ux research and design  |  august 2020

some project context

Through my CareerFoundry course, I was tasked with developing the UX design for a “general flashcard app”. Thanks to my mentor and tutor I was encouraged to add a little more flavor to this prompt with some out of the box thinking and problem solving. Having been a college student not too long ago, I was aware of the popular study apps that dominate the market. While reliving my undergrad seemed like a preferable place to start, I figured it might be better to ask a few current students for a more relevant opinion. After all, as much as I hate to admit it, I have been out of the Uni game for 2 years (*quarter life crisis level : unlocked*). Luckily enough, I have many ambitious friends that are medical students or in a health related profession. So I asked them what study apps they use and despite being in different fields, they all gave me the same answer :

A surprising revelation to say the least. I figured there would be some sort of dependable, special resource unbeknownst to us non-doctor folk. But what would 2020 be without further disappointment? Alas, this was not the case but my friends didn’t leave me completely lost. There were a few apps they occasionally used but overall felt rather “meh” over.  Taking to the app store and employing the power of Google, I leafed through their suggestions and discovered a few more apps. And sure enough these products were … lacking. ​Through my research and the complaints of my stressed out doctor friends, I found there is a true gap in the market. There are already a ton of general study apps targeting a broad audience. Typically short term users looking for quick productivity (i.e. Quizlet). Those products do their job well. But for a niche and specialized audience like healthcare students, looking to solve their long-term study woes, the selection falls short. They’re left with too many third party apps that are riddled with usability errors and bad UX. Discovering this early on, provided me with a more focused direction and the potential to appeal to a large, yet specific audience. And with that I was on my way to developing an improved tool that wouldn’t get lost in an already saturated market. Let’s dive in. 

competitive analysis

Once I had a more specified prompt, I began organizing these apps into a Competitive Analysis. First, to gauge what products already existed and second to review what they do successfully and unsuccessfully. While the overwhelming consensus was that study apps needed to be improved, there are certain aspects about them that students have adopted into their study routine and use occasionally. I wanted to better understand those solutions and adopt their positive features for my own product.

I identified three study apps that were medically focused and would be my main competitors. I found that while they had good premises, they all shared common downfalls: Visual Execution, Information Architecture, and Basic Functionality.​

The actual information provided in these apps seemed incredibly useful. However, their inability to function properly or provide an elegant interface unfortunately renders them undependable. After all, The cardinal rule is usability + utility = useful. And one without the other will cost you. However, there’s still lots of positives that can be found in these tools that are worth noting. If you’d like to read the full nitty gritty, check out my full analysis below.


While the discovery of a market gap is exciting, it presents an additional challenge. I only had “bad” examples to take inspiration from. While these options presented me with good cases of what doesn’t work, it didn’t give me any additional hints of what does. I knew I would have to ask strategic questions during research to get a better idea of what students were looking for. 

User research

While the spark for my project began in casual conversation with friends. I needed to pick their brain further in a more sterilized environment.  So official user research began. Since I was able to discuss student views prior to this point and had experienced these apps first hand, I had a really good idea of what I wanted to delve into further. Composing a script, I conducted three separate interviews with three students in a medical related field that requires at least two years of schooling. I was able to really dive deep with my participants and get a better understanding to the routines and strategies they have regarding their studies.While I did get expected information on my participants’ schedules and habits. My interviews gave me unexpected insights to the high emotions experienced when dealing with stress and a huge workload. They also gave me more detailed explanations as to why they do or don’t utilize study apps. I uncovered lots of great feedback on user behaviors as well as personal confirmation that I would not last a day in med school.  Check out my most stand out feedback below: 


Students have been in school for 18+ years. They’ve developed a routine they don’t want to change. They want a tool that compliments that routine. 

are under

What they learn will directly affect someone’s life in the future. Studying and retaining the right info is a lot to handle.


Most students only use flashcard decks that were made by someone else. But sometimes these decks are wrong and have led to failing grades. 

time is

Students feel a sense of guilt when they are not utilizing their free time in a “productive” manner.


After my interviews, I felt I had a good grasp on what my users were looking for. As well as solid insight on what a successful study product would look like. However, this feedback made me take a step back and rethink my frame of mind. Before my research, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, thinking I needed to set out to develop the most cutting edge study app of my generation. But alas, this was not the case. Without realizing it I was actively uncovering my hidden bias. Recognizing that and instead listening to my participants was key, so I could go forward in developing a product that would be actually useful for them. A classic Occam’s Razor situation, that keeping things simple is often the best way to go.


After my interviews, I was able to start deciphering my findings from my participants and research. This breakdown is typically illustrated in the form of a User Persona. Crafting a persona is important because it gives you a chance to reflect on your research and formulate what exactly your user wants and needs. Combining characteristics that illustrate an actual human, one that I can rally around for the remainder of the project. Personas allow me to empathize with users, ensuring that I’m always keeping them the #1 priority in the development of my product.  

