Research Overview

This design research was conducted in the course User Research Methods at CMU for better understanding the medicine noncompliance issue of older adults. I applied a diverse series of research methods to study this topic and the target user group, which is not only about exploring users’ behavior but also the meaning behind those behaviors. As the exploration went more in depth, I constantly synthesized insights from each research stages and made refinements to generate the final design guidelines.


Course: User Research Methods
Instructor: Francine Gemperle
Type: individual project
Timeline: 5 weeks, fall 2015 

Shaping A Research Plan

Research Methods

Why is it important?

Noncompliance has been an issue all the time and causes big financial burden for society. (It costs between $100 billion to $289 billion for US a year)

Older adults is a group of people consume large amount of medicine every year and need special attention for health care. However, they are facing some difficulties in medical therapy, which affects the efficiency of medicine or treatment.

What do I want to understand?

What troubles them the most regarding medicine compliance?

What is the proportion of people who drop medical therapy intentionally and why they are doing this with the awareness of the detrimental consequence?

Given that older adults are the target group requires particular needs, what are the special attributes and what do they really need?

What do I want to influence?

Medicine noncompliance is a multifaceted problem, patients might need the help from someone who are close to them, so it is necessary to build connections between hospital, family members and patients. With the efforts of Physicians, pharmacists, nurses as well as family members can decrease the risk of noncompliance effectively.

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge is that it is not easy to find enough older adults to be the object of this study. Besides, this is not a topic that everyone is comfortable with.

Figuring out the most effective way to help older adults overcome this problem and achieve a healthy condition.

Concept Map

This concept map helps me brainstorm all of the aspect I can come up with regarding medicine compliance. It includes concepts and sub-concepts and their connections that could form a meaningful statement.

Stakeholder Identification

The key stakeholder for the topic of medicine compliance is the patient. Apart from various ethnography of patient, family members and doctor are also important to help with medicine compliance.

Interview Insights

Four face to face interviews in total. Listed below are noticeable and interesting findings synthesized from interviews.

Older adults live a relaxing and regular life. They see taking medicine as a routine activity since most of them need to take it for a very long time.

“It’s just a habit. I don’t think too much about it”

Older adults need some visual cues or do something intentionally to remind themselves of taking medicine. Some choose to put medicine where they can see it in a day. Change of the location of pills regularly is another way.

People tend to put medicine right at the place where they take it, like kitchen and bedroom.

“They are in my medicine cabinet and on the dinning room table where I eat.”


They plan to take pills around two main activities, eating and sleeping. But many of them mentioned that if something wrong with these activities then they might forget taking pills.

“Mornings I have to go somewhere warily and don’t go through my coffee regiment I often miss taking my meds.”

Having spouse to help with medicine management has no evident effect on compliance; while people who have the help from doctor or nurse all score 10 for their medicine compliance.

Quantitative Research

Usability Testing

My Pillbox is a medicine management app. To understand the efficiency and further improvement need to be considered of the existed product, I invited a user to take think aloud usability test. The heuristic analysis is applied to identify problems that might cause misunderstanding or confusing in using this app. Below are interesting notes from test:

Fail to provide a sense of place

The user followed a from top to bottom, left to right sequence to read and interact with main interface. He first tapped the user icon then tapped the settings. In the settings he was a little confused since he had no idea with detailed functions of this app. I think this is because the interface is chaotic, the elements are small and scattered and the color is plain. There is no emphasized part. The system fails to make people be able to orient themselves and easily find their way around.

Fail to match users’ mental model

After the user set up the first schedule, the alarm item appears on the main interface. But the check mark on the left implies no specific action for users to understand. So the user tapped this item and accidentally tapped on the check mark. Then this item disappeared, the system regards this action as finishing taking pills. The system doesn’t give enough information to match with user’s mental model about how the medicine taking status is.

Anticipate user’s need but not suitable for everyone

For the time setting the system automatically provide the same time schedule as the user set previously. But in fact the user doesn’t want the same time since the time schedule for different prescriptions varies from one to another. 

The main objective of my co design activity is to find out how user’s daily routine related to medicine compliance and what details might distract them from compliance. I made three big circle cardboards represent morning, noon and evening, each of the cardboard was divided into three circles meaning the priority of importance. I also made some image cards include information of medicine, coffee cup… I want users to stick other images on the cardboard and classify them as most important and less important to medicine. Then ask them to draw connections between any two stuff they think are related and write down important information.
Key Findings
Medicine taking activities appear in the morning and evening.
Everyone has their own schedule for different daily activity associate with medicine. But all of the activities are routine they set for daily life.
No one stick doctor and hospital, but many of them write down that they would prefer to have friendly monitor from doctor.


Design Guidelines


The design solution must match with older adults’ daily behavior.

  • Take into account older adults’ lifestyle—ease and regularly.
  • Provide visual or audio cues to raise their attention.
  • Give them natural chance to something intentionally in order to remember.


Design should provide emotional engagement.

  • Give a sense of comfort and confidence about long-term therapy.


There could be other aspects to help with compliance.

  • Provide timely connection and response between older adults and their doctor or family members. Let these people involved in older adults’ medicine management.
  • The hospitals can offer post service of medicine management.