A mobile application that empowers people to manage their unique menopause experience through personalized data visualizations, curated content, and lifestyle tips.
Project Roles: During the research phase, I designed and co-led the participatory workshop, and moderated expert interviews and semi-structured interviews. In the design phase, I created hi-fi prototypes and the product video.
How might we empower people to manage their unique menopausal experience through body literacy?
"An estimated 6,000 US women reach menopause every day.
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Menopause affects half of the world’s population; it can cause hot flashes, insomnia, weight fluctuations, and other uncomfortable experiences, and these biological changes can last for up to ten years. Menopause also occurs at a time where people are experiencing life changes such as children moving out of their homes to love ones requiring end-of-life care. Amidst all of these changes, menopause is a frequently stereotyped, sensitive, and taboo topic, which has rendered it relatively under-supported in today’s society
Menopause is a normal and natural phase of life that people go through. By medicalizing menopause, we generalized the experience and create an expectation that treatment is needed. Like puberty, menopause is a natural transition that varies among people.
Because we consider menopause a natural phase of life, we avoid using the word “symptoms” and use “signals” instead, as in a signal from your body that you are experiencing menopause.
Vera helps you learn about your unique menopause experience through data visualization, personalized resources, and lifestyle tips. By equipping yourself with knowledge, you can manage your menopause and make informed decisions about your body.
By tracking menopausal signals and other metrics, you can externalize what is happening inside your body and manage your signals.
Reflect on your experience and explore your body through
data visualizations to review, compare, and predict your menopause timeline.
Through engagement with personalized resources, you can discover tips, articles, or facts that are relevant to your unique experience.
Menopause goes beyond what can be tracked day-to-day. Vera has an assessment feature where you can complete short questionnaires about your lifestyle.
We started off our project with a literature review to see what research has already been done on menopause and to find out where research on menopause is lacking.
There is limited research on female bodies because of the “taboo” nature of sexuality and reproductive health. Cultural, generational, and societal context can have a significant impact on a person’s menopausal experience.
Expectations + Knowledge
Most people felt unprepared for menopause because they often felt uninformed about their biological changes. A mismatch can also exist between a person's expectations and realities which can influence their views on menopause.
There are various attitudes among menopausal people; from people who reactively address their biological changes to those whose signals caused them distress to people with positive outlooks.
"There’s a lot of confusion about what treatments work and what’s a normal experience."
- Dr. Katherine Guthrie, Member
Public Sciences Division, Fred Hutch
We then interviewed experts from various fields to better understand menopause from different cultural, medical, and support community perspectives. Our goals were to understand the three themes that emerged from our literature review.
There are a variety of menopausal experiences since signals can be diverse in nature and severity.
Menopause research is often devalued because it is a quality of life issue and is considered non-life-threatening.
In Western cultures, menopause is attributed to aging and loss of femininity which can lead to stereotypes.
When a person enters menopause in a physically and mentally healthy state, they can improve their menopause experience.
"I don’t see it as an issue of singularity. It’s a part of a bigger issue of women’s health..." - P4
In our initial round of semi-structured interviews, we spoke with six women experiencing menopause. We wanted to gain an understanding of their menopausal experience and how it has impacted their lives; from work to relationships to self-image.
"I will say that I learned that there are phases to it. So what I’m going through now feels like the world is going to end, but that there is some light at the end of the tunnel." - W4
In our first round of semi-structured interviews, we focused on personal experiences. We now wanted to harness the collective mindset of menopausal people and empower them to have an honest discussion about their signals. In order to accomplish this, we held a participatory design workshop with eight women. We moderated three activities and conducted the workshop in two and a half hours.
Letter to Pre-menopausal Self
We asked each participant to write a letter to their premenopausal self.
We used the letter to start a group conversation about menopause.
The participants created an affinity diagram and organized their menopausal experience into five categories: health, relationships, who am I, public life, and other.
During the sticker activity, we were surprised at the results because on an individual level people wanted their signals alleviated, while on a collective level they felt that the menopausal community could benefit from more support and treatment. This observation helped us decide to continue interviewing menopausal people for our second round of semi-structured interviews. We felt that there were richer design opportunities with people experiencing menopause since signals directly and indirectly affected them. However, our final design concept may have cascading effects on secondary stakeholders such as premenopausal people, family members, or coworkers.
"Slightly positive, you know, my feelings are not negative anymore. I’m past denial. I’m in acceptance because I feel like I'm taking steps and I'm hoping that they will address the issues that bother me"- P9
For our second round of semi-structured interviews, we wanted to understand a menopausal person's behavioral and attitudinal responses to their biological changes. Additionally, we wanted to see how information and support influence each person’s behavior and attitudes towards menopause.
