A Tool to address the world's first probleM: grief
Team: Steven Albert, Sarah Glanville, Lyra Wilde
Time: 2.5 weeks
Role: competitive analysis, survey design, interviews, persona development, illustration, prototyping, writing
Tools: Pen and Paper, Paper 53, Sketch, Invision
Challenge: Our challenge was to provide a streamlined welcoming process to facilitate potential members joining the community, and to structure the support of bereaved community members through access to subscription sponsorship and other non-monetized gestures. Additionally, we needed to define the user roles “Support Coordinator” and “Support Team Member” in terms of need and task management.
Solution: A platform for on-boarding support coordinators and support team members that is welcoming and allows collaborative task management and delegation for crowdsourcing support.
Deliverable: An on-boarding design for SolaceClub: A series of questions and images (process) that guide new users or support coordinators to the actions they can take within SolaceClub to support their loved one. Additionally, this project generated data/findings to inform further design iteration.
Support is 'love in action'
In our first meeting with Solace Club's founders, they explained that the desire to make a grief support tool had been inspired with their own experiences with grief. While there was no shortage of people wanting to express support, the lack of clarity about how to support a particular bereaved person inhibited support for the bereaved, and placed a great deal of the responsibility for support on one or two people-- often people impacted themselves-- close to the bereaved.
One thing we understood from the beginning of our process was that since we were designing Solace Club's onboarding, we were in a sense developing the way in to a tool, and would need to communicate the value of the service itself, in its totality. As terrifying as it sounded, we were tasked with ensuring that potential users would entrust SolaceClub to facilitate support for their loved ones during the most difficult experience in life.
The Competitive landscape
SolaceClub's holistic approach to grief support differed from any product we researched. As such, there is no direct competitor. However, there are products across multiple markets that feature components of SolaceClub's offerings. As part of our preliminary research, we conducted an analysis of thirty-two companies, ranging from emotional support tools to cosmetics subscriptions, in order to make a preliminary assessment of existing products in terms of concept design, structure and specific features. We created a matrix of the features and functions across all of these tools, and zeroed in on the components a given tool appeared to have designed well. This helped to inform and contextualize our initial design decisions, and was another deliverable for SolaceClub's overall product development.
DESIGNING THE interviews
The most useful component of our research came from our interviews. After developing a questionnaire to recruit our interview subjects, we selected 17 subjects that represented a range of bereavement experiences and roles. We developed a series of closed and open-ended interview questions to help us understand people’s experiences around grief. And as you might imagine, we had a lot to consider in our approach to such sensitive subject matter. We scheduled our interviews with a fair amount of buffer, knowing our subjects would likely need time to shift through the emotions that emerged.
We asked people to share their experiences around death, loss, and mourning - the most difficult things anyone has to deal with in life.
We asked questions specifically around how support was offered and received, and ways in which that support succeeded or failed the bereaved.
We intentionally included questions around spirituality, gender, culture and family systems and how they tied in to this experience.
As we transcribed our interviews, we pulled quotes that seemed to be especially useful themes, particularly those that expressed thoughts and feelings echoed by multiple interview participants:
“Decisions were just made out of necessity, and the whole family was needing support.”
“You're never prepared for death— even when things don't look good, you always hope for healing.”
"We made a photo-collage from all the photos people sent. Little treasures I'd never seen! I keep a picture of it in my phone."
"We went out to a basketball court and smashed plates. People yelled whatever they needed to release/communicate to the person they'd lost."
We all pulled notable quotes from the interviews and categorized them by emergent themes. Some of these were:
Misguided support efforts
Effective support efforts
Gifts and responses to them
Coordination of Support
Long term impacts of bereavement experience
Notably, we found that the most meaningful gestures of support were heartfelt messages to the bereaved, as well as specific, thoughtful gifts. Activities that engaged the bereaved--cathartic releases, like the plate smashing, and creative collaborations, like the photo-collage, were also very powerful.
We identified failures in support systems, too. Individual members in family systems often needed different kinds of support and were often unable to reach out. Depending on the dynamics between the bereaved and a particular spiritual community, spirituality could be received as either extremely healing or coercive and wounding.
We knew that in order to develop the right onboarding experience, we needed to understand who the 'support coordinator' was. We were asked to develop a support coordinator persona, and we developed our primary persona, Allison, based on the synthesis of data from our interviews. Based on our data, we knew her to be someone both close enough to the bereaved to want to help significantly, but with enough objectivity to organize an effective support effort. We understood the challenges that faced people like Allison who were competent nurturers, but frequently over-taxed in emotional crises. We wanted to help deliver something that would not leave her overwhelmed with decisions and a huge organizing effort at such a difficult time.
