NHS COVID-19 app: Delivering the UK's first ever digital response to a global pandemic
The NHS COVID-19 app was the first app of its kind in the UK for digital contact tracing. With our partners Zühlke and Open Inclusion we took a user-centred design approach to the app, which was built in 12 weeks, used by more than 17 million users and ultimately saved lives during the pandemic.
Research services
Usability testing
Online testing
Audience mapping & personas
Data & analytics
Design services
User journey mapping
Rapid prototyping
Content design
The challenge
Getting everyone in the UK to use the test and trace app
The NHS COVID-19 app provided a digital solution for contact tracing. Throughout the pandemic, to make it successful there was a need to get as many people in the UK using the app as possible. As the pandemic evolved, so did the needs of app users, and so the app needed to evolve to meet these needs.
A man wearing a Covid mask and looking at his phone in the supermarket.
Our approach
Taking a user-centred approach to designing the COVID-19 app
  • App was researched, designed and delivered in 12 weeks
  • 45+ prototypes tested
  • 400+ individual in-depth interviews throughout
We worked as part of a multi-disciplinary team to design and
refine a launchable MVP of the COVID-19 app. We ran 2-3 projects every week focusing on the most important features, using ideation workshops with stakeholders to define hypotheses and concepts to test.

We created Figma prototypes and tested in 1-to-1 remote research sessions covering a broad range of users (including 16-17 year olds), with a super quick turnaround to get an executive summary of research insights to the team.

We built confidence for launch by running surveys and click-tests to evaluate the likely future uptake of the app.

Post-launch we used a range of user research techniques to get a fully rounded understanding of how people were responding to the app to rapidly remove any barriers to usage.
A person at home isolating checking their COVID-19 app.
The virus was inclusive, so the app had to be too
Many apps claim to be “for everyone”, however in this case this really was true. The aim of the app was to break the chains of transmission and since everyone was potentially at risk of transmitting the virus, the goal was to get literally everyone in the UK to use the app.

With this in mind, it was essential that the app was accessible to all, and we made a point of ensuring our research was inclusive, and representative of the entire population.
Screens from the NHS test and trace app connected with arrows to create a flow.
Understanding people’s attitude to COVID-19
People are complex but have shared responses to common situations
We conducted and analysed over 400 in-depth interviews with potential and current app users spanning a broad range of demographics. We used this analysis to identify a set of individual factors that each directly affect people’s likelihood of downloading and using the app, and also influence their behaviours when receiving notifications from the app.

The output was a set of attitudinal, situational and socio-cultural factors that guided the design to ensure support for individual user needs and reduce the barriers to use.
Some examples of our research factors which included: Highly concerned, Careful, Sceptic, Wilfully unaware
Trust is essential but can be fragile. We identified reasons people might distrust the app.
Trust was a massive issue for the app. People were using the app out of goodwill for society rather than any direct personal gain (the app didn’t help you once you were infected).

We discovered reasons why people might distrust the app and designed solutions to help build the trust back. For example, misunderstanding how the app work was a big source of distrust. We continually iterated the wording to explain the mechanisms of the app to make it understandable and relatable.
The four key themes about why someone wouldn't trust the app.
The app was used by more than 17 million people and saved lives
4.5 out of 5 star rating on the app store
4.6 stars • 416K Ratings
An iPhone with an image of the NHS covid app in the app store with a 4.6 star rating.
Our thoughts
Working on the most high profile app in the UK was a great experience. We worked like our lives depended on it, because we knew that for many, they very probably did.
Dave Grayson, Director of User Experience Research
It was a pleasure to work on such an intense project. It’s not often you get to contribute to such far reaching design with a large committed team. Or to see the work launched before the end of your time on the project!
Rob Cheyne, Senior Designer

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