Erudite: A mental health iOS application for Theoretical Physicists

After a very long design and art block, I finally stood up to myself and faced the reality. This brought me to the Design Hackathon Palette ’21, a great opportunity for the designers to think out of the box and make magical solutions come true through working prototypes!

Palette ’21 is the 4th edition of the distinguished design-a-thon conducted yearly by IEEE VIT. It was a 48 hour long design hack based design-a-thon, started on 27th May, entirely on the concepts of UI & UX .

27th May, 11 pm: Problem Statement distribution.

Each team got a different and unique problem statement, ranging from iOS apps to tvOS applications for wizards to aliens. We were lucky enough to get a good and achievable problem statement, although at that moment I felt it was the most difficult problem statement with no structure or solution.

Round 1: Research and wireframing (13 hours)

Defining the problem

Before starting, one thing was to be made very clear for making a valuable design product: that is to understand the business and strategy and not just the users. It is important to understand WHY we are designing and WHAT we are designing and WHOM.

Note

The whole case study is based on assumptions considering the past history of physicists and scientists. Due to limited time and team members, it was impossible to perform primary research hence I did not go beyond secondary research practices. All the assumptions of the case study have been highlighted.

To define the purpose of the iOS application to be made here’s a story:

Assumption Number 1:

Defining the problem through a story gave a confident pathway to the solution. Now my next goal was to understand the target audience, keeping in mind inclusivity and accessibility. The first step towards this was to go through the history and demographics of the users. Here’s an excerpt from an article on Physics Today — It’s time for physicists to talk about mental health.

This is a serious problem, especially in academia. A study this month in Research Policy concludes that about half of PhD students experience at least two symptoms of mental illness, and one-third have had at least four symptoms. Link here

-by Andrea J. Welsh

Who are the users?

It’s definitely Sheldon and Rick but we had to know more about our users. So I did some research on the history of Physicists.

It was important to learn about the users but we had a time limit and could not interact with them directly. So we looked for statistics and reports online to know more about our users. Before that, defining our problem with how we might:

Assumption Number 2:

Understanding Users

Illnesses suffered by the users.

  • John Nash and the oscar-winning movie A Beautiful Mind -the story of his battle with schizophrenia is a good example of illness suffered by physicists.
  • Issac Newton suffered from huge ups and downs in his moods, indicating bipolar disorder, combined with psychotic tendencies. His inability to connect with people places him on the autism spectrum. He even had a tendency to write letters filled with mad delusions, which some medical historians feel strongly indicates schizophrenia.
  • As in the show The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon shows autistic personalities as said in an article - Dissecting Sheldon Cooper.
  • Scientists have also confirmed that autism is directly linked to geniuses.
  • Not neglecting the fact that many physicists suffer from anxiety due to high expectations, responsibility and they also lack a good support network. Which pulls them down decreasing their productivity and making it an anxiety loop. Check out this article describing mental illnesses suffered by common physicists here.

And, surprisingly enough, there is research to bear this out. Mathematicians and physicists seem unusually prone to autism spectrum disorders (at least sub-clinically) and, like Sheldon, can often display symptoms such as the need for sameness, lack of interest in social interactions, and inability to read social cues.

-by Romeo Vitelli Ph.D.

So I jot down the problems and illnesses suffered by our target audience:

Assumption Number 3:

Understanding Users and assumptions

User Personas:

Dividing my users based on two categories, both covering up different cases of age and mental illnesses, to clear out our problem statement understanding.

Designing for Accessibility

In 2015, a study by researchers at the Ohio State University confirmed a potential chromosomal link between genius and autism. Families that are more likely to have autistic children are also more likely to have geniuses. The correspondence is not necessarily one to one, but the study certainly demonstrates increased odds that Einstein, and other historical geniuses, could have been on the spectrum.

Assumption Number 4:

Here I am considering that the users may have mild to severe autistic personalities and hence trying to make it easier to use for everyone.

The process

Making accessibility a critical part of my design strategy was important for reach, clarity, and inclusivity. So I followed the three levels of accessibility to level up my project.

