Health History Timeline

Data Visualization, Healthcare, Strategy, UX Design, UX Research


This is a project motivated by my own experiences. For a long time, since I was a tween, I’ve had the autoimmune disease Myasthenia Gravis.Over the years, I began having odd symptoms that didn’t seem to belong to my primary disease.


I learned a little bit by mapping things out, but I was confused about why I had these new symptoms. I felt scared and out of control, unsure what was happening to me.


I made an appointment with a new holistic doctor. But how could I tell him my life story? My problem-solving mind kicked in. I decided to sketch a timeline of my entire life, all from memory, focusing on two major ‘families’ of symptoms.


I noted the times when I was feeling good and bad as high or low on the y-axis, and I made some additional notes. I put it all into Illustrator and overlaid the timelines on top of one another.


I printed it out and took it to the appointment. I used the graphic as a prop, and it really helped me tell a more coherent story. I showed the timeline to other doctors and patients, and they started asking me if I could create a tool to let others create their own timelines. You can learn more about this story here and here, on my blog. 

Design challenge: how might I create a digital tool to enable other patients and caregivers to create their own health timelines?

My process


I held 20 interviews with providers, patients and caregivers, often on weekend mornings. My research questions:

  • How do patients tell their stories?
  • What are the common components of a patient story?
  • How do patients keep track of the information they want to tell their doctor?
  • How do caregivers own and augment the patient story?
  • What is frustrating about the doctor visit encounter?
  • What are the most important parts of a story that providers need to know when a patient comes into their office?


Going through my almost word-for-word notes from patient interviews, I marked up their stories to find out what types of events often occur in a patient story.


To distill findings and develop insights from my research, I wrote down pithy user quotes and key concepts on sticky notes, and I created an affinity diagram in my home office.

Handling the patient quotes and stories was emotional for me. I knew many of the participants personally, and I felt fortunate to be honored with their secrets.


I created 4 personas to help me imagine and prioritize features, and they helped me keep my diverse stakeholders in mind as I designed. Example:


Ecosystem diagram

To better understand the entire ecosystem in which patients and providers are situated, I created an ecosystem diagram. It helped me wrap my mind around the complexity that is inherent in the medical system.


Product structure outline

I had a pretty good idea at this point about the features and capabilities I was hoping to include. I started to map this out.



To capture the emotional resonance of the product and explore a use case featuring a persona, I created a visual storyboard. It was a moving experience. Here are a few screens:

Screenshot 2015-11-22 20.18.46

Screenshot 2015-11-22 20.21.00

Task flows

How would a user flow through the system? How could patients most easily accomplish the most important tasks? I created flows to work this out.



Sketching is my best tool for working through interface problems. I continue to sketch constantly, as the design evolves. 

photo (32)


Visual design

I did all visual design, using Fireworks, Illustrator and Sketch.



Prototyping is the beating heart of my process. I’ve used paper prototypes as well as Flinto and Keynote to prototype interactions for mobile and tablet.

Development collaboration and QA

Treavor Gilbert is an awesome iOS developer who worked with me to create a working version of the app for iPad. One of the most fun and rewarding parts of any project is working with people you like to make something great. We communicated via github about bugs and tasks, and we had frequent calls to talk through interaction and interface ideas.

What’s next?

This work was from 2012-2014, but I’ve now embarked on the 2nd phase of this journey and created a company called Pictal Health. Through health history visualization, Pictal Health helps patients to be heard and seen as they work with their doctors to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. We offer 1-on-1 health visualization services and are working on the next iteration of the Pictal App. You can learn more here.