Let’s take a look at the two healthcare apps we built:
The medical app UI design here is clearly poles apart, and for good reason:
- Target audience: healthcare professionals/patients
- Purpose: manage clinical trials/track symptoms
- Platform: desktop / mobile
I can go on, but I’m sure you get the point. Health app design can be completely different, depending on who, why, and how uses the app and also other factors like healthcare app development budget, technology needed and more.
If you imagine all potential combinations of whos, whys, and hows, you can’t help but wonder, “Is there a way to design a healthcare app that would make everybody happy?” I’m happy to share how we do this at Topflight, working on absolutely different health apps.
- Designing an engaging, effective medical application involves both UX and UI, which work together to empower your customers and let them reach their goals faster.
- Healthcare app UI design needs to be cross-platform. When you design a healthcare app, you create software that will live in an ecosystem and eventually will span different platforms.
- Remember to always test your medical app design assumptions with a prototype by giving it to real users from your target audience.
Table of Contents:
- Critical Aspects of Health App Design
- The Best Examples of User Interface Design for Healthcare Applications
- Challenges for Healthcare Mobile App Design
- 9 Steps of Medical App UI Design Process
- Cost of Healthcare App Design
- mHealth Design Best Practices
- Our Experience in Medical App Design
Critical Aspects of Health App Design
The bad news is you can’t design a healthcare mobile app that appeals to everybody. The good news is if you genuinely know who your customers are, why they need an app, and how they are likely to use it, you’re on the right track.
Let’s quickly discuss some design fundamentals, though, before we start talking about all the things you need to consider when designing a successful healthcare app. This mini primer will help you have a constructive conversation with your app development team when working on health app UI design.
Ok, so real quick — UX and UI, despite being often used as a single term, actually mean two different things. These two things need to work together for the app design to perform as expected.
UI, or user interface, is everything the user sees in a health app.
UX, or user experience, is everything the user experiences in a health app.
They both work together because any health app is dynamic in its nature — screens transition, buttons animate, menus open, etc. It’s no wonder then that the UI influences how users feel about interacting with an app, and the UX dictates how the interface must look.
In other words, you can’t design one or the other separately. Both the UX and UI of an app emerge at the same time as you design a mobile healthcare app. However, you still need to balance the two. At Topflight, we use a user-centered design to achieve that.
The user-centered approach to designing a healthcare app implies putting your customers front and center when thinking through healthcare app design mechanics. In other words, you need to know your target audience inside out.
That’s it. I’ll get back to target audience research when we start discussing the steps of designing medical apps. Right now, we can talk about all the things that go into planning a winning healthcare app design.
Apple and Google have spoiled us with their state-of-the-art app designs. I can hardly imagine someone keeping an app with a lackluster design when there are so many alternatives.
Of course, healthcare apps are not the top category in Google Play and the App Store by any means. Still, the look-and-feel of an app plays a crucial role in how long the app will stay on the user’s device.
Here are the things you and your team will need to consider to design an esthetically pleasing healthcare application:
- logo and branding
Together, all these things need to set the right mood for customers to enjoy using your application. I won’t go into the details of the color theory and remind you how a calligraphy class taken by Steve Jobs influenced Apple’s products. There’s a lot that goes into crafting a beautiful health app.
Example: Should you use a universal cross-platform font that reads great on mobile, desktop, and other devices, or should you pick individual fonts for each platform?
Besides the pretty UI, we need a navigable user interface design for healthcare applications. As you know, to get things done in a mobile solution, we quite often need to jump between a few screens. Therefore, well-thought-out navigation helps users achieve their goals faster and makes them feel in control.
Essentially, at any given moment, users need to know where they are in the app, how they can return to a previous point, and how they can reach other app sections. Some of the options for crafting an easily navigable app include:
- hamburger menu
- tab bar
- UI cards
- gesture-based navigation
Example: How much information can we fit on this screen before moving the rest to a new screen? Can our customers accomplish the main tasks in three taps?
You can’t design a successful healthcare application without respecting the UX/UI guidelines of the platforms you target. Whether you are working on a mobile product for iOS or Android or trying to reach customers on the web, you need to take into account each platform’s design specifics and best practices.
For your health app to operate flawlessly on smartwatches, phones, tablets, desktops, and other platforms, you need to consider:
Following these guidelines ensures that your users feel comfortable working with your digital product and know what to expect based on their previous experiences in an ecosystem.
Example: Would my health app benefit from having a unified cross-platform design that would look the same on Android smartphones and iPhones?
One thing we can’t overlook with healthcare mobile app design is accessibility. By fully supporting accessibility options built into Android, iOS, WatchOS, and iPad OS, we cater to a broader, more inclusive audience and get fans for life.
