Driving after a Brain Injury can be a daunting task. Anxiety runs high and a small distraction can disrupt your focus. This is my attempt to help Brain Injury survivors regain confidence in their driving skills and function independently.
I was part of a team of four where we all contributed to each step of a User-Centered Design process. The initial idea was a brainchild of our teammate, Jennifer Chiu, who had a background in Therapy and consequently knew a lot about our target audience. I was involved in the generative research stage (survey creation, interviewing and data analysis) and the design of the application, right from deciding the major screens, sketching and prototyping to multiple design iterations after feedback.
OUR APPROACH AS A TEAM
Focus on Transparency and Collaboration
Since this project was part of a course we had to adhere to a strict timeline for our deliverables. All of us came from varying backgrounds including Research, Marketing, Design, and Engineering. We had to work together to produce a cohesive solution while taking advantage of our varied skills, all in the span of two months.
Trello: Our collaboration tool of choice
Most of our collaboration was remote as we lived in different parts of the city and had hectic schedules. To ensure complete transparency and ownership of tasks I suggested using Trello as our Task Manager. Looking back, I can say it worked out well for us and helped us avoid misunderstanding and delays
Using Abstract for version control
We decided to use Abstract for managing versions of our designs in Sketch which turned out to be a poor choice down the line. The tool had a learning curve for the non-technical members of our group which we did not anticipate.
Owning our domains of expertise
To ensure an end to end learning experience we ensured the involvement of each team member in every phase of the project. Even then, due to the good rapport between us, we were all able to step into leadership roles depending upon the area of expertise.
Our Trello Board and Abstract Repository
Stepping into the shoes of a Brain Injury survivor
We picked a very niche target audience by deciding to design for Brain Injury survivors. Since, none of us had any personal experience with Brain Injury we felt it was important to come up with an extensive research model to identify who our key stakeholders were.
Delving into their mental state
We started out with a survey to understand the perspective of our target audience. While structuring the survey, I placed an emphasis on including questions which highlighted the emotional response of the participant to their situation. For eg. "How do you feel when _____". We had 15 respondents most of them gleaned from Reddit. We thought Reddit to be a strong source for participants who are actively involved in the Brain Injury Awareness community and are committed to improving their lives post the injury. As an added advantage, we got responses from all over the world, not being limited to our location.
Seeking expert opinion
We also conducted semi-structured interviews with Occupational Therapists who specialized in driving after Brain Injury to understand the rehabilitation process for a Brain Injury Survivor. We discussed the emotional and physical aspects of their recovery, looking for design opportunities to improve their experience.
A unique position in the market
As a part of Competitive Analysis, we looked at other solutions available in the market for our target audience. We found a few systems that assist during driving for senior citizens and another one that targets new teenage drivers. None of the applications targetted TBI survivors or another audience with similar symptoms.
"It is difficult to find a one size fits all solution in Brain Injury as what might be helpful for one may be a distraction for another. "
- Occupational Therapist at UW
Anxiety is a recurring issue with Brain Injury Survivors
They are not necessarily anxious about their skills as drivers. They are anxious about just being in a car. Some cannot articulate the source of their anxiety - being in a car is enough cause.
Weak information retention capabilities
While their abilities to drive have not been impaired, they forget to complete tasks required to drive well. (e.g. forgetting to check their blind spot or for traffic before making a right turn at a stop light); others forget general tasks (e.g. an intended destination or once there, why they needed to be there at all).
More sensitive to distractions
We learned that anything can become a distraction, inside or outside of the car, moving or stationary. Each brain injury is different and so the source of distraction varies from person to person
Overwhelmingly, when asked why driving was important, “independence” was repeatedly a top reason. This gave us the much-needed insight into the user's psyche.
After absorbing the above insights we narrowed down our key stakeholders to Brain Injury survivors between the age of 20 - 40 and the Therapists working with them on their recovery. We created personas to guide our design decisions and priorities.
A COMPANION FOR THEIR TRIPS - SHORT OR LONG
CONSTRUCT THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
Our priority was to work towards a system to record and track recovery goals for the Brain Injury patient as well as their therapist.
We tried to remove a direct dependency on other human beings for trips and help Brain Injury survivors feel truly confident in their driving skills.
