First Session

First Session is a marketplace that helps connect people with the right therapist, the first time. I led the redesign of our website along with a team of five — including the founder, developer, content manager and another designer. The project engagement included designing the style guide, in-depth filtering capabilities, and improvement of the overall user experience. The website is currently live and can be viewed here.

Problem

The goal was to get users to book sessions with therapists. Since the previous design was not built for scale, adding more therapists to our platform was making it increasingly difficult for users to refine their search. Furthermore, users felt that the visual design of the website felt too “clinical”; they wanted the website to feel uplifting and calming.

Solution

 We gave users more in-depth filtering capabilities so that they could discover therapists who were tailored to their specific needs. Information hierarchy was restructured in order to make finding and booking a therapist more accessible. We also completely rebranded the website and created brand guidelines that helped ensure consistency across all of our channels. 

Role

Product Designer

Keywords

Responsive Web, Rebrand

Category

Mental Health

Design Tools

Figma, Adobe CC

Year

2020 - 21

Finding the right therapist, the first time

Despite the growing awareness of its benefits, there is still a negative stigma attached that causes some people to feel hesitant about giving therapy a try. At First Session, we believe that concerns surrounding therapy shouldn’t deter you from taking an empowering step forward in life. Whereas many therapy-based platforms are devoid of empathy, we vet every therapist on our platform and are focused on the long-term relationship between you and your therapist.

Though there are many different types of therapist designations (i.e. Psychotherapists, Psychologists, Social Workers, Registered Clinical Counsellors) and their designations may differ from province to province, for the sake of simplicity I use the term "therapist" to represent all of the different designations.

Picking up the pieces

Initially, it was important to understand where the existing website fell short in terms of user expectations. Beyond receiving feedback that the visual interface felt too “clinical,” users also wanted increased personalization to make the process of finding a relevant therapist simpler. In addition to conducting interviews and sending out surveys, in order to remain attuned to our users’ needs and gain a competitive advantage we felt it was important to build a diverse community of clients for ongoing user research.

One of the first steps we took towards building this community was sending a follow-up survey to every client who had attended a session. For those clients who expressed further interest in participation, we facilitated remote usability testing sessions or user interviews. This continuous feedback loop allowed us to iterate faster and focus on features most important to users.

Survey responses, user interviews, and usability testing revealed a number of critical problems with the site design:

Lack Of Emotion

The previous First Session website feels inherently transactional and unemotional. The colours and branding do not delight the user, resulting in a forgettable experience. From a business perspective, the less memorable the site is, the less chance of people telling their friends and family about it — and for us, word-of-mouth is our most effective form of marketing.

Old First Session Website

Limited filtering with old website

Lack of personalization

Search filters were limited to specialty and location in the original website. These restrictions left users scanning through dozens of therapist profiles before finding the one they liked.

Unexpected Primary Action

An initial audit with users yielded results indicating that they were confused by “browse videos” and how that call to action would aid in their search.

Content Overload

Users felt there was too much information for them to focus on and were unaware that “expertise” was a separate tab. 

Suboptimal Conversion

While scrolling on individual therapists’ profile pages, users felt that the “book now” call-to-action was not visible.

Understanding uncertainty

Talking to clients also allowed us to better understand problematic moments throughout their booking experience.

For instance, when they were trying to personalize their experience by applying filters (only specialization and location were available on the old site), there were still too many options to choose from, leaving them frustrated since they had to sift through multiple therapist profiles before finding one they liked. 

We also discovered we weren’t supporting their post-booking experience as they expected, with many clients reporting that they didn’t know what the next steps were after they booked a session on our website. Working with our Marketing Consultant, we were able to create automated emails containing information about the next steps along with relevant articles about therapy.

A map of the booking journey broken into two phases: Exploring all therapists and committing to a particular therapist.

It wasn't enough to simply understand the client journey, however. I wanted to understand the different factors that were affecting their booking experience. To do this, I used the spectrums and situations framework adopted from Simon Pan's Uber case study (with his permission). This framework was an easily digestible way to organize and illustrate contexts and was pivotal in creating a more inclusive design.

Four key design challenges emerged as a result of our research:

  1. How might we better showcase our diverse range of therapists?

  2. How might we make it easier for clients to narrow down their options?

  3. How might we adapt to the potential heightened emotional state of our users while visiting our website?

  4. How might we better support the client on their mental health journey?

How we got there

In order to balance design momentum and collaboration with the entire team, I decided on three design principles that would help create visibility regarding my design process and rationale: 

  1. Relevant

  2. Human

  3. Effortless

Relevant

Human

Effortless

Present thoughtful information.

 To be relevant, we need to be thoughtful about what, to whom, and in what context we present. 

