Improving research participant experience with design

Mockup cover and inside spread of the CALM Trial's participant workbook a purple and blue background.
Participating in a research study can be daunting. Often, you might be asked to do something unfamiliar or outside your comfort zone. When people are doing something unfamiliar, clear and concise delivery of information can be crucial to study success and improve research participant experience.

Well-designed content ensures study volunteers know exactly what they have to do, and feel confident in fulfilling the tasks required of them for the duration of the study – which can be weeks, months, or even years at a time.

A group of Deakin University researchers wanted to improve research participant experience for their Curbing Anxiety and Depression using Lifestyle Medicine or “CALM” research study.

Our job was to create simple, clean designs, that made it easier to read and digest content that may otherwise appear very overwhelming, and make sure all of the CALM Trials content was presented consistently throughout the study.

What is CALM?

In recent years there has been an increase in people presenting at emergency wards for mental health concerns. Since COVID-19, the mental health of Australians has deteriorated with almost 1 in 2 people experiencing depression during the lockdowns.

It is common knowledge that diet and exercise are great for our mental health. However, it is not known whether they are as effective as standard psychological therapies.

The CALM trial is a group-based, telehealth clinical trial designed to promote and support positive lifestyle changes and improve the mental health of participants.

Based in Geelong, the trial, will in partnership between Deakin University and Barwon Health’s Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services (MHDAS)

“We know the mental health of Australians has deteriorated since the COVID-19 outbreak…We hope this will provide future treatment options for people with mental health concerns.”

– A/Prof Adrienne O’Neil, Director of Deakin’s Heart and Mind Research

Why brand a research study?

The easiest way to do this is through a brand. You might have heard us talk about the importance of branding before and this is exactly why! Aside from a logo, a brand sets the rules by which all other media is created.

From documents and presentations, right through to email signatures and social media posts, a brand’s guidelines ensure every piece of media works together to present a consistent, professional front. This consistency is even more important for a research study where comprehension on influences results.

Mockup brand guidelines for the CALM Trial research study.

We created a logo and developed brand guidelines to ensure everything we designed adhered to a set of rules by which all subsequent content was developed.

By producing something from the ground up we were able to design the entire research participant experience.

We chose our colours, not just because they look nice, but because they create enough contrast to ensure the content – which is to be delivered via Zoom – would be accessible to those who might have reading or vision difficulties. Taking these considerations into account provides another safeguard; preventing the study from excluding valuable participants and results in a more inclusive cohort.

“User experience is a critical but often overlooked variable in population research studies. Making it as easy as possible for participants to understand and carry out what’s required of them can safeguard the study against results that might be emotionally influenced because of participants engaging with content that is difficult to engage with.”

– Molly Patton, Founder and Creative in Chief

The new CALM branding made it incredibly easy to roll out the workbooks for the research study and make sure whether participants choose to view them on a computer, phone, or print them off, they can easily read and engage with the content – and [hopefully] enjoy the experience.

Does design make a difference?

We think so! There isn’t a great deal of academic research out there specifically regarding the user experience of content delivery in research trials. However, we do know that user experience (UX) is a vital part of any great experience and is certainly interweaved in everything we do. 

When it comes to the user experience of content, whether it’s an online survey or a new recipe, the easier it is for us to understand the information presented, the more likely we are to put effort into doing what is being asked of us. Of course, this likelihood is enhanced if the task is enjoyable, or leads to measurable desired results.

We look forward to seeing the results of the CALM study and whether we were able to improve the experience of the research participants.  

Watch this space!

Want to work with us?

If you have a research study coming up, or would like to know more about what it’s like to work with us, check out some of the testimonials on our homepage to see what other organisations have to say about our work. 

If you’re interested in us becoming your forever creative collaborator, we welcome you to book a free 30-minute consult with Molly to help you get the ball rolling on your next project – we can’t wait to work with you!

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