Understanding the Journey: It’s All About Context

Context: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

There are many ways we can provide context to users. Whether it is a consumer application in the App Store or an application for a clinical trial, users will always need some context to understand what is going on. It’s all about what they need to know and when. Based on the work that we have done so far in the life sciences domain (especially clinical trials), we have identified four principles that come into play when helping users understand their journey.


Understanding the Value

When users are aware of the value of what they will be doing, there is a good chance they will have an open mind and be more engaged during the process.

If we don’t understand the benefit of doing something, why should we do it after all? We have aimed to empower users by helping them understand how they are a part of something bigger. The take-away here is not to limit it to a one-time “conversation” with the user. Instead, this value should also be restated when there’s an opportunity (a confirmation message after completing a task? reaching a milestone?). From intro videos to friendly reminders when they make some progress over time, it is always good for users to keep in mind the impact of what they are doing.


Managing Expectations

If we are waiting in line, we want to know how long it’s going to take. If we order something, we want to know when it’s going to arrive. If we are going somewhere, we want to know what we need to bring.

When our users are facing similar situations, it is good to set the right expectations. Doing so can help reduce the level of frustration on the users and allows them to be better prepared or plan accordingly. A clear example is a survey: for them it is helpful to know how many questions there are or at least, get some sense of what’s left by indicating progress on the screen. Let’s face it, there may be a couple of things out there that can be very lengthy for the user, like digital medical questionnaires or assessments. What if we indicate the average time it may take them to complete the questionnaire? Maybe 10 minutes sounds like a lot, but they have more visibility on what’s coming and they can decide whether they have the time or not to do it right away. Remember the importance of “understanding the value”? This could be a good opportunity to remind them that completing this is going to be worth the hassle!

On clinical trials, the patients/users may be required to visit the clinical sites every now and then. In terms of managing expectations, for the users it is useful to know what the things are they need to bring and what should they expect (e.g. how long it’s going to take). Maybe the application itself is not the best place to display all this information but, if we want to keep the holistic experience in mind, what if we consider complementary artifacts to enhance this?


Clarifying the Uncertainty

Talk human to me.

We all know that striving for a friendlier terminology is key but, due to the nature of some content (e.g. medical forms), it can still be challenging for everyday users to understand certain concepts. Therefore, it is important to identify these potential challenges and provide an additional layer with supplementary information, like tooltips and popovers. Using icons or applying a different visual treatment to the keywords can help the user distinguish which items on the screen offer this extra layer. As always, it is about finding the right balance and the most efficient way of displaying these visual cues – in the end, we don’t want to clutter the screen with information icons all over it, right?


Guiding ’em Through

Follow the yellow brick road.

As we work on providing more context to users, we have to keep in mind how we walk them through the application so they have a better picture. As intuitive as the components may be, the users still need to understand what they can do and when they are expected to do something, especially under more controlled environments like clinical trials. First-use walkthroughs, coach marks, and to-do lists are some resources that users find helpful.

If we are doing a walkthrough or using coach marks right after the user has launched the product (or signed up), we should be mindful of the number of things we want to expose to them during this flow. Most of the time is better just to provide a quick overview of the key components they’ll be interacting with. Then, provide more guidance as they start navigating to other sections or interacting with other components, making the first-use experience easier to digest. Once users start interacting with the application on a daily basis, it is still useful to guide them by reminding them what they need to do and when (mainly when they are required to complete certain activities). Notifications and todo lists can help accomplish something like this. Depending on the situation, breaking things down for the user by time of day can also come handy, especially if there’s a long list of daily tasks. Again, we have to use our judgment and find the right balance since using walkthroughs and coach marks for every single section or nagging them too often may not be the best way to go.


In the end, regardless of how we apply the principles, the key question that we should ask ourselves is, what do users need to know at this point?

Do they know why they are doing what they are doing?
Do they know what to expect?
Can they be better informed or prepared?
Where are they going to require additional guidance?