02 – User Research, Usability Tests, Personas and Scenarios

by | Dec 9, 2018

The second blog post will illustrate user research including usability tests on the existing app, competitor analysis and app reviews. Usability testing will be based on two tasks, the additional survey will be used to gather information. Based on the above we will create personas and scenarios and continue work through iterations to identify the user’s needs and empathise with them.

‘”Data gathering is a central part of establishing requirements, and of evaluation”

— ‘Interaction Design’ – Data Gathering, Preece, Rogers, Sharp, 4th edition, 2015

App Reviews

There are over 10 apps rated 4+ available for the Android to help users keep track of their calories.

Figure 1 – Fitness Apps for Android on Google Play
Figure 1 – Fitness Apps for Android on Google Play

None of the apps above exceeds 100 000 downloads, while MyFitnessPal has almost 2mln with 4.7 out of 5 average rating. The users on the AppStore are happy with tracking the progress and detailed information available. Most of the complains are around synchronising the app with other tools (ie. to count burned calories). On Facebook, the rating is 3.8 out of 5 with complaints about the customer service (some IT problems in November) but mostly apprised for the easy use and reliability. The app has 181k followers on Twitter, 190k on Instagram, and over 213k on Pinterest. The number of active users speaks for itself – the app is popular and people are using it despite some issues, and are willing to learn to use it (blog and videos are published to help the users).

We have examined the Facebook page of the app, also joined the closed group of 14k of users of MyFitnessPal. The users share some problems with adding meals, registering the food, pre-defining meals. All community concentrates on the challenges around nutrition control, tracking weight, and planning the meals with the app. The users are willing to overcome difficulties to reach their targets.

Figure 2 – Reviews and Social Media Comments
Figure 2 – Reviews and Social Media Comments

Competitor analysis

We examined first two apps listed after MyFitnessPal: ‘Lose it!’ and ‘MyPlate’

‘Lose it!’ excels in graphics (iconography of food and exercises) and the information architecture is clear. Primary and secondary functions are separated, the system status is visible, the user can easily recover from errors, the logic of the app matches the real world, functions are consistent and easy to recall. The photographed food is not properly recognised by the system. There is no error prevention in terms of setting unhealthy goals, however, the message is thrown when the amount of calories is inadequate to the desired one. Help and documentation are available and easily accessible.

Figure 3 – ‘Lose it!’ screenshots
Figure 3 – ‘Lose it!’ screenshots

‘Myplate’ The app uses colour coded sections and has 4 main functions. Secondary functions are logically placed under primary ones, the menu is consistent and the system status is clear. The calorie burn is available for premium users, but the basic exercises build in for beginners. The app is flexible in terms of putting the meals and even not experienced user will be able to use it without unnecessary recalls – the information architecture is clear. Instead of warning screens, the app highlights the important issues in red. The barcode base is not working properly. Documentation or FAQ is not available for users, just the option to send email to the administrator.

Figure 4 – ‘MyPlate’ screenshots
Figure 4 – ‘MyPlate’ screenshots

Usability testing

The first test (Iteration 0) took place in an early stage of the research. We did it on the original MyFitnessPal app to estimate the possible pain points and frustration connected to them. The participants: Olga, Rodrigo, Ross are all professionals aged around 30, we tested them outside the offices on their lunch break.

Figure 5 – Iteration 0 notes
Figure 5 – Iteration 0 notes

Based on behavioural observation we created an Empathy Map.

Figure 6 – Empathy Map
Figure 6 – Empathy Map

Problem identification

  • Primary and secondary functions are not separated/distinguished
  • Despite the experience level, the users are having difficulties adding meals to the diary
  • The lack of visibility status causes confusion
  • The accelerators were forgotten by experienced users and not used by new ones
  • The information in the app is against the logical order of the users


After qualitative tests, we created the survey. The survey was published on Facebook for 3 days and was filled by 44 participants. The results were available through Google Forms and also saved in Excel format and analysed with Tableau software. It gave us a picture of users needs and most used features and also the insight of motivation and personality types.

Figure 7 - Survey Iterations and Summary
Figure 7 – Survey Iterations and Summary

Findings from the research

  • 70% of all participants were female, the average age is between 36 – 45 years old
  • 4 most popular features are: exercise tracker, calories count, weight tracker and nutrition tracker
  • 3 main targets are: losing weight, tracking the meals and tracking the progress
  • 3 main reasons for using the app are: to make life easier, feel motivated and stay organised
  • 50% does not feel the app should be improved, other answers vary a lot most were focused around better exercise tracking and visual efficiency regarding calories, reports and nutrition.
Figure 8 - Tableau Findings
Figure 8 – Tableau Findings

Personas and scenarios

“Methodological triangulation means to employ different data gathering techniques’’

— ‘Interaction Design’ – Preece, Rogers, Sharp, 4th edition, 2015

We have gathered data from the online research, survey and interviews to create personas and scenarios below.Personas and ScenariosDOWNLOAD PDF

Figure 9 - Personas and Scenarios
Figure 9 – Personas and Scenarios

Tasks AS-IS /  TO-BE

“It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.”

— Steve Krug

The below graphs are illustrating the tasks as they are at the moment. Out of 3 primarily chosen tasks, I was focused on adding the meal to the diary. The task could be done more efficiently if the visibility and status alongside with the aesthetic/minimalistic design rule would be applied.

The great examples are with two competitors – in their apps, the task is done in 4-5 steps, in MyFitnessPal we have 9 steps, and 3 different ways to perform the action. The home screen with the blog is not the desired feature (look survey results), it is a piece of secondary information for the user.

Figure 10 - Tasks AS-IS and TO-BE
Figure 10 – Tasks AS-IS and TO-BE

The experienced user in the video below was asked to perform the adding meal task, as we can see, the user got confused on the way – clicking the ‘+’ button and coming back to start again from diary section. The recognition did not happen, the user took the recall way and followed the logic of the app rather than his own logic.https://www.youtube.com/embed/lkyA-kt3ivY

Figure 11 Tasks AS-IS


By Sebastian Hartleib