Helping Counsyl reach more patients

a case study by Morgane Santos

design sprint, user experience, mobile design

Counsyl specializes in screenings for genetic mutations, both for people at risk for hereditary cancers as well as parents planning to have children. Counsyl wanted to redesign a questionnaire flow that helped patients determine whether they were a good fit for genetic testing and to research why people weren’t opting in even when it would benefit them. They specifically wanted to focus on people who might be at risk for hereditary cancer, rather than expecting parents.


I worked with 1 other designer for 5 weeks, and ran multiple design sprints with our client. We did extensive research and testing, and gave Counsyl a validated, high-fidelity prototype as well as a full report of our findings.

The problem

During the first few days of working with Counsyl, we defined the concrete problem they were facing. Patients wouldn’t sign up to get screened, even though they almost always finished the questionnaire, but Counsyl didn’t know why. We eventually hypothesized that patients don’t know how valuable, affordable, or easy it is to start testing and taking preventive measures. This was our starting point, and what we would work to (in)validate.

User journeys

Mapping out every single step in the user journey

Our process

My teammate and I ran multiple design sprints with Counsyl. We did low-fidelity exercises together, like Crazy 8s, storyboarding, and mind mapping, together with group critiques. By working with Counsyl directly, we were able to learn a lot of specific domain knowledge about genetic testing and hereditary cancers. Without this knowledge, our prototype would have fallen flat.

During the sprints we encouraged everyone to draw out ideas and collaborate with each other. My teammate and I would take these and build prototypes in Sketch and InVision to test with 5–6 different people who were in Counsyl’s target audience (middle-aged, possibly at risk for cancer). Based on this feedback, we would iterate again the following week.

Story board

A 20 minute storyboard

I also worked on creating supplemental print designs for the customized patient reports. While testing these, I looked for reactions to the content and asked what people needed to know. This helped guide the visual language and the hierarchy of these reports.


Creating reports that patients could print out and take with them to the doctor’s office


Our initial prototype during the design sprint was built to test whether patients would go through a more comprehensive family history flow and to gauge their feelings when given their results.

It was often difficult to strike the balance between informative, serious, and also reassuring. Being at risk for a hereditary cancer is not good news, but it’s also not an actual diagnosis. We spent a lot of time in our sprints and user tests working on making patients feel informed and confident. We achieved this by iterating over our copy, using calm colors, and testing various styles.


Trying out various colors

Visual styles

Trying out photos and shorter result screens

UX iterations

We also spent time rethinking the UX of the questionnaire itself. Even though people would fill it out, they were often surprised by the results screen in the end. The questionnaire didn’t set up appropriate expectations, which often meant the results screen was jarring and stressful. By watching people take the questionnaire and making modifications to the order of questions and how we explained each step, we were able to better prepare people for their results.

Documenting steps

Documenting each step of the process and where users might struggle with it

Rejected ideas

Some ideas we scrapped: drawing out the family tree (left); a MadLibs-esque form (right)

During our sprints, we let ourselves come up with outlandish ideas and run with them for a little bit. What if we used MadLibs? What if we could allow people to actually draw their own family tree rather than filling out a form? What if we reinvented the waiting room experience entirely?

Some of the ideas were ultimately too expensive or elaborate to implement. Still, by allowing ourselves to explore them in a noncommittal way, we could think of new ideas that were easier to test.

Ultimately, to convert more patients from the questionnaire to getting tested, we added more educational material, more content about how their results affect them personally, and made it simple to create and maintain a family history, so they will be more informed about their health.

You can play around with the full prototype here.

In conclusion

After working with Counsyl through various design sprints, we were able to validate (or invalidate!) some of their assumptions and give them a better plan of action. In some ways, we proved our hypothesis to be correct: people really weren’t sure how easy or affordable testing was, and we took efforts to explain this where appropriate. But it also wasn’t the full story. Beyond practical concerns, there was also an emotional hurdle. Above all, people found the whole topic of hereditary cancer a little terrifying and needed more emotional reassurance and guidance, rather than facts about insurance.

With our InVision prototype and our report, Counsyl was able to start implementing some changes to their questionnaire and confidently advocate for this redesign to the rest of the company.