Designed and conducted a serial of user research on a new form of therapy, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, to help people quit smoking and increase product engagement.

Client: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center       
Time: January – August 2016

Role: Lead User Experience Researcher

How I started to work with Fred Hutch

The Tobacco & Health Behavior Science Research Group, led by Jonathan Bricker, is revamping a smoking cessation app called SmartQuit. SmartQuit is an evidence-based smoking cessation program that is proofed to be four times more effective than alternative programs.

I started to work with Fred Hutch near the end of 2015. I worked under professor Julie Kientz from Human Centered Design & Engineering, University of Washington, with three other student user research peers from HCDE. We conducted user research activities that supported the development of SmartQuit, as well as some self-generated research that we considered important to the project.

Our research activities included:

  1. Focus group discussion
  • Background: The intention was to get an overall impression from users of the new features that the Fred Hutch team planned to add to the app.
  • My main contribution: Wrote focus group guide. Moderator.
  • Link to the report
  1. Prototype concept testing (with Apple beta app testing tool, and Mixpanel)
  • Background: The UX team came up with two kinds of prototypes, we wanted to know which one was more engaging over time.
  • My main contribution: Wrote report.
  • Link to the report
  1. User interviews
  1. User research report
  • Background: We summarized all the primary and secondary research we conducted throughout the two quarters. The goal was to present it to the UX designers and let them know the design implications of our research findings.
  • Link to the report


I was moderating the focus group discussion

Hired as the official app user experience researcher

In May 2016, Dr. Bricker decided to recruit one of us from the Directed Research Group to spend more time conducting user research for SmartQuit. I was honored to be selected after several rounds of interviews.

My daily activities from May to August included:

  • Designing and conducting user studies for SmartQuit with an overarching goal of increasing user engagement. Related activities included user recruiting, creating user research protocols, making and revising wireframes, and summarizing findings.
  • Participating in daily scrum meetings with the core app development team.
  • Participating in clinical meetings and SmartQuit development meetings.

Below were my main contributions as a user experience researcher at Fred Hutch:

1. Led user research efforts of SmartQuit

Gantt Chart

A Gantt chart to Keep track of items to test

Overall, I conducted five rounds of user research relating to various features of the app.


Example: Urge button iteration

“Urge button” is one of the main features in SmartQuit. It offers methodologies to let go smoking urge. We learned in the research that users liked to be in control and have options, and they also had the impression that we don’t offer enough “help” (which is true because it takes a long time to develop urge exercises).

We as a team came out with the idea of turning the urge button into a quadrant with four categories.

After several rounds of iteration on the concept, wording, and interaction, I finalized the prototype as below.

Users liked the new design, but a new issue came up – users rapid fired through different types of exercises, which conflicted with the Acceptance & Commitment Therapy methodology. We decided to use Nancy, the avatar in the app, to stop users from rapid firing. The iteration then went on.

2. Led development of the user research Lab

I turned two office rooms into a test room and an observation room. I replaced some tables with a couch to make the space more comfortable. In the future, this gives Fred Hutch the option to also conduct user tests on tablet or TV format which are typically done in a more comfortable setting.


Built the first heath technology lab for Fred Hutch with a limited budget

3. Mentored a psychology postdoctoral researcher in user research practices

 One of my responsibilities in this role was to teach a colleague, a psychology postdoc, more about user research. The goal was, once my time at Fred Hutch was over, for her to take over the user research role on her own. After only a few rounds of user research, she was able to get up to speed and we took turns conducting tests.

2016-05-26 16.22.42

My colleague’s first user test

Other contributions

  • Created user research training materials and gave a lecture about evaluative user research to the team.
  • Built the foundation for user research activities, including the creation of consent form, recruiting ads, screeners, and so on.
  • Screened 77 UX design resumes and interviewed UX designers for Fred Hutch.
  • Recruited and interviewed UX researchers.


2016-08-18 15.35.58

Me and the Public Health Sciences team

The experience working at Fred Hutch is meaningful for me for two reasons. First, I have always wanted to work in the healthcare industry, where one can really make fundamental changes in end users’ lives. Second, I wanted to shift from consulting firms to in-house team, to broaden my experience.

As the team’s first and only researcher from the industry, I learned how to communicate research concepts to an outside audience. For example, when and how certain kinds of user research should be conducted, as well as when we should just accept that a question cannot be answered by user research.

I also learned how to raise the mind-share of user research activities among the team.

I invited every stakeholder to observe the user research. Since most of the time they were too busy to join, I sent out interesting and actionable findings right after each test, to let stakeholders know there were tests going on, and so they could utilize the findings right away to improve their work.

One thing I hope to achieve is to build a more standardized weekly schedule, something like Google Design Sprint. While I was at Fred Hutch, there was no defined and consistent time frame for deliverables at each point in the research and product refinement process. This meant that sometimes I had enough time to prepare for the tests, while other times I had only a day to create the interview guide and prototypes before a test was scheduled.

If I was to continue the engagement with Fred Hutch full-time, I would probably set up a routine like this:

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
– Post recruiting ad

– Develop content (solution)

– Develop content (solution) – Develop content (solution) – Develop content (solution) – Write interview protocol

– Create prototypes

– Write interview protocol

– Create prototypes

– Review / revise protocol and prototypes – Test with 2 users – Test with 2 users – Test with two users

– Summarize findings


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