MAYA  / An app development for AYA cancer patients

Year : 2014  

Client : Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Role : Design concept development, UX/UI design,  Strategy development, User research & Testing

MAYA is an app supports teen and young adult cancer patients to gain a better physical and digital experience from diagnose to survivorship. MAYA connects patients, families and other caregivers together to support patients, as a result, it's also a channel allows patients to express their needs and enable caregivers to instantly fulfill patients needs.




In the fall of 2014, MAYA was born from the collaboration of Institute of Design and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. MSKCC, the top cancer hospital in the United States has been dedicated to providing the best cancer treatment and care in the world, but it's obviously not enough for the hospital. They came to the Institute of Design with a new finding: teenage and young adult patients in the hospital have an extremely high demand for digital services because of their youth and unique cancer type. 

My team and I were asked to develop an app with a clickable prototype in three months. Our mission included what services should be provided, how to differentiate this app from competitors, creating the best hospital experience, and delivering a great UI design in order to allow the hospital to bring the project into execution.

Here is the challenge:

How might we design a mobile application for teen and young adult cancer patients that provides a sense of connection to their community of peers, speaks to the needs associate with their life stage, and supports their treatment?

In order to fully understand the users and their needs, our initial approach was researching seven main areas in the domain of AYA (Young adult) cancer care. These seven areas are " the psychological impact of cancer", "Internal support programs inside MSK", "External support programs", "Marketing research ", " Existing social & cancer apps", "Literature review", "Blogs".  

After two weeks of secondary research, we were luckily enough to have the opportunity to conduct 51 interviews with patients, doctors, caregivers, social workers, nurses and an educator. 



See the research finding documentation

1. Afflicted Young Adult (AYA) patients want to gain "NORMALIZATION"

After diagnosing, an AYA patient's life is not normal anymore. They will have to go to the hospital regularly for treatment, and be surrounded by other cancer patients who are way older. Not only this, everyone treats them as patients and wants to make decisions for them. They want to be treated as their other social identity first and prefer to have the autonomy to make decisions for themselves.

2. Positive & Productive "CONNECTION"

AYAs usually are forced to quit school or work temporarily for several months or a year or more, so it's hard for AYAs to maintain their old connections or create new connections. They are highly sensitive to privacy, so they feel uncomfortable sharing their cancer experiences. They only talk to people they trust. Having positive connections with family, peers and survivors at the right level and in a constructive way is crucial for AYAs.  

3. Accurate & digestible "INFORMATION" delivered at the right time

What to eat, what exercise to do, what could/couldn't do after treatments , when and how to take the medicine...the enormous amount of information is overloading for AYA patients every day. A mature adults are better at handling many different kinds of information compares to AYAs. AYAs are looking for accurate information delivered in their own language.



Leveraging the close, connected community of MSK to address the unmet needs of AYA population.

Unlike the existing apps that provides patients with large amount of unfiltered support information, focusing on serving a large scale group of people, MAYA devotes itself on serving a relatively small group of users inside MSK and provides curated and customized content for patients. In order to attract this small population and get them to stay, my team developed an app with 10 features speaking to AYA patients' various needs. I and two other teammates created 2 posters - concept development table and strategy execution table to ensure our client clearly understood where the features came from and how to make it works.

A mutuallly beneficial solution for AYA patients and MSK

For AYA patients, MAYA smooths their inpatient and outpatient experience by leveraging the current technology, and give patients a digital community to connect to MSK, survivors, caregivers and other patients. MAYA not only benefits AYA patients' needs, but also gives the hospital a channel to communicate, better understand this special group of patients and build a good relationship with caregivers. Through future data collection in this app, MSK could also maintain its authority in cancer treatment and cancer care.  

The strategy and design document:

Project approach & process

Secondary research analysis board


three main AYA patient needs

interview analysis process


MAYA - design Strategy

Design & Ideation