Express and connect.

Each person has their own unique set of experiences and challenges. Support by anticipating.

Less thinking, more doing.

You shouldn't have to work hard to find what you want. It’s about being timely, uncomplicated and precise. 

Your journey is personal.

First Session is made for you - we want it to feel personalized. We don't want one-size-fits-all experiences.

Be benevolent and credible.

First Session should feel trustworthy. A consistent voice and tone with clear copywriting helps build trust.

Consistent not flashy.

We’re committed to making sure that our experience is consistent to mitigate any uncertainty. 

Communication matters.

No matter where you are on your mental health journey, you will never feel unsupported.

People are the focus.

First Session may be rooted in technology, but it's all about people —  whether first-timers or therapy veterans.

Build for people on the go.

The best experience doesn't slow you down. We provide tools for clients so they feel in control — no matter where they are.

filtering made easy

Unlike the original website which only allowed users to filter by specialty and location, a more robust, multi-variable filtering system was added to prevent users from visiting therapist profiles that were not relevant to their search goals. There were many challenges with filtering that we had to overcome (beyond just their visual design). Initially, our intention was to allow users to select as many filters within any one category as they pleased, but testing revealed our supply of therapists was not large enough to do so. The user journey was frequently ending in  “no results found.” To prevent this, we restricted users to one filter per category until we are able to add a sufficient number of therapists to our database. 

This process was highly data-informed. We collaborated closely with our analytics consultant and therapist advisor to determine which filters should be focused on, what order they should be in, how we should name each filter, etc. It was also important to ensure that filtering was easily usable on a mobile device, as this format accounts for over 80% of our website traffic.

an emphasis on content

Our quantitative data suggested that 87.7% of users felt personality fit was the most crucial factor when choosing a therapist. This corroborated with our interview insights, where one of the common themes we identified was that users felt our therapist videos helped them gain a better understanding of whether or not they would be suited to a particular therapist. With this in mind, we dedicated our homepage to video content, and I worked with our content team to create a hero video showcasing our diverse range of therapists. Our focus on content was also strategic from a business perspective, as we plan to find creative ways to monetize our videos in the future.

Hero Video: I was involved in concept development and art direction.
How-to-video: I assisted in creating the storyboard and worked with our content team to specify animation guidelines.

modernizing therapy

The age group most likely to visit our website was 25-34; therefore, we wanted to ensure that the interface of the website aligned with their mental model (i.e., applications such as Instagram, Tinder). Our choice of non-traditional colours, relative to other healthcare websites that typically use green/blue as their primary colours was well-received, with many users reporting that the soft, muted colours felt uplifting and calming. However, this choice of colour palette did not come without its challenges, as we faced multiple accessibility issues early on.

Further, I worked closely with our Marketing and Content teams to implement our new brand guidelines in order for us to achieve brand consistency in a multi-channel environment. Our Instagram and Youtube pages are some examples of how we were able to successfully create a unified brand.

Disagree and commit

Throughout this process there were instances where certain features users wanted  — or where I advocated for using an evidence-based approach — either could not be implemented or were rejected by stakeholders. The decision to exclude search capabilities and client testimonials for therapists is one example. 

Regarding search capabilities, we were unable to find a timely solution that would allow us to offer the functionality we wanted — and building this feature in-house went beyond our project budget. As for testimonials, we hadn’t fully considered how we would handle negative reviews  or navigate regulatory hurdles (each provincial College has different rules about ‘promoting’ therapists) and as a team we chose not to prioritize those concerns at the time. Ultimately, the decision was made to simply exclude both features.

Personally, I disagreed with this decision. I felt that search capabilities would personalize the user experience even further, and that social proofing through testimonials would help add credibility to our platform. Yet in order for us to release the redesign without incurring further delay, it was important to commit to moving forward. Both features will be included in future updates, however.

Looking Forward

Since launch there have been many small and large-scale changes that have helped us continuously improve conversions. Our analytics have shown which of our therapists receive fewer page views and thus bookings, and we have begun A/B testing profile pictures in an attempt to increase their click-through rate and overall conversion. 

We are also creating a separate landing page to serve as a guide for people on how to find a therapist. The goal for this page will be to provide clarity for people seeking out therapy for the first time and address any concerns that may be preventing them from seeking help. 

There’s still a lot to be improved on First Session’s website — and over time our analytics will help us to make better data-informed decisions — but I’m proud of everything we’ve learned so far, and I look forward to making ongoing improvements. 

Credits

  • Omar Andani
  • Rob Pintwala
  • Rosa Park
  • Erika Anderson
  • Eric Unger
  • Maxine Yang (Case study copy editor)

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