Design of a smartphone application to support young people with Asperger's syndrome
How may we support young people with Asperger’s syndrome becoming more independent and confident?
People with Aspergers’ syndrome face daily challenges because unfamiliar situations, places and people make them uncomfortable and nervous. Social life and daily activities can be truly overwhelming. That is where Remories can help. Based on principles of Narrative Therapy, Remories is a mobile companion that records, stores and surfaces positive memories of past experiences. It encourages users to work on their self-defined goals and provides timely recommendations based on users’ current well-beings. Memories are used as a motivator and coping mechanism to overcome negative thinking.
Due to the characteristics of the user group, the research focused not only on developing relevant features but also on refining the interaction modes provided by the interface.
The process followed an iterative process, with three main phases:
a) defining users’ requirements and identifying which features needed intervention: the team conducted storyboard-led interviews with two family therapists to highlight features of the design that could disengage the users. The insights were supported by desk research of online content created by people with Asperger that describe their most common issues and preferences.
b) testing of single features: usability tests were conducted with 10 students of the Peter Vadels Gade school. Initially, interaction modes were tested with unplugged activities and pen-and-papers prototypes. At the end of the project, a working prototype of the app was presented to the students and tested.
c) prototype updating: the insights collected in the previous phase were translated into design interventions and implemented in the prototype.
The research led to the definition of three design principles that guided the initial design.
- don’t distract: people with Asperger’s have trouble filtering all the signals from the environment. A minimalist design with clear typography and little animation resonated best.
- don’t shame: our users are aware of their own condition and do not want their identity to be reduced to being patients. The design of Remories should not reinforce the stigma around Asperger’s syndrome. We chose a modern graphic, that could set the app apart from other medical apps.
- don’t force: our users are sensitive to negative patterns as well as by the feeling of being pushed outside of their comfort zone or judged for not being able to do so
The iterative process led to the definition of several insights that guided the interventions in the app design.
Line of intervention 1:
Follow extreme clarity and strict logic when communicating. People with Asperger’s find it hard to understand metaphors and abstract concepts. The input and notifications of the app were rephrased with the supervision of family therapists to avoid any ambiguous or metaphorical texts. Suggestions were always offered in a non-judgemental tone and without making assumptions about users’ intentions. Meaning of abstract concepts, such as mood, were reinforced using a combination of text, colours and icons coding.
Line of intervention 2:
Embrace users’ peculiar interests. young people with Asperger’s often share a fascination for scientific topics, categorisations and codified behaviours. To increase their motivation we added an element of gamification that followed the same principles. When creating a new goal the user collect thematic badged every time they train it.