PTSD Coach (mobile app)

Duration: 3 Weeks
Team: Me and two teammates at General Assembly
My Role: A collaborative process where I focused on user research, affinity mapping, wireframes, usability testings, iterations and the final presentation deck

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) mission is to fulfill President Lincoln's promise: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's military veterans. The VA does this by providing a myriad of service to veterans from continuing education opportunities, health and wellness counseling and a variety of other services. Specifically, their mobile development team has designed over a dozen apps that address the mental health needs of veterans.

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Coach mobile app is the VA's most downloaded app. But it does too many things, all at the same time. This makes the app challenging to navigate and impacts the user's desire to use the app repeatedly in order to help manage their symptoms.

Create a human-centered design that emphasizes the first-use experience, urgent need scenario and improves the PTSD management tools.



Step 1: VA's Published Research on PTSD Coach
The VA provided us with established research including academic peer-reviewed published material on the PTSD Coach app as well as current usage flurry data. In the research users cited a few frustrations with the current design of PTSD Coach:

Users were frustrated with the extra steps needed to access Management Tools

Users also cited the limitations of the Management Tools; citing the lack of personalization

However, the overall clear takeaway was that users of PTSD Coach were engaging with the app regularly (over 600 users were accessing the app 1 - 2 times monthly) which validated the use of smartphone apps for individuals with mental health symptoms as a tool to self-manage a part of their care. 

Step 2: Competitive and Comparative Analysis
We did a comprehensive analysis on the PTSD Coach app with others apps that focus on mental health and/or anxiety issues. Our big takeaway from our analysis was that while the PTSD Coach is the most downloaded app, it lacks the ease of use and human-centered design elements of other apps.  

Step 3: Surveys and Interviews
As a team, we created an online survey and conducted personal interviews with veterans and non-veterans with PTSD and individuals who have witnessed PTSD affect their friends/family. 

Our key findings from the surveys and interviews were:

  • Individuals with PTSD are often not seeking active help or counseling
  • Individuals with PTSD are reluctant to trust the VA due to past negative experiences with accessing resources from the organization
  • Individuals with PTSD are wary of a digital "solution" to their mental health needs

Step 4: Personas
Based on the research above, we created three personas to help define our re-design focus for PTSD Coach.

  1. Peter: a veteran who has severe PTSD and wants to manage those episodes when it happens suddenly.
  2. James: a veteran who has mild PTSD and wants to manage those symptoms regularly.
  3. Lilly: a non-veteran who experienced trauma and wants to learn more about PTSD.

Our research helped determine our focus on the following elements:

  • First Use
    We designed a new onboarding process to PTSD Coach for new users. We focused on creating a more personal and warmer "voice" for the user; moving away from overly clinical verbiage in order to gain immediate trust.  
  • Urgent Need
    We recognized that at the very minimum PTSD Coach needs to provide immediate resources and support for users with urgent need. If someone required help in alleviating their PTSD symptoms, it was important that such access be quick and easy. The current app requires 4 clicks to access emergency services; our re-design reduced that to just 2 clicks. Additionally, we focused on making it explicitly clear how to access urgent need from the home page. The current design of the PTSD Coach lacks a design hierarchy for urgent need.
  • Managing PTSD Over Time
    The most important aspect of our re-design was understanding the need to make access to the Management Tools easier and more engaging. We overhauled the tools to link them better with symptoms measurements and created a mean for users to "favorite" their favorite tools to help manage their PTSD symptoms. 


As part of the project, we were also tasked to consider future tools to be integrated into PTSD Coach; tools and skills-learning that would enhance the appeal of the app as it continues to develop. Below are some of our ideas for future iterations of PTSD Coach:


First Use Flow

Urgent Need Flow

Managing PTSD Flow