This time I ended up creating Laura. a compassionate nursing student that wants to be as prepared as possible to enter the field. When I combed over my notes with fresh eyes, I was able to break my insights down into more bite sized pieces with user and job stories through Laura’s POV. As well as solidifying my problem and hypothesis statement.


Laura needs a way to review and study her notes during differing times of day because she has a very busy, unpredictable schedule that is mentally demanding with brief moments of rest. I will know this to be true when we see that Laura can use the study tool in small, relaxed sessions as well as in deep, thorough study review.


Laura needs a way to review and study her notes during differing times of day because she has a very busy, unpredictable schedule that is mentally demanding with brief moments of rest. I will know this to be true when we see that Laura can use the study tool in small, relaxed sessions as well as in deep, thorough study review.

information architecture

Based on my user and job stories, I brainstormed what features the app should have and which should be developed first. I drummed up a few solutions for Laura :

Before I started building out any feature, I needed to nail down the User Flow (WTF?!) to make sure I was providing an experience that is as simplified and intuitive as possible. I started organizing the assumed paths Laura would take by creating a Task Analysis. Once I created a sensical order of steps, I edited my lists down. Eliminating tasks that were unnecessary to the experience to take work off of Laura and create a more direct path.  

I then converted my Task Analysis’s into User Flows which illustrated the ideal paths for her as a new and returning user. I chose to focus my flow energy into the two features I believed would need the most work over the course of the project: the full card layout and deck review ratings.

wireframes & prototypes

Once I had organized my thoughts and created an experience that was sensical and simple, I was able to start bringing my visions to life. My product was finally starting to become a tangible asset and much easier to envision! I started by sketching my flows on paper to create a low-fidelity prototype. My main concern was brain dumping on paper so my ideas were recorded and I wouldn’t forget anything. Once I had my most pertinent thoughts recorded, I quickly took to the computer to move into mid-fidelity wireframes.

Since this project focuses mainly on the UX research and the Design Thinking Process; I wanted to make sure I was setting my wireframes up to test the success of my hypothesized features. I felt in this specific situation, low-fidelity wireframes would have been distracting or confusing for testers as sketches are sometimes messy. I was aiming for my prototype to be as clean and clear as possible.


As a designer that specializes in UI and Visual Design, I assumed UX prototyping would be a similar beast. While some of my related skills certainly transfer over, UX prototyping is a category all its own with delicate nuances. Prior to this step, I falsely assumed that having the highest fidelity possible would be valuable to user testing. However, this is not the case. When the interface is too realized, too soon; participants and stakeholders focus on visual critique rather than UX. It was here that I learned I would need to scale back my wireframes to better reflect an early stage as to not signify a final solution with my prototype. Finding the perfect middle ground is a challenge all it’s own.

Having experienced paper prototypes and recognizing their benefits, I still felt that a higher fidelity approach was more appropriate. In an effort to scale back too much sophistication, I aimed to design in a monochromatic scheme, create placeholders for images/icons, and keep the layout minimalistic.

Check out my first prototype and try your hand at accessing the Full Card Layout and Class Review System:

user testing

Like my interviews, testing was conducted with three students in a health related profession. The session script revolved around testing my most important features. My sessions lasted around 10 minutes, asking participants to complete 4 scenario tasks.

Overall, testing this round was really positive but I did run into a universal problem. There was general confusion surrounding the rating system and its purpose. Some were unsure if the rating was a review like I had initially designed or if it was a score the user received from getting flashcards right or wrong. On top of that, the rating system was hard to access. I had assumed that it would be an intuitive response for users to click on the stars, but I found this to be the opposite. Users wanted a button signifying that additional info could be accessed.

The other scenario tasks were completed without any difficulty and I received great feedback on how to improve these features further. Once testing concluded, I ranked my findings by Jakob Nielsen’s Severity Rating Scale and organized my findings into a test report.


It was difficult maintaining patience during the test. It was tempting to rush to participants side to help them complete difficult tasks or provide explanations for certain decisions. As humans it’s in our nature to try and fill silence to combat awkwardness. But remaining mum will encourage participants to fill that silence instead, perhaps giving me additional information that I couldn’t have sniffed out with constant babble. In the future, I will need to remind myself that simply watching and waiting will yield valuable insight. When I allow my participant to fully explore the prototype without help, I can see where their mental models and intuitive paths lie.

next steps

Next steps would include revising the prototype based on the feedback I received in the test report. Keep improving the prototypes by creating more advanced interfaces as I implement more key features. The next stage should be focused on designing and testing the onboarding process, the flashcard maker, and the admin page. I plan on taking a smaller group approach with my testing. By surveying at every design and revision stage with 3-5 users. This should better catch errors and work out the kinks.


UX design is not about being perfect. Whether your hypothesis was plausible or not does not chalk up to a success or a failure. Instead, any critique is an additional step that helps form your final product.