Learning app usability research and behavior change design
Please note: The organization’s name has been removed and any identifying imagery has been substituted to honor a non-disclosure agreement.
A nationally recognized philanthropic fund supporting victims of sexual assault was launching a learning app that would allow communities to provide sexual assault prevention training to their members. I joined the product team as a UX researcher to assess the app’s effectiveness as behavior change intervention and to identify the potential opportunities and risks of launching the product. A high-fidelity prototype had already been designed by another team, and I led the research by conducting usability research with members of a fraternity. As sexual assault is a topic that can be tied deeply to one’s self-perception, I design the interview questions to bypass social desirability bias so that I could discover alternate drivers that may not be top of mind.
Role: UX researcher
Tools: Zoom, Miro, Otter.ai
Uncovered new scenarios that could be integrated into the app’s content strategy to increase its relevance to more people
Articulated a deeper and more nuanced picture of users’ motivations and prior experiences in learning about sexual assault prevention
Caught a crucial deterrent that would have discouraged users from engaging with the product
Writing scenarios for bystanders and confidants
Before the participants (all of whom were college-age males) engaged with the prototype, I asked them to rate their knowledge level of situations that would be considered sexual assault.
Participants generally rated themselves having a high (but not perfect) knowledge of the “red flags” of sexual assault. No one disclosed having experienced sexual assault (and I didn’t ask), but each participant shared that they had friends who have been either victims or the participant had heard “guy talk” that made them feel uncomfortable.
It is unlikely that the participants would have identified themselves as either a victim or perpetrator to a perfect stranger. However, this observation highlighted the importance of tailoring the content to multiple potential scenarios, not just the experiences of victims and perpetrators, but also bystanders and confidants, who play key roles in preventing sexual assault.
The app — participants hoped — would “remind me what I already know” and to “bring it back to my awareness” so that they would be better equipped to respond in the moment.
Don’t make it too easy, but don’t let it drag on
I then asked each participant to complete a learning module. Afterwards, I asked them to share their thoughts on the experience. Multiple participants noted that the scenarios seemed “very realistic,” but the questions being asked were very easy for the participants to guess the correct answers and “breeze through” the questions. One participant even went as far as to describe similar (required) programs that he completed in the past without fully reading because the questions were too easy.
However, the need to be challenged was also in tension with a hope that the experience wouldn’t “drag on.” For these participants, learning about sexual assault prevention was a noble “self-improvement” goal, but one that they weren’t very intrinsically motivated to develop into a habit. In the words of one participant, “It’s not the first thing I’d want to do in the morning, but I would be willing to set aside some time because it’s important.”
In comparing the app with other apps they were already familiar with, participants frequently referenced language-learning and weight loss apps like Duolingo and Noom. Both apps focus on achieving difficult goals using behavioral economics principles (like the Fogg Behavioral Model pictured above). Rather than being centered on one, single system-defined reward or competition, these experiences help users set and reflect on their own goals, change their routines, and build streaks.
This observation indicated a need for a change in the underlying game mechanics of the app, in which users would unlock badges after completing modules and could compete with other users on a leaderboard. I proposed an experience that would require more thought than a multiple choice quiz, with moments for reflection and moments for rehearsal of key concepts.
College is a fish bowl
The client also had hopes that they could drive engagement with Gen Z users by recording TikTok influencers narrating the scenarios. The prototype showed a static illustration of a person and each scenario was read aloud by a text-to-speech synthesizer. We asked the participants to imagine that it was the voice of an influencer they recognized. Users found that the audio did make the questions more engaging, but shared that they wouldn’t be comfortable playing the audio in a public setting without headphones.
This observation underscored the importance of considering how much of college life occurs in a common space where audio can be intrusive, whether that’s at a fraternity, a library, or a café. Any solution would need to default to muted audio with captioning — giving the user the freedom to turn on the audio in a setting where they felt comfortable doing so.
I presented the findings to stakeholders with the foundation, and my research is being factored into the next round of iteration.