Accessibility can be the default mode for your app, or it can work with the corresponding APIs to support alternative appearance and functionality optimized for people with impairment. Apple and Google have made a lot of progress to simplify making healthcare apps more inclusive and accessible.
Some of the top accessibility design strategies include:
- high-contrast colors, avoiding problematic color pairs
- data symbols in addition to colors
- support for visual and motor accessibility features in your apps
- accessibility options in notifications and complications (on Apple Watch)
- support for motion accessibility options to minimize animations, etc.
- VoiceOver, speech-to-text, captioning, etc.
A good place to start is to check the iOS accessibility guidelines and Android accessibility best practices. Note that both Apple and Google provide additional tips for enhancing your healthcare app accessibility based on your target devices.
Example: Should I integrate with an audio graph API to make charts in my mobile app available to blind and low-vision people so that they can easily read the data and navigate around it? Should I use Google’s accessibility scanner app to identify areas for improving accessibility features in my app?
Security is obviously a big deal for any healthcare software, but what does it have to do with design? Well, first and foremost, security should not stand in the way of ease of use. For example, you can force a two-factor authentication by default and make users enter an additional code every time they log into the app, or you can let them decide if they want this option on or off in settings.
Even though PHI protection is handled chiefly by developers, design and security do go hand in hand:
- do you explain password requirements explicitly?
- can customers find all security options on a single screen?
- can the app blur out confidential info by flipping their phone up and down?
- do you include PHI in notifications?
- do users understand who has access to their data?
There are actually many UI tricks you can pull when you design a medical app. For instance, you can choose to notify an admin in case there’s unusual activity registered in logs (a doctor signs in from a new device or some weird API).
Example: Do I absolutely have to put my users through a sign-up process before they discover all options in my medical app?
Just like security, performance seems to have little to do with design, right? I would agree too, but let’s imagine a patient syncing his glucose readings from a medical sensor to a mobile app. Only specific design mechanics will notify him if the sync is in progress, successful, or something went wrong.
Health data can be critical when healthcare professionals need to make a decision. Therefore, presenting such information in a way that can’t be misinterpreted is of utmost importance. For example, does a doctor immediately see that patient vitals are outdated or if some data is not being monitored in real-time?
As you can see, healthcare app UI design is critical for optimal performance:
- avoid animations that make an app stutter on older devices
- always include clear visual clues for anything critical happening in the background
- provide intelligent error notifications
Example: Should I replace the background intro video for users with a slow connection to decrease the bounce rate on my sign-up screen?
As we’ve established earlier, an app is an interactive experience rather than pretty static screens. And so it matters a ton whether it’s engaging users well enough, so they care to stick around for longer. I’m talking about simple things like screen transitions, micro animations, and pre-populated fields. These small things have a big say in whether your app will engage users or leave them apathetic.
Think about all the UI elements that need to spring to life when the user interacts with them:
- automatic keyboard layout adjustment (no need to letters when entering a PIN)
- cohesive screen transitions
- 3-tap rule to do anything
- haptic feedback
If you think about other ways to strengthen the emotional connection with your customers, positive reinforcement may come to mind. On-screen prompts that encourage the user to take the next step can go a long way.
Example: Will my patients appreciate inputting health data by using a slider instead of using a keyboard?
Finally, make your health mobile app design feel personal. It’s like this huge-huge overarching trend in the software and technology industries right now.
What can you do to tailor the app’s look & feel to each customer?
- design customizable widgets for the home screen
- support dark mode
- display their name
- adjust tappable UI elements based on their age
- optimize for the left or right hand
Your imagination and knowledge about the target audience is the only limit when it comes to personalization. Remember that your goal here is to help them achieve their goals faster and feel great about it. No need for gimmicking.
Example: Does it make sense to let my users adjust what they want to see on the main screen? Do I turn on the dark mode according to the phone settings or let them manually toggle it on and off?
The Best Examples of User Interface Design for Healthcare Applications
Design can be very subjective. When you design a health app, you should base your valuation on the target audience’s perception, not your personal preferences. I mean, how can you pick the best medical mobile app design? It’s up to patients, doctors, and other people, using medical applications, to decide, right?
I suggest we do the following. I’ll present a few healthcare apps that have won design awards and a top-ranking medical app and share my observations based on a blitz analysis, ok?
2021 Apple Design Awards
BeMyEyes connects blind people with volunteers who help them with their daily tasks by providing visual assistance.
- minimum buttons and visual clues
- large buttons are texts
- interactive how-to guide with a simulated user experience
COVID Screener is a SaaS consisting of a mobile app for customers and a web portal for businesses. The software helps companies to set up a private contact-tracing app and automate contact-tracing.
- progressive web app (works via a mobile web browser)
- effective use of colors to communicate screening results
- minimalistic WYSIWYG editor for businesses to tailor their screener
Medical Design Excellence Awards 2021
Digihaler is an IoT medical app that works with an inhaler to measure and record inspiratory flow rate with each inhalation, share it with doctors, and inform patients about the weather, air quality, and pollen.
