Nikki Thayer

NEXT: Team Coco

Case Study


How do you build an app that builds on work done in talk therapy?

November 2019 — March 2020 / UX Designer / iOS

Three iPhone mockups of steps in AbleTo's program


1. Create a clinically valid set of tools supporting an 8 week cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program.

2. Use an existing code base and set of UI patterns in order to ship faster and prototype more quickly.

3. Differentiate the tool from therapy chat clients on the market.

4. Strengthen the participant/therapist relationship rather than try to replace it.


AbleTo currently offers teletherapy, with a toolkit of activities supporting CBT that took the form of a PDF delivered via mail or email. They hoped to provide teletherapy services to a new cohort, and wanted to create a support app that was more aligned with user behavior and easier to edit and adjust. AbleTo had also recently acquired Joyable, an app offering CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) based motivational coaching for participants with mild anxiety. Though their cohort wasn’t who we were hoping to reach, the tool used similar methodology and was a good starting point.

Unlike Talkspace and similar competitors, AbleTo therapists were also offering talk therapy and the tool needed to work with their operational needs. AbleTo provides more in depth care, but the first guess at a feature for forging a bond between participant and client - chat - was off the table. Ultimately, if the rapport between therapist and participant isn’t good, the tool is useless. After an initial round of user interviews, we found a feature that could build a relationship without asking therapists to overextend themselves.

Early paper sketches of week to week app flow


I started by looking at competition, and building out an experience map with Allie, the team's PM and lead. We interviewed program designers within AbleTo and therapists working on the current platform. We learned about how important the person to person bond was in successful care, as well as the unique scheduling challenges of clinically valid teletherapy.

Initial wireframes turned out to be dead ends - they were based on a more green field code base than we actually had at our disposal. The project’s roadmap was long, and Allie determined that we should focus on two things: content and messaging. Working alongside an expert in clinical psychology, we adapted existing material to include more interactivity and to be clinically valid for our target cohort. I’d done UX copywriting on previous projects, but this was a true test of skills.

After talking to respondents, therapists, and stakeholders at AbleTo, we proposed the ability for therapists to send a short, motivational session recap at the end of each conversation. We had heard from participants that a major pain point was the feeling that a therapist wasn’t really listening to them or retaining information. This also covered the goals setting part of the cognitive behavioral therapy process - a therapist can set goals during session and gently remind participants of them after the fact. Finally, it’s a great opportunity for the voice of the therapist (warmth, small talk, inside jokes) to make it into the app.

Working with Joyable's existing UI library was a lot of fun. With design/dev pairing we were able to extend and improve upon interactions until we ended up with something pretty polished. Toward the end of the project I had the opportunity to go back through and animate screens at key accomplishments. Shiny!

Sample flow for a single exercise in the AbleTo program.

What happened?

As of this writing, the tool is still awaiting its alpha phase before it enters a pilot program in collaboration with an insurance company. We hope it will be available to a wider market some time in 2022.