PREVENT STRESSFUL SITUATIONS
We envisioned a system which works to detect potential anxiety triggers and takes preventive measures
Messy yet productive brainstorm sessions with the team
I started sketching the shortlisted ideas for the team to go over. As the UI elements and interactions became more defined, the vision we had for our application became more tangible. We started out with a mobile application and then added the possibility of incorporating car dashboard screens to work in tandem with the application.
My sketches for the final set of ideas that we went ahead with
PAPER PROTOTYPING AND USABILITY TESTING
Putting our solution to the test
We decided to go ahead with a round of testing paper prototypes with our potential users. We hoped the usability testing process to tell us if we were headed in the right direction or not. To weed out the larger shortcomings, we created paper prototypes of our four main ideas for which we wanted specific feedback from the user.
Paper prototypes for first round of Usability Testing
A hit and some misses
The overall feedback from the testing sessions was positive and indicated that we were headed in the right direction. Our design was able to put across the mental support that we were trying to provide to our users after their injury. The testing experience also highlighted a few UI flows which the user found confusing and some more features which they would like to see.
Our solution includes a mobile application as well as the car infotainment screen to provide an end to end experience. The users i.e the brain injury patients can create a new trip on the application by providing details about the trip. Then they are prompted to start the navigation for their trip using Google Maps. During their trip, they receive visual/audio cues on the car screen with reminders to take breaks to avoid fatigue during long trips, next steps in anxious situations and calming prompts.
Even before getting out of the house, the patients can start a trip where they are prompted to fill in their intention for the trip. This information is required because Brain Injury patients often forget why they drove to a location. Using this application, they are notified about intention for the trip when they reach their destination. Also, emergency contact can be associated with each trip for situations where human assistance is required.
REDUCING COGNITIVE LOAD
Before starting their trip, the patients can associate a list from their favorite application (eg. Google Keep) to reduce the cognitive load of remembering multiple tasks associated with a trip.
AVOIDING STRESSFUL SITUATIONS
Before continuing to the Google Maps navigation, the patients are prompted with a pre-driving checklist which reminds them of the tasks they should complete before leaving for a trip. This helps avoid stressful situations like forgetting Driver's License, lack of hydration before a trip etc.
CUSTOMIZING THE EXPERIENCE
Each feature of the application is highly customizable according to personal preferences. This can be done from the Settings page. When the patient signs up, they are given an option to customize their experience or continue with the settings recommended by their Therapist.
AUDIO / VISUAL CUES DURING THE TRIP
Once the user is on their way there are many sources of distraction and anxiety. Common situations like taking a wrong turn, fatigue during driving and traffic could potentially jeopardize the trip for Brain Injury patients. Back on the road remains one step ahead by anticipating such triggers and assists the user in remaining calm using a cueing system integrated into the car screen navigation. The cues can be audio or visual based on the comfort of the user.
Yet another form of Distraction?
One aspect that we had to be careful about in our design was that we did not want our application to become yet another source of distraction for the users. To ensure this, we iterated our design to make each feature of the application highly customizable to individual needs via the Settings page.
Improvements in the Settings Page based on feedback
Enforcing the Pre Driving Checklist
This is a feature where I struggled to balance user experience with functionality. The Pre Driving Checklist is a list that is presented to the user before they start a trip. I designed the initial checklist and improved it through multiple iterations based on user feedback. The goal was to make the list relatable and readable without becoming cumbersome as it was shown before every trip.
Multiple iterations I went through for designing the pre-driving checklist
What I learned
Through working on multiple iterations for this application, I realized that the personal preferences for individuals vary and cannot be necessarily decided from Usability Testing of a small sample. It's smarter to account for as many possibilities as I can in my design.
Also, understanding the experience of a Brain Injury survivor from an outsider's perspective was a difficult task. With extensive usability testing, we were able to gauge the effectiveness of our solution. However, since each patient has their own set of symptoms and source of distractions it was difficult to aim for a single solution for every survivor. I tried to think of all of the possible scenarios and incorporate them through customizable settings in our application and hope to benefit at least a small section of the TBI population.
Given more time, I would work on incorporating the flow for our Secondary Persona (The Therapist). The therapist must be able to track the progress of his / her patients. Also, due to time constraints, we were only able to design the application with visual cues. I would flesh out the flow for audio reminders with further research and testing with patients.
During our interviews with Brain Injury patients, I was conscious not to offend our participants and was hesitant to allude to the situation of their mental health. Hence, I am interested in learning more on the etiquette of Usability testing with people having some form of physical/mental disability.