- main screen packs a lot of info without overloading users with details
- consistent navigation pattern
- at-a-glance intuitive reports
Related: Telemedicine App Development Guide
iF DESIGN AWARD 2021
Suntory+ helps companies encourage their employees to adopt healthy habits naturally, which leads to reduced medical expenses.
- rich iconography
- positive reinforcement
- visualization of acquired habits
UX Design Awards 2021
Velieve is another IoT health app that connects with a urinary tract infection kit unit and provides remote urine testing.
- chatbot UI interface
- super minimalistic design
- relaxing color palette
Top-Ranking healthcare app
GoodRx is a popular app for buying prescription drugs at a discount.
- vibrant, engaging colors
- flat design
- traditional navigation to appeal to a broad audience
Challenges for Healthcare Mobile App Design
What are some challenges you may run into when you design a health app? Let me list a few and suggest potential workarounds.
How to serve a vast audience with one design?
Some medical solutions, for example, apps like GoodRx, need to cater to huge audiences. So how do they manage to keep their designs ubiquitous?
- Well, first of all, you can allow people to customize their main screen and provide other means for personalization, such as favorites, saves searches, etc.
- Then, think about using neutral colors.
- Finally, build separate apps if the user roles are bipolar, like patients and doctors.
Does skeuomorphism have a second chance?
Skeuomorphism is when a digital UI tries to mimic real-life objects. Imagine a pill reminder app featuring a pill bottle with vanishing pills as the patient marks another intake.
This doesn’t always have to be a great idea because Apple long ago trumped skeuomorphic iOS and even fired Scott Forstall (their ex-head of mobile software), who was the initiator of the changes.
- if you target seniors, use it
- if you don’t, then don’t use it or double-test before applying
Too high a cost of mistake?
How do you test a healthcare application and ensure it’s working properly if a single mistake may cause intolerable consequences? For instance, a remote patient monitoring app for glucose readings stops sending data — what do you do?
- include additional visual keys for non-working features
- account for designing all states of the system
9 Steps of Medical App UI Design Process
Now we’ve come to the core of healthcare UX/UI design. We’ll need to go through the following steps to come up with an engaging and visually appealing healthcare app:
- research your target audience
- research your competitors
- Prepare a lean canvas
- work on user stories, and user flows
- design low-fidelity mock-ups and iterate on them
- design high-fidelity mock-ups and iterate on them
- build an interactive prototype using high-fidelity mocks
- test the prototype and iterate on it
- finalize the prototype and prepare design assets for building mhealth apps
As you can see, there are only 9 steps, and they are pretty straightforward. Let’s discuss the activities taking place during each step to better understand the medical UI/UX design process.
1. Research your target audience
The first step is to do your homework and find out everything about your customers and their needs. The more information you have, the better your medical app will be designed. It’s great to understand users’ context of using a mobile product: when during the day and why they use it, etc.
Let me give you an example: if you know that your patients always interact with apps with one hand while holding their phone in the other hand, you’ve done an excellent job.
While uncovering more and more details about your customers, you’ll end up with a customer persona — a virtual representation of the perfect user, with all the traits you’ve been able to discover.
2. Research your competitors
The next step is to research other healthcare apps that already serve existing customer needs. Read reviews on their apps in mobile stores, install and play with their solutions to spot missed opportunities and ideas worth borrowing.
3. Prepare a lean canvas
Once you’ve done target audience and competitor research, you’ll need to create a lean canvas — a 1-page business model outlining, among other things:
- key metrics
- unique value proposition
If you’re working with a healthcare app design agency like Topflight, that’s a good step to engage them and use their feedback to support your progress with a technology acumen.
The UX/UI design does go hand in hand with actual app development, so it’s better to bring on the technology expertise early on and find out how different technologies can limit or propel your healthcare app ideas.
4. Work on user stories and user flows
With the lean canvas ready, you can proceed to map out the primary health app features. One way to do this is to work on user stories (what tasks will the user complete?) and user flows (how does the user progress from one task to another?). Think of this step as a list of features/tasks interconnected with arrows.
5. Design low-fidelity mock-ups
Up to this step, all you have is texts and maybe abstract empty screen sketches. And now it’s this magical moment when UX/UI designers turn this text-based concept into visual design. They mostly start by drawing black and white UI for the main screens.
All you need to do at this step is make sure that the lo-fi mocks accurately represent your concept.
6. Design high-fidelity mock-ups
From lo-fi-designed screens, we proceed to put together high-fidelity screens — the ones customers will actually interact with in the live application.
At Topflight, we also involve lead mobile developers at this stage to verify designs from the technical point of view:
- does the design conform to the iOS/Android UI/UX guidelines?