Image courtesy: The three levels of accessibility pyramid by blayne phillips
  1. Strategy and Reach: The strategy here is to make it accessible for iOS. The only supported hardware system given is iOS.
  2. Design and Clarity:
  • Considering that a high number of our target audience show autistic personalities from the spectrum, ranging from very mild to severe - assumption 5. The app should be kept simple using a flat design.
  • Using light colors, avoiding very garish colors.
  • Text and audio alternatives.

3. Implementation and Inclusivity: Error messages are understandable and actionable.

Palette credits: samuvagyok

To conclude I noted down the complete user study considering accessibilities and inclusivity for an effective design:

  • Sensory sensitivity: Keeping the colors dim, considering aversion to strong lights.
  • Non-text content: Text alternatives to serve an equivalent purpose.
  • Unusual words: Remove jargons
  • Consistent Navigation and identification: Keeping Icons and language consistent with simple buttons.
  • Input assistance: Error identification, Help- context-sensitive help available.
  • Interface: Using flat design for avoiding too much visual data. Make buttons descriptive, instead of making them vague and unpredictable.

Assumption Number 6:

There might be some exceptions and physicists having well-balanced life, but most of them also suffer from egocentrism, narcissism, social dysfunction, and even obsessive-compulsive tendencies. They also suffer from extreme pressure, isolation, underpayment, high responsibility, and weak support network.

Interface Research (28th May 5 am)

I took a short nap and without wasting any more time I started off with the second part of my research process.

Being an android user ( I have no particular choices between androids and iOS ), building an iOS app was new to me, and I was unaware of mostly all of the guidelines and rules. So it was necessary not to miss even a single style and rules while designing the iOS app.

I started off with the hand reachability of iOS devices. It is, however different from a regular mobile phone’s reachability.

Reachability in iOS devices

Then I thoroughly went through the UI guidelines provided by Apple here and found out some fun facts about iOS interfaces. For example, hamburger menus are not supported by iOS apps and the colors are mainly white and black in the interface of the device. I sorted out the most necessary guidelines to be followed:

And the final screen structure I came up with:

UI research

Competitor Analysis

The next step was to know about the competitors. So I tried using similar apps for mental health, NOT, particularly for theoretical physicists. Most of them did not support accessibility but had different purposes each. This gave me an idea of what to do and what not to do.

Competitive Analysis

Defining the problem again

After truckloads of sufficient research, I reviewed my problem statement again to clarify what the solution could be. Well, of course, there is no correct or perfect solution but to start with I went through the illnesses suffered by the physicists and their treatments. And the only common and most effective were therapy sessions and support groups.

So I decided to make an app, helping the physicists by providing them support and help groups, therapy sessions — expenses made by the World Science Committee.

There were initiatives earlier to come up with support groups at the Universities but people faced time issues. This app, being used in COVID times has a plus point of starting live sessions whenever they feel the best. It could be sitting at home or during the lunch breaks.

To make the idea of the application clear, I made a user flow next:

User flow

The solution I decided to move ahead with was:

  • Online therapists: List of therapists, keeping credibility the first priority, and with a smooth time-saving slot booking process.
  • Support groups: A safe space for people to talk, debate, and share their stories. To start a support group by themselves as well.

Wireframes

The deadline for research and wireframes was just around the corner which was at 12 noon on the 28th of May. So we made the wireframes and sketches with a basic plan we had and submitted it just before 11:59.

Wireframes

28th May, 12 pm: Prototyping and Complete app workflow.

The next part was to add colors to the application but there was limited time. I was supposed to not only design the interface but also decide the workflow and make a prototype of our product. Although I could not complete the UI and prototype and so could not continue further in the hackathon, I decided to complete it on my own.

The workflow and User Interface of the iOS application I made:

Home Page UI
Home Page UI
Therapists Page UI
Therapists Page UI
Support Page UI
Settings, More, My events and notifications

Learnings from the competition:

The one thing which was the most important in my opinion throughout the hackathon was planning and understanding the problem. Understanding the problem not only from the user’s perspective but from each and every stakeholder. I edited my solution even after the hackathon ended and I couldn’t stop thinking of solutions! There was so much I could have done for this problem but what was lacking was a good plan and direction, especially to develop a prototype of a problem in less than two days.

Future Scope

“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” - Salvador Dali, artist

There is no perfect solution. Each solution can be enhanced and developed with time and patience. Creativity is something that the more we use, the more we have.

Erudite

Designer and Undergraduate at IIT Roorkee