To better comprehend our data more thoroughly, we dug through our data via manual transcription and coding. In order to see emerging themes, we created a matrix of our 85 coding categories.
From our data synthesis, we came up with four insights and applied our design principles to them.
We also created a comprehensive research report detailing our research methods, insights, data synthesis, and opportunity spaces.
Each experience is different.
“Oh, you’ll have all these various symptoms that might be generally true but it’s really unique and the severity, the frequency, all those things can be really unique to a person.” - W3
Menopause is variable between individuals, making it difficult to identify a “typical experience.” Current scientific research is also limited, which contributes to the challenges of what is "normal".
People don't know what to expect.
“I wish someone (a doctor or any educated person) would have told me what I would (or could) experience later in the menopause state.” - W7
Since there are no clear expectations of menopause, people often feel uncertain about “the Change". There is a lack of clarity around menopause timelines and what to expect before, during, and afterwards. This mismatch between expectations and realities can lead to frustration or isolation.
Women are silently enduring menopause.
“So it’s just like what women do we suffer in silence.” - P4
Menopause is a quality of life issue aging people are expected to silently endure, so there is a lack of interest in creating a broader discussion about it. When people do share their experiences with others, they discover relief through acknowledgment and information exchange.
Body literacy creates agency.
“I’ve educated myself about it and I feel like I’m armed a bit more.” - P8
People can feel a greater sense of control through understanding their body’s behaviors, because when they can attribute a biological change to menopause, they can a) seek appropriate resources and treatments, and b) manage its effect on their self image and social responsibilities.
After 10 weeks of iterative research, we took what we learned and created 100 concepts. We went as broad as possible; from speculative designs such as a Google Map inspired exploration of the female body to the quirky idea of a meno-gotchi to more conventional concepts such as a heat-sensing wearable.
"It's helpful knowing that there’s a community going through the same thing and how they cope with menopause." - M4
We narrowed down our concepts to four possible design directions. Each concept explored a different opportunity space within menopause: support from community, alleviating discomfort from signals, or personalized resources.
We then interviewed five women for feedback on each concept.
A menopause lifestyle website personalized to each visitor based on a questionnaire about their menopausal experience.
A paid subscription service that provides personalized products to menopausal individuals.
A website where a person can host or attend an menopause-related event.
A smart bra that can cool a person down during a hot flash. Paired with an app to visualize hot flash patterns.
Existing Support Systems
There was a preference among all of our users to talk to existing support systems rather than to strangers.
Relief from Signals
Most users reacted strongly to the idea of a smart bra because of the relief from hot flashes.
All users sought out coping strategies or information on their signals.
"Tracking is probably the reason why I'm opening the app." - L5
For the second round of usability testing, we decided to combine different aspects of our five concepts into a mobile app that personalizes and curates content to each person’s unique menopause experience.
Through our user research and initial round of prototype testing, it became clear to us that tangible and actionable information is a coping strategy for a majority of menopausal people. Therefore, we wanted to create a design response that gave menopausal people personalized information that they can choose to act upon.
We tested this concept with five more people to understand what their motivations and goals would be if they used Vera.
Users appreciated community comparisons which helped validate their menopause experience.
Among all of our users, there was a strong preference for data and content that was scannable.
Users were excited by the sense of control that the data tracking provided them.
“That’s cool, you want to see where you are. It’s human nature, you want to see how do I compare to everyone else.” - H1
Using what we learned from our first and second rounds of user testing, we decided to prioritize data visualizations which would be supplemented by personalized resources. We then created hi-fi prototypes and tested the interactions of Vera with five additional users.
Direct + Clear
Be mindful of the tone, visuals, and diction we used throughout Vera - is it direct, friendly, and clear?
Improve Data Visualizations
Better coloring and labeling on graphs to help users understand data visualizations
Our UI Spec highlights Vera’s visual design system and mobile app specification.
Throughout the creation of Vera, I learned the importance of interpersonal skills and the role they play in the design process. The ability to observe and empathize with our users was important, especially during our research phase. Menopause can be an uncomfortable and sensitive topic. Therefore, it was important for me to be mindful of cross-cultural differences and the taboo surrounding menopause. I quickly learned to be observant of our participants’ tone and body language throughout our design process.
When I first started this project, I did not realize that menopause was such a complex, political, and sensitive topic. However, it became clear throughout the course of the project that menopause and aging women have been continually devalued in modern society, especially in design and technology. Although, we only had the opportunity to speak to cisgender women, we recognize there is a strong need for more gender-inclusive designs.
In future iterations of Vera, I would like to collaborate with organizations that work with women of color, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and the transgender community.