Case Study: The Colorboost iPhone Application Design and Development Story

April 17, 2014

Switzerland-England startup challenged us to bring a color therapy treatment practices to mobile and to build an app that allows to experience color and music therapy on the go.

Seasonal depression has become a very common problem nowadays, in the UK and Switzerland in particular. The sun in these countries sometimes does not shine for up to 1 or 2 weeks, so that no light enters into the body. As a consequence, psychological illness manifests, mainly in the form of depression, which, according to chromopathy studies, is curable without any use of tranquillisers.

Colorboost applies modern scientific methodologies of color and light therapy and offers a daily ten-minute session with a nice animation, smooth color transitions accompanied by music. In a free version of the app you will get just 30 seconds of the color session with one color of your choice. A full ten-minute session and all variety of colors are available with in-app purchases.

In the app you will find a bunch of cool animations. If you are completely apathetic to colortherapy it is worth it to download the app just to see them :)!

Design Experiments

After analysing a problem, mobile market niche and the competitor’s space we hold a brainstorming session with the project team to exchange thoughts and ideas. As a result we came up with these mockups for the app interface.

After several iterations we decided to go with a more bright and cheerful style. Together with the Colorboost team we also made a dicto simplified initial concept of colortherapy session and enriched it with gentle, playful and more engaging animations.

Usability Tests: How We Improved the App

During the course of the development we conducted several usability tests. The main goals were the following:

  • to check if welcome screen messages are clear enough;
  • to figure out if users understood correctly how the app works after seeing welcome screens and the main screen;
  • to check if the user is willing to pay for additional options and if he gets enough information from the app to make this decision;
  • to observe the user’s behaviour during the therapy.

After two cycles of usability tests we revealed several usability problems and imperfections in the therapy session concept. Here are some of them:

  • the user got bored when colors were not changed within 2 minutes. We decided to change colors every 30 seconds;
  • at the end of the demo session to show a message indicating that the user can unlock more colors;
  • improved texts inside the app made them shorter and simpler.

An agile approach to design and development, which we are applying in all our projects, gives us certain flexibility to change requirements during the development process even if we need to stick to a limited budget.

For example at the beginning of this project we wanted to sell sessions one by one. In the middle of the project we realised that this type of monetisation will limit how users use the application and may affect the effectiveness of the therapy. As a result, we came to the model in which only 30 seconds of the therapy is available, free of charge, and if the user is interested he can buy one of the color sets and get access to the full ten-minute session.

Development Process: What We Have Learned

Every client and project are different and this fact requires us to adjust our internal processes and team-work in accordance with the client expectations and the project peculiarities. This means that we need constantly to improve as a team, adjust our communication with the client, reveal problems and fix them constantly during the development process.

This is where weekly retrospectives help a lot. Retrospective is a special project meeting wherein we discuss the last week (sprint) of development, speak up about problems or failures, try to find the roots of those problems and agree on the next steps that will make work more enjoyable and the result better.

We are trying to experiment with the retrospective formats and using different approaches. One of them is the sort of visual story, in which we visualise last week’s main development focus and goal and discuss what helped us to move toward the goal, what stopped and what we should do next week to improve our performance.

For example as a result of the work on the Colorboost we learned the following:
  • two product owners from client side is bad as it requires additional time to approve the work and slows down the team;
  • when we need to change project requirements on the go it is fine but they should be clarified in detail at least two sprints before the development;
  • continue to keep user in focus and conduct user tests as it do helps us to create more usable products;
  • it is hard to create an ideal concept for the app at the very beginning and it is great that our agile process allows us to improve app and its idea during the development;
  • cross functional team-work when designer is free to criticise developer and vice versa.

Applications of Color Therapy: a Short Overview for Those Who Are Inquisitive

Color therapy, also known as chromatherapy, has been around since ancient times. It is used to stimulate the body’s healing process and treat many diseases. Egypt, China and India have long-held traditions that support color therapy as an integral part in the general health and healing of body ailments. Modern research has confirmed that certain parts of the brain are not only light sensitive but actually respond differently to different wavelengths. It is now believed that different wavelengths (colors) of radiation interact differently with the endocrine system to stimulate or reduce hormone production.

On the photo below you can see the color therapy device that is exhibited in the Exploratorium in San Francisco. When you pull a dome over your head you can turn the knob under your right hand to change the color and experience a color therapy session in the full effect.

Light enters the body through the eyes and skin. When even a single photon of light enters the eye, it lights up the entire brain. This light triggers the hypothalamus, which regulates all life-sustaining bodily functions, the autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, and the pituitary. It also sends a message, by way of light, to the pineal organ, which is responsible for releasing one of our most important hormones, melatonin. The pineal gland is believed to be responsible for our feeling of oneness with the universe and sets the stage for the relationship between our inner being and the environment (source 1, 2).

In 1990, scientists reported to the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the successful use of blue light in the treatment of a wide variety of psychological problems, including addictions, eating disorders and depression. At the other end of the color spectrum, red light has been shown to be effective in the treatment of cancer and constipation and in healing wounds. As a result, color is becoming widely accepted as a therapeutic tool with various medical applications.

Chromotherapy is now used to improve the performance of athletes; whereas red light appears to help athletes who need short, quick bursts of energy, blue light assists in performances requiring a steadier energy output.

By comparison, pink light has a tranquilizing and calming effect within minutes of exposure. It suppresses hostile, aggressive and anxious behavior. Pink holding cells are now widely used to reduce violent and aggressive behavior among prisoners, and some sources have reported a reduction of muscle strength in inmates within 2.7 s. It appears that when in pink surroundings people can never become aggressive despite their desire, because the color saps their energy. In contrast, yellow should be avoided in such contexts because it is highly stimulating.