The American non-profit group DiabetesSisters approached us with a request to design a better Sister match program for its community. The goal of SisterMatch is to help women connect with other women within the DiabetesSisters community and thus find compatible sources of peer support as they cope with the day-to-day emotional and physical ups and downs of living with diabetes.
The SisterMatch program relied on DiabetesSisters staff to identify and make the appropriate match by hand. The staff relied on basic information provided to them through the sign up process, but this process excluded, to a great degree, the personality of the participant. So although their peer support profiles and diabetes types matched up, some women felt mismatched with their chosen Sister.
Another key challenge was to automate key moments of the program. The existing program’s upkeep became unmanageable as the numbers of participants increased and the demands on the staff became overwhelming. The program would need automation in its matching process in order to reduce the burden on the DiabetesSisters staff.
We focused on improving the quality of the existing program by building in the ability for SisterMatch participants to express themselves to their fellow Sisters through storytelling. Through these stories, women could learn about the experiences and opinions of others, and get a wider perspective on what it means to live as a diabetic. But since life stories can feel private for some women, we knew we would need to carefully design a social game that would prompt and entice users to open up and share their thoughts, and give each user a personal voice. To accomplish this we created a moment when users could respond in text about a specific question or phrase. This design ensured that women were able to form peer-support connections not only through our matching algorithm, but also through their own personal thoughts and opinions.
To create the automated yet personalized matching that the program required, we created an algorithm that used the user’s input to find similarities in the community. We collected the typical profile information: the participant’s location, age range, diabetes type, plus information about their interests and hobbies. We wanted each member who entered SisterMatch to quickly and easily find a suitable match within their first play experience as well as continue to interact with the game on a regular basis as it grew and new matches became available.
As we defined this matchmaking algorithm, we were able to tie it together with a visual analogy that we felt best matched the DiabetesSisters demographic: quilt making. Our artists were able to create a visual design that brought the act of making a match symbolic of stitching together a quilt of help and support. Our goal was to create a visual analogy for stitching together an online diabetes support network.
Here’s how SisterMatch makes its matches: A new SisterMatch participant goes through the tutorial steps which establishes them in the central spot in a larger, isometric space called the “Community Quilt”. The Community Quilt starts off for the player as a blank space, one that is ready to be filled with activity rewards and the avatars of your Sisters. The user can then complete activity quizzes that gather information about their personal preferences, personality, attitude, and to a small degree, their medical situation and diabetes type. After players finish an activity and save a story, they receive a quilt block reward and see their best Sister matches fill into empty spaces on the Community Quilt. Each additional activity further refines these matches until the central Sister is matched with the most compatible Sister matches in the community.
The SisterMatch team worked through several usability and technical issues over the duration of the project. The primary audience of the DiabetesSisters community are women over the age of 50. This audience requires additional consideration when it comes to user experience—larger text, clear and easy to find calls to actions, and a clear, intuitive game concept that is easy to understand. We regularly internally tested the product during development, and we opened up builds to testers in the DiabetesSisters community at two different times. As the results from our first testing came in, we realized we had created a far too complex user experience for the target audience. We made some changes to simplify the calls to actions, the number of actions involved in completing tasks in the program, and in some cases adjusted the visual hierarchy of the visual elements on the screen. These were all necessary visual and technical improvements, which provided clear direction to the user as they viewed the page. The second batch of testers proved to us that these changes improved the usability of SisterMatch as they were able to get started and go through portions of the program faster and with almost no assistance. After we had implemented these changes, we were ready to launch the program to the DiabetesSisters community.
SisterMatch was introduced to the DiabetesSisters community in November of 2011, during diabetes awareness month. The first 400 women to enter the system completed 1,900 activities and wrote 2,500 stories to share with the community. To date, the SisterMatch community has completed over 17,300 individual activity questions. Since the launch, we have received feedback from both our client and the participants that DiabetesSisters members are enjoying and using the program, and that it is helping them find their best matches. We are pleased that we were able to help improve the SisterMatch program and hope to work again with DiabetesSisters and other diabetes support groups to provide services that will ultimately improve their members’ online experience and provide more opportunities for these members to expand their own diabetes online support network.
“DiabetesSisters’ SisterMatch program is not only fun and filled with information, but what I love the most is the opportunity to connect with others who have the same problems as you. As I often say, it is the best feeling to know that someone really gets you and is there to support and never judge you. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!”
Joan Kelly, a 57 year-old DiabetesSisters member with type 2 diabetes.
“Thinking outside the box has been beneficial for our membership. As a nonprofit, our resources and funding are quite limited. We wouldn’t have been able to raise the funds or develop the technology needed to build a program on the scale of SisterMatch without the partnership of Sanofi, Ayogo and DiabetesSisters. The ability to pull resources means that non-traditional partnerships like ours can deliver more engaging treatments to those with diabetes.”
Brandy Barnes, Founder and CEO of DiabetesSisters