Toolkit helping diabetes patients transform to healthy lifestyles

Learner Experience Design Course @ CMU
University Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)
4 Months | Jan. 2019 - May. 2019
Team Member
Ashley Chan, Yihong Shi, Amrita Khoshoo

My Contribution

  • Conducted user research to understand the problem
  • Crafted models to ground the design approaches
  • Designed wireframe and UI of the digital app
  • Crafted the physical toolkit



Hospital readmission means that patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. It is a multidimensional problem that requires multidimensional solutions. University Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) intends to decrease the readmission rates of patients through product intervention.

Problem Space

Our team decided to focus our scope on preventing patients with chronic disease from keeping unhealthy habits and thus developing more serious diseases, since it is the number one reason for UPMC patient readmission.

Solution Overview

VesselViz is a combination of a physical kit and a digital app that helps diabetes patients manage the disease and transform to healthy lifestyles after they are discharged from the hospital.

It is featured with:


1. Diabetes patients will be given a box of toolkits when they are discharged from the hospital

2. Following the instructional manual, they set up their own "blood vessel" with marbles representing the glucose in the blood.


Daily Task Every Morning

  • Every morning, the app will ask the patient a question about his own preference that day.
  • After choosing his own preference, the patient is prompted to learn some corresponding knowledge.
  • The patient will also be given small tasks to achieve based on the knowledge.

Task Tracking Every Night

  • Every night, the app will ask the patient what task he has achieved that day and prompt him to revisit the corresponding knowledge through knowledge card

Allow for Setbacks

  • If the patient hasn't achieved any task that day, the app will prompt him to do some other tasks in order to compensate.

Learning Modules

  • Patients can review the knowledge they have learned in the library with structured learning modules

1. After tracking the daily task, the app prompts the patient to revisit the corresponding knowledge on the knowledge card, which serves as the connection between the app and the physical kit.

2. The card will prompt the patient to add a piece of "insulin" into their the vessel, and remove a piece of "glucose" out of it, after which the he will see the effect representing insulin working in their blood.

Design Process

Research & Synthesis

Interview & Shadow

In order to understand the readmission problems, we visited UPMC, interviewed and shadowed 2 transition care managers whose work is specifically to deal with readmission cases. Key takeaways from the interviews are as follow:

1Chronic disease like diabetes has the highest readmission rates but is avoidable as long as the patient follows the instruction to form healthy habits.

2Patients unwilling to change their lifestyles and give up what they like is the key reason to prevent them from forming healthy habits.

3Unable to see how their effort to form healthy habits is really affecting their body, patients often feel frustrated and thus give up trying.

Secondary Research

After the visiting UPMC, we decided to narrow down the project scope to helping patients with diabetes form healthy life styles. In order to better understand the disease, its causes, effects, and current solutions, we conducted secondary research.

Identifying Gaps

In order to identify the problems preventing them from forming healthy lifestyles, we conducted a "Bridging Gaps" activity analyzing gaps between the preferred state and the current state. Through the activity, we identified the key gaps between the preferred state and current state.

Knowledge Gap

Skill Gap

Motivation Gap

Unaware of how diabetes and their daily behaviors affect the body because it's abstract

Don't know how to take action to form healthy habits and prevent the relapse of disease

Lack incentives or have difficulties sticking to healthy habits

Defining Learning Goals

With the gaps in mind, we defined the learning goals as follow:

1Help our audience understand what diabetes is and how it affects their body

2Help our audience understand what they can do to manage diabetes outside of hospital

3Help our audience value the learning process and believe that their goals are attainable



In group, we did a quick brainstorming sessions and categorized the ideas with affinity diagram. Generally, we have four categories of ideas: group learning, visualizing the effect of diabetes, community activity, and gamified learning.


Speed Dating

We presented our storyboards to the clients in UPMC. They acknowledged our concepts a lot and gave us valuable feedback on further iteration directions.

Decisions after speed dating:

Refined Storyboard

Ground Design Approaches

We tried to leverage several learning theories during our design process, which helped us ideate and refine the design concepts, and provide theoretical bases for our solution.

Structured Flow of Goals

Julie Dirksen's "Structured Flow of Goals theory" shows how short-term and mid-term goals are necessary to achieve to reach long-term goals. This theory helped us ground the structured learning modules and daily tasks in our solution.

4 MAT System

Bernice McCarthy's "4 MAT System theory"  illustrates an effective learning process from understanding to applying the knowledge:
•  Why: Address the question "Why learning the knowledge is important? "
•  What: Address the question "What is the knowledge? "
•  How: Address the question "How does it work? "
•  What if: Address the question "What if I apply it to other contexts? "

Our design solution helped diabetes patients go through the whole learning process, from understanding what is diabetes to forming healthy habit.

Conceptual Model

We consolidated our design solution with the Structured Flow of Goals and the 4 MAT System, and made the conceptual model below which illustrates the whole flow of our design solution.

Prototype & Iteration

We prototyped and iterated our design artifacts including the instructional manual, the knowledge cards, the kit for making the blood vessel, and the digital app several rounds based on user test results and findings.

Instructional Manual


Knowledge Cards


Simulated Blood Vessel


Digital App


Next Step

Our team envisions our project as being a starting point for future investigations. We discussed potential opportunities as follow:


Compared to other research-heavy projects I have done, this project is more theory-heavy and concept-heavy, which made it a special learning experience for me. My key takeaways from this project are:

• Introduction• Solution Overview• Design Process• Research & Synthesis• Ideation• Grounding• Prototype & Iteration• Next Step• Reflection