Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States, affecting almost one quarter of adults. For many people, it may be alleviated by lifestyle change. Our client was UPMC, Pittsburgh’s largest healthcare provider, and our project goal was to:

Motivate hypertension patients toward lifestyle change by improving the partnership with their clinicians

*Note: Due to a NDA with UPMC, I cannot reveal our findings or end solution. Here, I will focus mostly on our process.

As a culmination of Carnegie Mellon’s Master’s of HCI program, this 8-month capstone project involved user research, design, and development of a high fidelity technology solution. We studied patient lives, behavior change strategies, spoke with clinicians, and developed key insights and visions toward this goal. Our numerous design visions were refined to one idea, which we developed into a mobile app prototype and concept video. As the research lead, I played a key role in all research and synthesis activities and designing our prototype.

Our key findings and insights answered:

  • When can health behavior change be most successful?
  • How does personal health play a role in patient lives?
  • What is the relationship between hypertension patients and their clinicians?
  • What drives people to eat certain foods?

Project Details

January 2014 - August 2014

Completed At
Carnegie Mellon University, Capstone Project

UX Research Lead

Ayo Olubeko
Chin Wei Wong
Jennifer Morioka
Yu Ma

Methods/Skills Used
Diary Study
Home Visits
Literature Review
Competitive Analysis
Affinity Diagramming
Experience Map
Flow Model
Speed Dating
User Testing
Wizard of Oz
Low to High Fidelity Prototyping

Directed Storytelling

We recruited and interviewed over 20 patients on their interactions with clinicians, lifestyle, and triggers in diet change. We also interviewed a range of clinicians, including nurses, cardiologists and a dietician. By pulling important excerpts from those interviews, we generated content for affinity diagrams.

Behavior change is extremely personal.
Our research revealed stories of hope, but also struggle.

Studying Behavior Change

We organized our thinking around the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. This allowed us to consider a patient's current stage and how we can move them toward Action and Maintenance.

Diary Study and Home Visits

From the interviews, we gathered nine participants for a weeklong diary study. Each day they answered questions about positive activities, stressors, medication adherence, and more. They also had the chance to draw a picture of their day and take a photo based on the daily assignment.

For some of the diary study participants, we also did home visits which illuminated people’s everyday lives. It drew a picture of normal days in their home environment.

Data Synthesis

We moved into data synthesis with affinity diagrams and different modeling techniques, after completing the field discovery. We also created a hybrid flow and cultural model, personas, and customer journey models. Pulling out key findings from the affinity diagram and literature review, the tangible personas and journey models brought out empathy within our team and UPMC.

Personas (abbreviated)

Mary. A person who is aware of the action that she needs to take, but struggles to make change. She has many conditions including hypertension, diabetes, anxiety and back pain.

Jeff. He does not realize the effects of his behavior on hypertension. He takes medicine, but also smokes, drinks coffee, and eats fast food on a daily basis.

Refining 50+ visions to one idea

Using the personas, key findings, literature review, and competitive analysis, we generated over 50 design visions for the final product. Taking the twelve strongest ideas from our visioning sessions, we developed storyboards to speed date with patients. Based on feedback from the speed dating, we pulled the strongest features into two complete service design concepts for UPMC. After reviewing these concepts, UPMC selected the one with the strongest business value.


In our first round of prototyping, we used paper sketches to do scenario walkthroughs with people with hypertension. We gathered one-time feedback on the overall concept and features. Everyone responded quite enthusiastically. However, the feedback was speculative because the concept was to be an ongoing service.

Then we used the Wizard of Oz technique to simulate a messaging service in people’s daily lives. After simulating the experience for three days with six people with hypertension, the overall response was measured as quite successful and we had validated our concept.

Our product was designed to inspire patients through the different, challenging phases of behavior change.

Finally, it was time to illustrate the service by creating a high fidelity mobile prototype along with a concept video. Combining results from the first two rounds of prototyping, we developed interactive mobile app wireframes and performed usability testing. Then we refined our designs and built out the prototype. As our final solution focused on the overall service that UPMC would be providing to patients, we also developed a concept video.