What Makes a Good ADHD App?

Your feedback will lead to better apps for ADHDers everywhere.
Gadgets & Apps | posted by Pierre Seguin

I’m a geek dad who conceived a solution to help Leo, my wonderfully challenging son, get through each day. With the help of my cofounder, Kyle, and many others, the concept became Brili (brili.co), the first real-time system to help families who are struggling with daily routines.

We technology developers get a rush out of solving problems that matter to people. But how do we know if our products are solving a problem that matters, or if they even work? Without candid feedback from real people using the product — good, bad, and ugly — it is just guesswork.

With our early prototype showing promising results for ADHD kids, I shared my own family’s journey from chaos to calm with ADDitude readers, many of whom offered to help us test the software.

Through the next few months, as real families struggling with ADHD shared their feedback, many of our ideas were validated. But my ego took some knocks as families pointed out where we missed the mark. It stung sometimes, but we needed to hear it.

Here’s what your feedback taught us about making a helpful ADHD app.

> The app should solve one big problem. We’re all aware of the risks of taking on more than we should. Even with apps, the best ones are those with a single, clear purpose: Wake ‘N Shake solves “sleeping in when you can’t afford to.” Freedom solves “Internet time wastage.”

I knew the awful feeling of losing my patience and yelling at my son as we struggled through mornings and bedtimes. I wanted to solve the “stress of daily routines with kids.” ADDitude readers confirmed that I wasn’t alone in needing a solution for this, so we’ve stayed focused on this one problem.

> The app should support proven practices. I wasn’t in a position to conjure up a new approach to parenting. Instead, we looked to establish principles we could help parents apply: consistent routines, visual schedules, intrinsic rewards, and lots of positive, gentle prompting to keep kids on task. Mental health practitioners are happy to see a tool that helps families follow their advice, but more importantly, that is supported by family experiences.

> The app should be simple to use. I’ll venture out on a limb here, but if you can’t figure out how to use an app, this might negate its effectiveness in solving your problem. People have surprisingly little patience for apps that are confusing. Factor in the typical ADHD attention span, and if an app doesn’t just work, it’s easy to delete it.

We found this out the hard way with the early versions of Brili’s setup process. While some test families politely told us, “We found it very confusing,” more alarming were the parents who just abandoned it. Families kept sending us back to the drawing board until we found the right balance of user interface improvements, self-configuring features, pre-populated templates, and instruction screens.

Getting this right took months longer than we’d planned: Leo’s favorite question for a long time was, “Is Brili launched yet, daddy?”

> The app should stay out of the way. Apps need to let you do what you’re trying to use them for, and not get in the way. DropBox is a wonderful example of software that does this well.

Brili’s goal is to guide distractible kids through activities like dressing, brushing teeth, and tidying rooms. Having kids distracted by the screen that’s supposed to be helping them get stuff done won’t do.

Parent feedback helped us prioritize features like sounds, voice prompts, and color-changing timers that let you prop up a tablet or phone so the child could see it across the room, only needing to interact with it to mark tasks complete.

We’ll be testing Brili as a wearable next, to make it shrink even further out of the way.

> The app should conform to real life. We’ve all tried software that seemed pretty cool until it couldn’t handle a real-life situation that suddenly popped up. Deal breaker! Evernote is an example of a product that’s gone to great lengths to adapt to all situations, pretty successfully.

Early versions of Brili didn’t let you change the order of a routine while it was running, or back up on activities that were marked done. Families quickly deemed this unacceptable: What if my child is supposed to brush his teeth but the bathroom is occupied? What if a task is swiped before it’s really done? Naturally, we got those features done as soon as we could.

> The app should remind you to use it. The best apps are habit forming. Early on, though, we often need reminders to use them because life has a lot of distractions. Successful fitness apps like Gain Fitness do a lot of prompting to get you to the gym.

ADHD is frequently passed from parents to their kids. We think this had something to do with the way many of our early adopters set everything up, but then didn’t run the app the next day in Kid Mode, which is the whole point. We helped this by reminding both child and parent on their respective devices when the child’s routines should start.

> The app should not feel like work. Many useful productivity apps are “gamified.” People are often more likely to engage with apps if they can earn rewards or badges for their achievements. This effect, of course, is amplified with kids.

We designed Brili to feel like a game, but we’re still getting ideas to improve on this from parents (and kids!) This is near the top of our priority list because it’s all about kids wanting to run their daily routines so they can self-manage.

Despite having invested all my time and money into Brili for over a year, I’m the first to admit that it’s not perfect. Your candid feedback and ideas will point our efforts in the right direction to solve this particular ADHD problem.

There are many developers and companies like Brili, who are working to address the different challenges of ADHD. I hope that, when you try an app that attempts to solve a problem that matters to you, you’ll share your feedback with the creators so their attempts are ultimately successful.

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