Allison: Support Coordinator
To make her efforts truly supportive to honor her sister-in-law
To help the crowdsourcing effort with contacts/resources
Different kinds of support in the coming months
Unifying gifts/activities for family
Has been overwhelmed by responsibility in the past
Too much effort to onboard/administrate efforts like this in the past
What about the bereaved?
While we knew understanding Allison was critical to designing a good onboarding process for SolaceClub, the process of defining her as our primary persona was not without complexity. We realized that without understanding the bereaved family that Allison needed to support, and who it was they had lost, there was no "Allison." Through our interviews, we had come to understand a lot about families in grief, and we felt we had an understanding of our secondary persona, David. We were mindful of wanting to create something that would help people who, like David, needed support but were unlikely to reach out.
reassurance that his sons’ needs are addressed--practically and emotionally
privacy and support
activities with friends that get him out of the house (but not ready for big groups)
legal/financial resources for later & some financial support now
wife was primary earner
very fragile, not ready for big groups
A Support system is a system
In fact, we developed a whole community persona system, which my teammate, Lyra Wilde, intuited as orbiting David at a time when his connection Beatrice is forever altered. In order to create this model, we created personas for each of the family members, using this to anticipate how dynamics might influence their roles and needs. The understanding of this dynamic system, where people's busy lives intersect and separate in cycles, has the potential to facilitate support through a thoughtful design. This visualization would not have been possible had we not used the insights we'd gained from our interviews to anticipate how individual relationships in this dynamic system could interact to generate a real support system.
iterating for delivery
By now our team felt we'd developed an understanding of what we were facing and moved toward from our discovery phase and into iteration for delivery. Before we could begin to approach developing even the roughest paper prototype, we needed to be sure to define what our deliverable would (and wouldn't) do. We did extensive whiteboarding to delineate our "MoSCoW" (Must, Should, Could, Won't), as well as some early iterations of the flow. We determined much of the design deliverable through this process.
The Flow And Early prototype tests
This was the flow we originally came up with. We knew that Support Organizers like Allison might onboard with a particular form of support in mind, but that their immediate support needs might vary. We determined that Support Organizers would need a way to start the onboarding process and then set up a crowdfunding campaign or other support options consecutively. Though we implied a dashboard in our early paper prototypes, we missed it in our first wireframes. The result created confusion and ran counter to our goal of reducing stress during the onboarding process. Our testers were baffled by a long, seemingly circular process, and felt they were repeating a form twice.
the right flow
Once we spotted this error, we were well on our way. This was a project with an extensive exploratory research component, and we had gone deep into understanding the complexities of our user needs. We initially stumbled in envisioning the onboarding flow for a tool which was still in the discovery phase of development. The inclusion of a global dashboard from which alternate flows were possible prevented users from committing to a tedious process without a roadmap, and more effectively allowed user's individual priorities to guide their onboarding process.
The outcome: Presenting our findings
When we delivered our mid-fidelity wireframes to the clients, we had made at least one bold design decision. We were very excited to present our work, and hoped that our process would translate in a meaningful way to a skilled engineer and a Psychologist. One feature we were concerned might not be received well was the inclusion of a personality-typing feature that was based on Jungian archetypes and the four 'elements.' We made the decision to test this feature because we were interested in determining if personality profiles could result in meaningful suggestions around support and empower those in grief by providing a framework within which to begin taking action. The feature had tested favorably in our first sprint, though we had made sure to keep it as an optional feature in case it didn't resonate with certain users. To our relief our clients received it with enthusiasm. They told us they had already been considering how to integrate something like this into the design. We were also pleased that our clients understood the relevance of the research and intended to use it to inform the product design as a whole.
Evaluative next steps
What we would like to evaluate in the immediate future is whether we've made an effective onboarding flow for support coordinators like ‘Allison’ as well as SolaceClub's support teams.
We can do this by:
utilizing click heat maps: to look at what part of the screen our testers pay most attention to
timing the process to observe how long it takes to go through full on-boarding (<5mins)
once live, we can:
record abandonment rate from the information screen to onboarding
and, at every stage:
continue with direct Prototype Testing and user feedback
We'd immediately start with:
Building out the separate on-boardings to test interactivity
Increasing the visual and content fidelity to gauge what visual and language choices are most appropriate for our audience
We’d also further test and explore our 'personality types' feature, to evaluate user trust in this feature and its effectiveness as a means of tailoring support
the real takeaway
At the end of our presentation, my teammate Steve talked about what an important experience this project was for each of us.
"It was truly a learning experience for us as designers and for us as teammates.
We are lucky to contribute towards such an important project, and we hope to contribute more."
The real value in SolaceClub is in how it functions as a constant reminder that people can help each other to heal in so many ways. As with many of the best tools, SolaceClub makes an essential human process work better. In this case, it facilitates the transformation of feelings of compassion into helpful agency.