Prototyping a new Weight Management App

Paul Doney is entering the final phase of his PhD research project which aims to create new digital tools to help with weight management. In our latest blog post, he describes the prototyping stage of an innovative app, and the journey he has taken.

I have adopted a design thinking approach to explore my problem domain and to actively to engage with target end users.  One way of breaking down the Design Thinking approach is to consider 3 stages:

  1. Inspiration – Observe how things and people work in the real world.
  2. Ideation – Distill observations and let ideas flow, while deferring judgement.
  3. Implementation – Create the final product or service through prototyping and testing.

These stages are based on IDEO’s approach to Design Thinking (read this article in Stanford Social Innovation Review) and are by no means the only way of dividing the process up. The UK Design Council’s double-diamond, for example, promotes four stages: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. Stanford’s uses a 5-step approach: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. The underlying philosophy is very much the same, whichever model one chooses.

What I’ve been working on

I have run numerous insight gathering workshops with end users and gathered qualitative data through these workshops.


In the last 12 months I completed the workshops with clients from Leeds City Council’s Weigh Ahead programme and Health 4 All’s Improving Health programme. These workshops were aimed at fuelling inspiration and to support the ideation process.  Exploration of technology was very limited at the workshops as I wanted to maximise the possibility of finding new insights in a field that is already heavily populated by existing digital applications.

From the analysis I identified that planning (food intake and activity) is the key driver for people on weight management programmes.  Tracking beyond regular weigh-ins played little or no part for those that were struggling or those that were succeeding.  This is important as a review of existing applications revealed that the vast majority were built around a core tracking function.  In addition the supportive network experienced through programmes was key; providing encouragement, ideas and guidance.

Next steps

At present I am developing storyboards and lo-fi prototypes and honing my plan for how I will engage with users and experts to utilise these in iteratively improving my design.  I am continuing to work with organisations that provide weight management services; including More Life (UK).  More Life have just begun to deliver services in Suffolk and it is these clients that I will hopefully be able to work with.

I have also begun work on a journal paper that will present an approach to applying a Design Thinking to a research project, drawing on other methodologies to increase rigor.

Design and data gathering will be complete by the Autumn of 2017 and I can then start the final write-up of my thesis. One thing I have learned throughout the research is that I’m heavily reliant on people that are involved in active weight management programmes. When I could not encourage them to take part in my study, or the partner organisation I worked with had changing priorities then I needed to change track as well – and this meant several weeks or months of delay and additional work.