Behind the scenes at PatientsLikeMe! Take a peek at user research (aka usability testing)

Posted February 7th, 2018 by

Have you noticed changes on PatientsLikeMe in the past year? (We’re guessing you’ve spotted quite a few.) Did you know that we involve members in testing out various features or updates to the site before rolling them out? We do!

Member Barbara’s user research session with Kris Engdahl, principal user researcher (left), and Nicole Barron, UX designer (right)

On any given Thursday at PatientsLikeMe, there’s a good chance that Kris Engdahl is leading “user research” (aka “design research” or “usability testing”) sessions with members. Kris is our principal user researcher, and she works with PatiensLikeMe user experience (“UX”) designers and product managers to get member feedback on our website and product design.

In 2017, more than 70 members participated in testing the PatientsLikeMe website, mobile apps and aspects of the member experience. Sessions usually take place over speakerphone, sometimes with screen-sharing so that Kris and a small group of PatientsLikeMe designers and/or product managers can watch a member “test drive” a particular web page or feature that’s in development.

“When members volunteer to participate in a [usability] study, they are helping us find problems in a design before we unleash it on the world,” Kris says. “They perform a real service for the PatientsLikeMe community.”

On a recent Thursday with eight (30-minute) testing sessions on the docket, two members let us sit in for a look at how the sessions go.

First up: Bill

Bill (bill_stearns) is living with major depressive disorder (MDD) and multiple autoimmune conditions.

“Everything you say is right,” Kris says, kicking off the session. “Don’t hold back.”

Bill notes up front that he’s worked in the IT field for a while (as a systems software developer), so he’s not the average user.

“Usability testing has been my life,” he says. “I learned a long time ago that what was usable for a geek like me might not pass a laymen’s test.”

He looks over the web page (a prototype of the one that’s being designed), and Kris asks him to walk through how he’d use the page. Is it clear overall? Do the sections and buttons make sense? Is anything in the way? The prototype is sort of a “kitchen sink” model with a lot of different boxes or sections on the page, so Kris asks Bill which three boxes he finds most useful. His feedback (and other testers’) is compiled so that our UX designers can spot trends and understand member perspectives.

We followed up with Bill to ask him why he wanted to take part in user testing. “I think PatientsLikeMe is a great application of modern information technologies and has the potential to benefit everybody,” he says. “Whatever I can offer PLM, whether my personal medical data or my other expertise, makes me a part of something bigger than myself, and that gives me satisfaction that I make a difference.”

Next up: Barbara

Barbara (Beau10), pictured above, is living with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS). She has never worked in the IT field or participated in usability testing. She’s a former K-12 special education teacher.

“Walk me through what you see — what you’d use,” Kris says, as Barbara takes her first look at the prototype webpage.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that, if I look at all of this [the page as a whole], I get overwhelmed,” Barbara says. “I like that, by grouping things like this [with different boxes with subheads in the prototype], I don’t get cognitively overwhelmed. When that happens, I click off a page.”

Because some health conditions — including neurological disorders like MS — can cause cognitive or visual symptoms, perspectives like Barbara’s are very important.

We followed up with Barbara and asked her what she’d like to happen with her feedback. “My hope for my input in the usability testing is that the organization of the page will be simple and easy for people to navigate on their own without help from others,” she says.

More about Kris: PatientsLikeMe’s user research expert

Kris has a master’s degree in Human Factors in Informational Design and has been working in the user research field for decades, starting back in the days where tests were always conducted through a one-way mirror. She has conducted usability research for everything from business intelligence tools to medical devices, including at-home kidney dialysis machines and insulin pumps.

At PatientsLikeMe, Kris is leading design research on a website with 600,000 members with 2,700 different health conditions.

“Understanding our members is key to our ability to make the site work as well as it possibly can for members,” Kris says. “The better we understand how members approach the site, and the more we see how well our designs work (or not) for our members, the better we can design in a way that supports member goals. Without our members’ input, we would very likely guess wrong about what they need.”

Member feedback matters

We’re always interested in hearing feedback from our members, and the Community Team is listening. The moderators notice when members provide feedback in the forums and let the other teams here at PatientsLikeMe know what you’re saying about your experience on the site. Community Moderator Sarah Lembke works with Kris and the Product Team to find members with a variety of health conditions to participate in user research. Depending on the particular usability study, we may be seeking newer members or longtime members, or people with Androids vs. iPhones, or a mix!

If you’re a member of PatientsLikeMe and are interested in participating in usability testing, drop us an email at interviews@patientslikeme.com.

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