- is it feasible to implement using existing developer tools?
- how will such a design affect the performance of the application?
If the application deals with PHI, we would also have our HIPAA compliance specialists take a look at it and make recommendations.
The artifact of this step is fully designed app screens, including all complementary sections like settings and others.
7. Build an interactive prototype
The prototype phase is the most fun — designers create an interactive prototype using high-fidelity mocks. In essence, they map interactive UI elements on the screens and link them to other screens. As a result, you can jump from one screen to another or interact with on-screen menus by “pressing” buttons and icons.
Thanks to a prototype, you get to interact with your app as if it’s been already developed, when in fact, it’s only been designed.
8. Test the prototype
Testing the prototype is the scariest moment of the whole medical app design process. Services like usertesting.com allow selecting test users that best represent your target audience, and you’ll get to see if your design does what it’s supposed to do.
It’s worth noting that you can receive feedback as a video feed, comments, or via a survey. For example, if you want to develop a women’s health tracking app, make sure you can actually sit on a call and gather live feedback because it’s precious.
We often find that an initial interactive prototype needs at least a round of iteration before it becomes really intuitive for test users.
9. Finalize the prototype and prepare design assets for the health app development
Finally, after the feedback has been incorporated into the prototype and tested one more time, your health mobile app design is ready. One minor step left is to hand over the design to developers. You see, to build a mobile health app, developers will need several sets of screens in different resolutions, fully marked up and explained via comments. Use tools like Zeplin or Avocode to do that.
If you’ve followed all the steps, you should now have a ready design for a healthcare app that has the most potential for generating traction after it’s built and released.
5. Cost of Healthcare App Design
The cost of designing a healthcare app may range from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on:
- how many screens your mobile/web software includes
- whether your audience benefits more from a custom or default UX/UI
- whether you can reuse some design elements between platforms
You can find out more about our approach to design on the rapid prototyping page.
6. mHealth Design Best Practices
Now that you know a few things about healthcare app UI/UX design, let’s review a couple of best practices to help you create successful healthcare software.
- avoid combining the doctor and patient UI into a single app — makes it cumbersome, potentially can slog performance, which is part of the UI
- apply 3-tap design strategy with care — users don’t always need to perform any action within 3 taps; sometimes popular apps bury important options, e.g., to make it harder for users to turn off notifications
- add contextual help tips throughout the UI and add an option to turn that off
- don’t use more than 5 bottom tabs because that makes navigation harder
- account for how the app will look on tablets, smartwatches, and other devices
- consider implementing a landscape mode if you need to display horizontal charts
- include the dark theme
- support brand-new features like Siri shortcuts, app shortcuts for quick actions, and force touch for specific actions
- consider implementing a voice-based interface
- remember about the empty-state screens and make them as informative as possible
- minimize the input required from users with default placeholders for fields; adjust keyboard depending on the type of field the user needs to fill
- keep all critical notifications in a separate window; users should not lose notifications (even after they discard a notification from outside the app)
- go to the accessibility settings, turn on different options and see what your app looks like to understand how you can adjust it to provide a more inclusive experience for your audience
- use native development tools from Apple and Google to get fine-grained controls over accessibility options unattainable with cross-platform development frameworks
My final advice for designing stunning mobile and web experiences for healthcare applications is to think outside the box. For example, will your customers benefit from zero onboarding when you take them straight into the app without sign-up?
Or imagine a telemedicine app that automatically records video calls, shares them with patients, and provides an AI-driven summary of a conversation in writing once a call has finished. The same telemedicine app can automatically mute your mic when you’re not speaking.
Finally, look at other successful apps and see if you can repurpose their innovative design mechanics for your medical solution. For example, the pull to refresh gesture — so common in modern apps — was introduced by Twitter.
I know of a mobile app project where they tried to replace the onboarding survey with Tinder-like yes-no swipes. If you see an engaging design strategy in one app, think about how that can work in your health app, then let professionals carve it out and test it with real users.
Our Experience in Medical App Design
At Topflight, we’ve been fortunate to work on all sorts of mobile and web healthcare app designs. Some of the projects required relying solely on Apple and Google’s stock UI/UX libraries. On others, we had more flexibility to appeal to the audience.
Let me just reference a couple of health app design samples that I admire and which got a big thumbs up from customers:
Remote patient monitoring app — part of a large patient registry project.
Clinic’s portal for remote patient management (case study is coming soon).
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I move faster through the design phase of app development?
The Agile approach with short iterations should work just fine.
How long does it take to design a healthcare mobile app?
From 1 to 2 months.
How do I keep a leash on the designer's creativity?
Google’s Material Design and Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines.
What do you recommend for prototyping and user testing app design prototypes?
Invision and usertesting.com
What tools can I use for handing over medical mobile app design to development?
Zeplin, Figma, Bit, Sketch, etc.
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