MyStrengths, a Strengths-Focused Mobile Health Tool: Participatory Design and Development

JMIR Form Res. 2020 Jul 24;4(7):e18049. doi: 10.2196/18049.


Background: People living with chronic illnesses are an increasingly large group. Research indicates that care and self-management should not only focus on the illness and problem-oriented aspects of these individuals' lives but also support them in recognizing and leveraging their personal strengths in daily life.

Objective: This paper presents the design and developmental process of MyStrengths, a mobile health (mHealth) app designed to help its users (people with chronic conditions) both find and make use of their personal strengths in their daily lives. Through 4 consecutive phases, this paper presents participant- and researcher-driven activities, discussions regarding design, and development of both the MyStrengths app and its content.

Methods: During the 4 phases, we used a range of methods and activities, including (1) an idea-generating workshop aimed at creating ideas for strengths-supporting features with different stakeholders, including patients, caregivers, relatives, and designers (N=35); (2) research seminars with an international group of experts (N=6), in which the concept, theoretical background, and design ideas for the app were discussed; (3) a series of co-design workshops with people in the user group (N=22) aiming to create ideas for how to, in an engaging manner, design the app; and (4) in 4 developmental iterations, the app was evaluated by people in the user group (N=13). Content and strengths exercises were worked on and honed by the research team, the expert groups, and our internal editorial team during the entire developmental process.

Results: The first phase found a wide range of stakeholder requirements to, and ideas for, strengths-focused mHealth apps. From reviewing literature during the second phase, we found a dearth of research on personal strengths with respect to people living with chronic illnesses. Activities during the third phase creatively provided numerous ideas and suggestions for engaging and gameful ways to develop and design the MyStrengths app. The final phase saw the output from all the earlier phases come together. Through multiple increasingly complete iterations of user evaluations testing and developing, the final prototype of the MyStrengths app was created.

Conclusions: Although research supports the use of strengths-focused mHealth tools to support people living with chronic illnesses, there is little guidance as to how these tools and their content should be designed. Through all activities, we found great support among participating users for strengths-focused apps, and we can consider such apps to be both appropriate and valuable. This paper illustrates how combining a range of user-, researcher-, literature-, and designer-based methods can contribute to creating mHealth tools to support people with chronic illnesses to find and use more of their own personal strengths.

Keywords: chronic care; co-design; gameful design; gamification; iterative development; mHealth; mobile phone; participatory design; personal strengths; positive approach; self-management; user engagement.