I wanted to examine why and how women track their menstrual cycles in order to uncover any design solutions that may improve their tracking experience. From my research, I found that the most common way of tracking menstrual cycles was through phone apps. Through this I created Sync; a period app that’s inclusive for people of varying ages, sexualities, and those with reproductive and other health issues.
Overall, the variance in a woman’s experience with her cycle is not encompassed in the experience of using most tracking apps. I compared twelve of the most popular period apps and found that most of them had almost all of the following issues:
The app assumed through language and imagery that the user was heterosexual.
Most apps encouraged users to track their ovulation and pregnancy, which can be emotionally difficult for women with fertility issues. A few apps don't include pregnancy or fertility, which doesn’t work for those who want to be pregnant.
Most apps didn’t consider those suffering from health or reproductive diseases.
Many women feel that their period tracking app looks childish and overtly feminine, which makes it very clear to people around them that they’ve opened up a period app.
Companies are monetizing women’s extremely personal health data.
I began my research by analyzing the features and design of twelve of the most popular period apps. The issues found most frequently were:
That the apps had limited or no tracking of symptoms.
Limited or no concept of birth control (none had a concept of Plan B).
No statistics or reports for medical assistance.
Not inclusive of all sexualities.
They were too “girly” looking.
A study that was done on the same topic at the University of Washington found that women tracked their cycle for the following reason:
To understand their body throughout their cycle.
To be prepared for their period's arrival.
To become pregnant.
To help inform their healthcare provider of how they are doing.
I created my own survey that was taken anonymously by 98 women between the ages of 22 and 50. I asked participants personal information regarding their sexual orientation, methods of birth control, and their menstrual cycle. I also asked about their tracking behaviour; why and how they track, and their personal experience with it.
51% of the participants used a digital form of tracking, and 43% specifically said they used a period app. Here are some of the tracking issues that were mentioned by my participants:
58% of participants had a reproductive disease or disorder, and noted that they had issues tracking their cycle because they can’t track their symptoms.
Wouldn't track their irregular cycles correctly.
Limited how long their period should last (limited to 8 days or less).
Feeling alienated due to either not wanting to get pregnant or not being heterosexual.
After the survey, I spoke to some participants who were interested in doing an interview with me to go a little bit deeper on their experiences. I got to learn exactly what apps and tracking methods they’ve used, specific problems with each, and how all of this impacts their lives. By the end of this I was definitely hearing a lot of the same things reiterated from each source.
I created a list of features that the app should have based on the information I gathered. The point is to allow people to have everything they need but feel included and comfortable in their experience.
Track their cycles.
Track their symptoms.
Track their medication.
Write any personal notes.
See reports and insights on what they track.
Have a very customizable settings section to help them dictate their own experience.
I then sketched out wireframes of all the major screens. I wanted to know what views a user would see when they were inputting information about their cycle. How many possibilities were there in how they can input that information? And which option works best based on the features I outlined.
The UI of this app was going to be very important since it’s something women specifically pointed out as an issue. I showed several potential users examples of colour combinations that the app could possibly have to find out what resonated with users most, since many were averse to pink, purple, and red.
I created an initial design that I felt for the most part fit what the users needed and adhered to ideas I had during the wireframing stage. However, upon further inspection and user testing some changes ended up being made.
I changed the way the calendar functioned so that users would have access to more information if they needed it in the notes/tracking area.
I changed how users would scroll through the calendar, I have fixed the days of the week to the top and you can scroll vertically rather than clicking to the next month horizontally in the original design.
I added a ‘Today’ button which would help bring users back to whatever todays date is if they navigate away.
I altered the language to be more personal and conversational.
I created a prototype and did in person user tests with all of the users I interviewed during the research phase. I had each person walk through tasks that would take them through primary sections of the app. The women I tested with were very happy with the app as a whole but had some feedback.
Pain Point #1: Some users were confused by the icons and suggested the use of different icons. I decided to add titles under the icons instead since this is a pretty standard way of solving that problem.
Pain Point #2: A couple of users were drawn to buttons I didn’t want them to press based on the tasks I was giving them. They were drawn to them because of the colour, or because they were bolded.
In the final high-fidelity mockups I made several changed according to the user testing, but I also took the opportunity to update some of the reporting to include more analysis. The previous reports didn’t give comparison points to be truly useful in the situations users said they would use them in, which is with their healthcare provider.
I loved how much research I was able to do for this project. Learning about women's varying experiences was very insightful.
I think this was a great exercise in inclusivity through design.
I’d like the opportunity to test a functional prototype with a more varying group of users so that I can ensure it is meeting the expectations I initially set out.