts and experiences, whilst focus groups and product testing sessions allow you to observe and understand user behaviours in more natural contexts. On the other hand, quantitative methods are a great way to capture large amounts of structured data remotely, especially if you want to use standardised tools and measure the outcomes. But don’t forget to also think outside the box. A survey will always be a great tool, but so can a quick poll on your Facebook community group (given you’re transparent about why you’re asking)!

  1. Get to know your users and their stories. Ask, ask, ask! Be curious because the answers will guide the design. There’s richness in the stories and anecdotes shared by users. One of the most rewarding parts of this project has been listening to people’s life experiences and how the app has changed their lives for the better. They remind us of the mission we embarked on this project with and motivate us to continue the work we do every day. 

  1. And lastly, approach with an open mind. It’s an iterative process, which means you might change something once, twice or three times before getting it right. You won’t always get it right the first time and that’s the beauty of the ongoing refinement. Avoid making assumptions and embrace the opportunity to challenge any preconceived notions. You may be surprised.